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THE PUZZLEMENT OF THE MILLIONAIRE PUNDITS! Mort and Charles and Cokie and George were confused by the views of prole voters: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2005

SHORT WEEK: Tomorrow, we’ll look at the way the Wall Street Journal reported those scores from the latest NAEP TUDA (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/5/05). Then, we expect to skip two days. Our staff has some strict obligations.

THE PUZZLEMENT OF THE MILLIONAIRE PUNDITS: In Monday’s Times, Paul Krugman posed a significant question. Why are voters so negative about the economy? “[B]y some measures, the economy is doing reasonably well,” he writes. “In particular, gross domestic product is rising at a pretty fast clip. So why aren't people pleased with the economy's performance?” Good question.

Krugman offered a two-part answer. First, some of the basic economic numbers aren’t as good as the Bush Admin claims. (Details below.) But the main explanation is different, Krugman writes. Here’s the basic drill:

KRUGMAN (12/5/05): But the main explanation for economic discontent is that it's hard to convince people that the economy is booming when they themselves have yet to see any benefits from the supposed boom. Over the last few years G.D.P. growth has been reasonably good, and corporate profits have soared. But that growth has failed to trickle down to most Americans.
Why are voters negative on the economy? Because the gains in the current economy are going exclusively to high-income earners. Average earners aren’t reaping the benefits of current growth, Krugman explains:
KRUGMAN: Back in August the Census bureau released family income data for 2004. The report, which was overshadowed by Hurricane Katrina, showed a remarkable disconnect between overall economic growth and the economic fortunes of most American families.

It should have been a good year for American families: the economy grew 4.2 percent, its best performance since 1999. Yet most families actually lost economic ground. Real median household income—the income of households in the middle of the income distribution, adjusted for inflation—fell for the fifth year in a row.

Real median income fell, for the fifth straight year. Why are voters negative on the economy? Simple. Even though the GDP grew at a healthy clip, the benefits of that growth only accrued to upper-end earners. In simple terms, the rich are getting richer—and the non-rich, who aren’t getting richer, say the economy stinks.

Krugman’s analysis is really quite basic. It hardly represents a breakthrough. But in the days before it appeared, we marveled, two separate times, as millionaire pundits puzzled hard about the voters’ negative judgments. First and most appalling was Morton Kondracke, opining on Friday night’s Special Report. As luck would have it, guest host Jim Angle posed the same question which Krugman would answer on Monday:

ANGLE (12/2/05): OK, Republicans touting economic numbers today, 215,000 jobs created in the latest report, 4.3 percent annual growth in the third quarter, 10 quarters where growth was 3.3 percent or better. But in polls, gentlemen, people seem to think the economy isn't doing very well. What's wrong here, Charles?
“Charles” was the well-scripted Charles Krauthammer—and he quickly blamed the press corps. According to Charles, because the press corps is so negative, voters can’t see how good they have it! And then, Kondracke took his turn. Try to believe that he said it:
KONDRACKE: I acknowledge that the media has a lot to do with this...But, you know, you have got to say that the administration and the Republicans in Congress have not been very good at touting these numbers.

Bush, remember during the campaign, the Democrats tried to say that Bush was—negative job growth on Bush's watch. In fact, on Bush's whole watch it's been 1.8 million jobs net created. Now, you have to dig around to find that. Maybe they touted it today, but they haven't been watching, recounting the buildup month by month. And, you know, this is—it's like Iraq. And the—here you have positive numbers that you cite all the time and they don't get them through.

Try to believe that he said it! According to Kondracke, it was partly the Bush Admin’s fault! They had that fabulous job growth number. But they kept failing to tout it.

We marveled when Kondracke made this statement—because that job number is so bad. It’s obvious why the Bush Admin doesn’t “tout” those 1.8 million new jobs. Krugman touches on it in Monday’s column—although this matter has been explained a thousand times in the past:

KRUGMAN: The Bush administration seems genuinely puzzled that it isn't getting more credit for what it thinks is a booming economy. So let me be helpful here and explain what's going on.

I could point out that the economic numbers, especially the job numbers, aren't as good as the Bush people imagine. President Bush made an appearance in the Rose Garden to hail the latest jobs report, yet a gain of 215,000 jobs would have been considered nothing special—in fact, a bit subpar—during the Clinton years. And because the average workweek shrank a bit, the total number of hours worked actually fell last month.

