Today’s Washington Post has an A1 above-the-fold story with some important news: The economy is turning around, and it’s going to help Barack Obama win reelection. But the premise of this story is quite thinly sourced, so to speak: There’s very little evidence that the economy has experienced any kind of uptick recently. The Post marshals a pathetic array of evidence to suggest that the economy is really turning around (because, you know, it isn’t).
The long-moribund housing market has bustled to life, with prices and new-home construction rising in recent weeks. . . .
This is the only point where they’re close to right: The housing market, in prices and starts, does seem to have bottomed out, but prices remain so depressed and construction activity is so far off what it was in the 2000s that that sector remains a drag on the economy, not a driver of growth (as you might notice in the graph the same newspaper produced for its story about the improving housing market).
The other data, though, are even lamer:
Hiring, so weak earlier this year, picked up last month.
It did indeed:
And on Thursday, the government reported an acceleration of a downward trend in the number of people seeking unemployment insurance . . .
The BLS report actually doesn’t mention any downward trend, and indeed, you’d have a hard time picking it out, since unemployment claims still aren’t below what they were over the winter:
. . . as well as a sharp improvement in U.S. exports.
Let’s just go to the Census Bureau report to which the Post links: “Exports increased to $185.0 billion in June from $183.3 billion in May (revised).” Oh boy, now we’re cooking with gas! That’s five whole new 747s sold to Etihad! Even if we were talking about a serious rise in exports, that actually isn’t really a sign of recovery within the U.S. economy — it’s a good thing, but all it indicates is that our trading partners want or can buy more of what we’re selling, not that Americans are doing better themselves. In fact, the report cited actually explains that the U.S. trade deficit has shrunk, which isn’t a positive sign of domestic economic health at all.
The reality is that, as every American knows, our economy remains moribund and deeply depressed. Among hundreds of economic indicators, it isn’t that hard to find some signs of life, of course, which is why it’s even more impressive that the Post doesn’t even cite any of the right ones. It’s much easier to find more meaningful indicators that suggest that the recovery could even be slowing: Consumer spending and manufacturing activity have both been contracting for the past two months, for instance.
The rest of the piece is spent discussing why an improving economy could help the president, or why it would be too late for that, which is a fair point. But the premise of the piece is just wrong: There is no compelling reason to believe we’re about to see an uptick in our economic fortunes, so why discuss how good that might be for the president? (Well, there’s one possible answer, which rhymes with Gaius.)