Alone among the 13 presidents since World War Two, Trump will exit the White House with fewer Americans employed than when he started. He will have overseen punier growth in economic output than any of the previous 12 presidents.
His throwback “America First” agenda has failed to restore the old economic engine that powered an earlier era’s prosperity. On Trump’s watch, industrial production has fallen. The Federal Reserve says the manufacturing sector fell into recession in 2019 even before the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Last week was the 38th in a row in which at least 700,000 Americans filed first-time claims for unemployment benefits.
Holiday-season lines at food banks dramatize the scale of human suffering. More abstract measures, such as the US trade deficit and ratio of government debt to the size of the economy, have also worsened during Trump’s term.
“Trump’s economic record ranks near or at the bottom compared with other presidents,” concludes Moody’s chief economist Mark Zandi, who compared the economic results of all presidents from the last 70 years. “The economy under his watch has performed very poorly.”
To be sure, the deadliest public health pandemic in a century has devastated economic activity during this last year of the President’s term. But responding to unexpected catastrophe — from hurricanes to terrorist attacks to civil unrest to financial crises — represents a big part of the job. And, as Zandi notes, Trump’s bungled coronavirus response has exacerbated and extended damage to jobs and output.
Trump’s pre-pandemic record
Trump’s record offered little legitimate grounds for boasting before the pandemic. The persistent growth in output and decline in the unemployment rate during his first three years extended trends in the recovery from the Great Recession that he inherited from President Barack Obama.
Growth accelerated in early 2018 following Trump’s sole major legislative achievement, the tax cuts he and Congressional Republicans enacted. But that didn’t last long with the economy already near full employment, and the budget deficit swelled. A temporary surge in investment resulted mainly from higher energy prices.
“It provided no long-term benefit,” Zandi says.
The counter-productive tariff wars Trump initiated quickly offset any short-term benefit from the tax-cuts and the administration’s deregulation push. That’s why Trump, to avoid further damaging the economy in his re-election year, called a truce with China in January without obtaining the structural reforms he had demanded from Beijing. Trump earlier threw away leverage by abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership with allies that the Obama administration had negotiated.
Among Trump’s “very serious policy…
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