November 08, 2023
Michelle Cottle had a NYT column headlined “What Voters Want That Trump Seems to Have.” She needed to make up a few facts to push her case. For example, she tells us that people don’t like Biden because crime is high. But, crime rose sharply in 2020 when Donald Trump was in the White House, it has fallen since Biden took office.
If people are actually unhappy about crime then they should be voting for Biden, not Trump. If they prefer Trump on this issue it is because they are confused about the timing of recent patterns in crime, perhaps because people like Ms. Cottle have been misleading them.
There is a similar story with Cottle’s pronouncements on inflation. She told readers that in the last year of Trump’s term, just before the pandemic:
“Inflation was practically nonexistent.”
That’s actually not what our friends at the Bureau of Labor Statistics say. Year-over-year inflation was 2.5 percent as of January of 2020, just before the pandemic hit.
That isn’t exactly frightening, but hardly nonexistent. In fact, with lower rental inflation pretty much baked into the data (we know this from patterns in housing units that turn over), the inflation rate is likely to be lower than this by Election Day.
Cottle also has advice for those of us who try to connect how people feel about the economy to economic data.
“The degree to which Mr. Biden’s policies have helped or hurt does not much matter, especially on the economy. He owns it. And here’s the thing: You can’t argue with voters’ feelings. Even if you win the debate on points, you’re not going to convince people that they or the nation is actually doing swell. Trying, in fact, often just makes you look like a condescending, out-of-touch jerk.”
This is true, people feel how they feel. We can ask why they feel the way they do (I suspect endless trashing of the economy in often dishonest ways by the media has a lot to do with it), but we can’t tell them how they should feel.
So, we can point out that real wages for many workers, especially those at the bottom, have risen in spite of the massive hit from the pandemic. We can point out that homeownership rates for young people, Blacks, Hispanics, and moderate-income homeowners have all risen under Biden. But yeah, people still feel how they feel.
However, we may want to look more broadly when asserting how people feel. According to the Conference Board, people report a higher level of workplace satisfaction currently than at any point in the nearly forty years that they have done their survey.
I don’t think it takes a huge amount of economic training to believe that workplace satisfaction has something to do with the economy. The workplace is where workers spend close to half of their waking hours, so if workers say they are more satisfied now than ever before, that seems like a really good story about the economy
But, I guess that New York Times columnists get to be condescending, out-of-touch jerks when they want to make their case. If they insist that people think the economy is awful, we can’t let what people say get in the way.