D. Dowd Muska


It’s All Bush’s Fault -- and Obama’s

November 15, 2012

Decades from now, young Americans will ask, “Was is really that bad?”

Old-timers -- you know, people born in the 20th century -- will attest that indeed, it was.

A dozen years into the third millennium, economic carnage continues. And much of the blame can be placed on the two most recent occupants of the White House.

Among the modern presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama stand out for their prodigious inability to foster job growth. Since both took office amidst downturns, let’s be charitable, and start their report cards when employers began to hire again. Between Bush’s first-term job trough (August 2003) and the time he left D.C., total employment grew a meager 2.9 percent. Obama has fared slightly better, with a less-than-impressive 3.5 percent. Bill Clinton’s recession-free rule generated a job expansion of 20.7 percent -- the same stellar share achieved by Ronald Reagan’s administration in its post-recession good times.

When Bush was inaugurated, the Census Bureau’s measure of median household income, after adjustment for inflation, was $55,414. Eight years later, when the cowboy passed the baton to the community organizer, the figure was $53,918. In 2011, well into Obamanomics, it stood at $51,723.

Unpacking the more granular data and trends, it’s easy to see why the typical family’s standard of living is in decline. Unemployment remains stubbornly high, and fewer able-bodied adults are participating in the labor force. For those who still punch a clock, compensation flirts with stagnation. In March 2001, average hourly wages and benefits cost employers $29.07. The comparable figure for March 2012 was $30.61.

Workers commencing their careers have been hardest hit. A March analysis by Lawrence Mishel of the liberal Economic Policy Institute concluded: “From 2000 to 2011 … wages actually fell among every entry-level group regardless of education. Wage losses occurred for each group of entry-level workers between 2000 and 2007, as well as during the recessionary years between 2007 and 2011.”

At the other end of the age spectrum, seniors can’t take much solace in returns from “safe” investments. Many widows-and-orphans stocks -- e.g., Bank of America, Ford, General Electric, Pfizer -- have performed abysmally under Bush and Obama. The value of homes empty-nesters and retirees planned to unload for a tidy profit cratered in the Fannie Mae Bust.

This one will hurt: In 2001, a gallon of gasoline cost, in today’s money, $1.88. (In many parts of the country, electricity’s become pricier, too.) The tax burden imposed by state and local governments has intensified -- from 9.3 percent of income in 2001 to 9.9 percent in 2010. (Medicaid, the healthcare program for the “underprivileged,” is one of the chief culprits driving state budget woes.)

Bush ballooned the national debt from $5.7 trillion to $10.6 trillion. After just one term, Obama hiked the federal credit card to $16.3 trillion. No one knows the exact number, but the unfunded liabilities for nationalized pensions and elderly healthcare run well over $100 trillion.

Leftists are gleefully predicting the end of the Republican Party, which has lost the popular vote in five out of the last six elections and faces a seemingly insurmountable demographic challenge. But moonbats have little cause to be cocky. In 2012, Obama’s share of the popular vote dwindled from his 2008 victory, as did his Electoral College performance. A huge portion of the citizenry rejected the guns-and-butter neoconservatism of George W. Bush, but “progressive,” “green,” and hugely expensive Nanny Statism has an expiration date, too. If economic conditions don’t improve during Obama 2.0, it could be Republicans’ turn to gloat in November 2016.

GOP hopes are warranted, because there’s nothing in the president’s public statements to indicate an imminent shift in policymaking. Like Bush, Obama doesn’t let facts get in the way of his agenda. So taxes are likely to rise, runaway entitlements won’t be addressed, healthcare “reform” will assault employers and pile on more Medicaid expenditures, and environmental overkill will increasingly target the nation’s energy sector.

Between 1991 and 2001, the federal government’s share of gross domestic product fell from 22.3 percent to 18.2 percent. It was the only sustained drop of the postwar era, and its impact was impressive. Jobs and incomes boomed. So did the stock market. Tax revenue flowed toward Washington at such a rapid pace, fedpols couldn’t spend it all, and budget deficits disappeared.

Neither Bush nor Obama learned the lessons of the 1990s. Their reign of fiscal madness, bloody adventurism abroad, and regulatory ratcheting will not be a period we fondly recall.

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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