As Krugman (and others) have explained a thousand times, it takes roughly 150,000 jobs per month to match the growth in the size of the work force. Bush has been president for five years; when Kondracke touts those 1.8 million new jobs, he is “touting” a figure which falls well short of what it takes to keep up with growth! That 1.8 million is an awful job figure—which likely explains why the Bush folks don’t cite it. Can Kondracke really be this ignorant? Or was he just faking again?

Kondracke’s point was utterly foolish—and surely, his fellow panelists knew it. Angle, Krauthammer and Fred Barnes—is it possible that none of the three knew how foolish Kondracke’s point was? But did anyone challenge Mort’s inane point? Sorry! Here’s was Freddy’s next statement:

BARNES (continuing directly from above): The problem with Mort's advice is, if President Bush were out there saying this in speeches every day and members of Congress were, they wouldn't get coverage, they would be ignored. I think this really is a media problem.
It’s really a media problem, Fred said. If Bush did tout that (horrible) number, the liberal media wouldn’t admit how great it really was!

Why do voters think the economy stinks? Because all the growth goes to people like Mort and Fred—to perfumed hacks who sit on TV and play their Fox viewers for fools. But so what? For years now, mainstream pundits have let this sort of thing go without comment, and Dems and libs have never really tried to tell the public about it. Mort and Fred get paid to play the voters for fools. Dems and liberals seem content to let the gentlemen do it.

WILL IN THE WORLD: George Will was also puzzled by the public’s negative outlook. Here he was, on Sunday’s This Week, speaking to Robert Reich:

WILL (12/4/05): George [Stephanopoulos] just said, 30 months, ten quarters, average growth rate, 4.1 percent. The economy is booming. Why do people not think so? Partly because of Will's two laws of economic journalism. First law, all news is economic news. That is, all news either is a cause or a consequence of economic developments and can be given an economic spin. Second law, all economic news is bad. All economic news is bad...Unemployment goes up. That's bad, because unemployment is bad. Unemployment comes down, the labor market is overheating and inflation is coming back. There's no such thing as good news.
Will was blaming the media too. To them, “all economic news is bad.” And Cokie Roberts, reporting from her millionaire aerie, also seemed puzzled by the public’s vile mood:
ROBERTS: You have the, some good news, absolutely good news there. It is true that voters don't seem to be feeling it. And I think that what you're going to see now, in this period we're about to enter, is everybody, now, dealing with the prescription drug benefit. Right? And that is something that is absolutely incomprehensible to almost anybody. And then they get to go in and discover they don't have their drugs covered. And that will be another hit on the economy.
The economic news is “absolutely good.” But “voters don’t seem to be feeling it,” Cokie said—and she offered no attempt to explain it.

But uh-oh! On this show, someone did explain! Indeed, Reich even mentioned those job figures:

REICH (continuing directly): But to have a Rose Garden ceremony when you're celebrating the fact you've got 215,000 new jobs. That's nice. But the average per-month job growth during the Clinton administration was 240,000 new jobs. And there were very few Rose Garden ceremonies just saying 240,000 new jobs. I mean, you need 150,000 new jobs just to keep up with population growth. This is nothing to celebrate.
Omigod! Some cited a relevant fact! As we saw on Friday night, it isn’t allowed on Fox.

Why are voters so negative about growth? Because the growth is all going to the elite—to people like Mort and George and Cokie. Your press corps is run by millionaires—and it clearly shows when they prattle on about the weird views of the proles.

WILLFUL RECITATIONS: George and Cokie just kept enthusing about that great economy. Challenged further by his host, Will kept blaming the press corps:

STEPHANOPOULOS: If everything you're saying is correct— I mean, address Bob's point about why people are feeling so anxious. It can't simply be bad news coverage. People live in the economy. It's not just what they read.

WILL: That's right. And they read about the airlines are in trouble. And textiles are in trouble. And Main Street is in trouble because of Wal-Mart, out at the edge of town. And the automobile industry is in trouble because of competition from abroad. We could protect all of this. We could protect Main Street. We could protect the legacy airlines. We could protect the automobile companies. We can't have economic growth and have this. It's a choice. We accept the dynamism and the creative destruction of capitalism.

It is the media’ fault, he kept saying. That’s why people don’t feel all that growth.

Of course, George and Cokie inhabit the parts of town where gentle folk are getting the growth. In other areas, incomes are stagnant. But so what? Reich and Krugman can explain this point as many times as they please. Perfumed scribes, with their Millionaire Pundit Values, somehow just can’t seem to get it.