by Steven Pearlstein
In case you haven’t noticed, the economy is actually getting better. Noticeably better.
Yes, it’s been painfully slow in coming, as we continue to tack against strong headwinds coming from Europe and the Middle East as well as the strong ebb tide created by the wind-down of fiscal stimulus. And certainly the recovery has been halting and uneven.
Economic data suggest the recovery has picked up speed. So why do politicians on both sides seem to cling to worst-case scenarios? (istock)
The data points for this optimism are to be found in recent reports on private payrolls (averaging just under 200,000 jobs per month for the past year), gross domestic product (growing at an annual rate of 3 percent), consumer confidence (as high as its been since 2008) and income (up 5 percent in the past year before adjusting for inflation).
On Wall Street, the Dow is at its highest point in nearly four years and Nasdaq at its highest point in a decade, reflecting both record profits and renewed investor confidence. Federal and state tax revenues are beginning to come in better than projected and households are continuing to whittle down their debt, with a savings rate of 4.5 percent. There are even enough green shoots in the housing market to suggest that residential construction might contribute to GDP growth this year rather than subtract from it. Revisions of government data are now reliably up rather than down.
If all you did was to listen to Republican presidential candidates (a cruel and unusual punishment, I realize), you would surely be under the impression that the country was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, businesses were barely getting by under the weight of excessive taxation and regulation, and most of the middle class was standing in bread lines. Their relentless demagoguery has undermined the recovery as much as the gridlock politics practiced by their Republican counterparts in Congress. When forced to confront the facts about the economy and the financial markets, the best response these jeremiads can come up with is that it could have been better.
The fact that employment, income, profits and confidence are all moving in the right direction means two things.
First, it means that fiscal and monetary stimulus succeeded in stabilizing the economy and financial markets. To say that they failed, or that they were unnecessary, is ideological nonsense.
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