"It's the economy, stupid."
The Biden administration's happy talk about the economy clashes with reality.
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President Biden, speaking last Monday at the White House:
You know, from turkey, to air travel, to a tank of gas, costs went down. They went down. Now, to people making a lot of money, that doesn’t matter a whole lot, because the costs are relatively small compared to wealthy incomes. In fact, as a share of earnings, this Thanksgiving dinner was the fourth-cheapest ever on record. And I want you all to know that. . . . Wages for working families have gone up1 while inflation has come down 65 percent — giving families a little more money in their pockets and a little more breathing room this holiday season.
The fourth-cheapest Thanksgiving ever claim is laughable. Unsurprisingly, Biden and his team chose a very precise measurement from the American Farm Bureau Federation to back up this boast.
Every year since 1986, the federation has tracked the cost of a basket of your standard Thanksgiving staples, “including a 16-pound turkey, pumpkin pie mix, milk, a carrots-and-celery tray, rolls, pie crusts, green peas, fresh cranberries, whipping cream, sweet potatoes and cubed stuffing.” Beginning in 2018, the group started calculating the costs for both this “classic” dinner and an updated version that adds a 4-pound boneless ham, russet potatoes, and green beans. Looking only at the nominal cost and not adjusting for inflation or income, the prices have obviously risen over the years. Although the basic basket cost $28.74 in 1986, it now costs $61.17. White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre noted that this is down from $64.05 for the classic meal in 2022. But neither Biden nor Jean-Pierre mentioned that the cost of the more expansive meal basket increased by $3.45 from 2022 to 2023.
In fact, the actual release from the American Farm Bureau Federation says the following:
Gathering around the table for a Thanksgiving dinner won’t take as much of a toll on your pocketbook this year compared to 2022, but the meal still reflects historically high costs. . . . This is a 4.5 percent decrease from last year’s record-high average of $64.05, but a Thanksgiving meal is still 25% higher than it was in 2019, which highlights the impact high supply costs and inflation have had on food prices since before the pandemic.
As Jim Geraghty points out, the Biden administration has a habit of finding some small area of improvement, focusing the microscope on that area, and then “spiking the football” and hoping nobody notices everything else.
All of the happy talk about the economy coming from the White House clashes with reality. Indeed, it’s hard to find an area of a household budget that’s been spared by our recent years of inflation.
Last month, a Bloomberg/Morning Consult poll found that more than half of voters in several key swing states pointed to grocery prices as the main way inflation had impacted them. And understandably so: Back in October 2020, a Census Bureau survey found that the average four-person household spent an average of $238.32 in a week on food at home; three years later, a similar survey found that figure had jumped by approximately 32% more to $315.22.
Democrats are still under the impression that they can convince people they’re doing better than they really are by simply citing misleading economic statistics and ignoring the fact that since January 2020, staples like coffee are up 23%; electricity bills have climbed 25%, while natural gas is up 29%; the average monthly child care payment has risen 32%; nearly 40% of Americans have delayed or skipped needed health care in the past year because they can’t afford it; mortgage rates are around a 23-year high, and home values have jumped nearly 42%;2 car insurance is up 33%, with the average monthly payment for a new car at a record high of $736;3 restaurant prices have climbed 24%;4 and the annual increase in credit-card balances last quarter was the largest in New York Fed data back to 1999.
Meanwhile, here’s Joe Biden a few days ago:
Biden and his staff measure inflation by the rate of increase in prices from one year to the next. The Consumer Price Index shows that prices grew 3.2% from October 2022 to October 2023. That is indeed considerably lower than the 7.7% in October 2022, or the 8.6% in May 2022, or the 7.0% in December 2021.
But you needn’t be a bona fide economist to know that the public’s perception of inflation is based on prices, not the rate of increase from one year to the next. And given that, for a long time, the CPI was anywhere from zero to 2% or 2.5% year to year, prices are still high. We’re still paying 3.2% more than the high prices of last year, which were nearly 8% higher than the high prices of the year before that, which were 6% higher than the prices of the year before that.
The Biden administration is trying to sell a narrative that even his supporters aren’t buying. As the New York Times put it last Thursday, “Even most Biden voters don’t see a thriving economy. . . . A majority of those who backed President Biden in 2020 say today’s economy is fair or poor, ordinarily a bad omen for incumbents seeking re-election.”
The president and his team have suggested that voters’ expectations are unfair because their definitions of “normal” prices are based on the end of 2019 and beginning of 2020, before the pandemic hit and about a year before Biden took office. But then Biden and his Democratic minions decided to normalize the covid emergency budget, engaging in a historic spending spree that kicked off with the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.5 They took the 2020 covid-19, one-time-only crisis budget and established it as this administration’s working baseline. During Biden’s first two years in office, he oversaw spending that was 40% higher than the pre-covid 2019 budget.
Economics 101: When you infuse the country’s economy with a ton of money without a comparable increase in goods and services, you get inflation. And when you simultaneously double the money in everybody’s pocket, it is inevitable that prices will double as well. Sure, the president doesn’t completely control the economy, but the problem of too much money chasing too few goods is a direct result of Biden getting his way.
For months now, the media has been trying to spin this economy, faulting ordinary Americans for not seeing how “great” things are, and for not giving Biden credit for it. Puck calls it “Biden’s Choose Your Own Adventure Economy.” The Atlantic has gone from trying to explain “Why Americans Hate a Good Economy” to just flat-out blaming everyone but this administration: “Inflation is Your Fault.” The New York Times admits that prices are still high, but then asks why people are “buying so much stuff” and contributing to inflation. The Washington Post asks, “When will Americans stop worrying and learn to love the U.S. economy?” MSNBC suggests that the public’s overwhelming dissatisfaction with the economy is being driven by Republicans, whose views of the economy “are completely detached from reality.”
Either these journalists have enjoyed wage increases that have outpaced the rate of inflation over the past few years/an income so high that they don’t really notice price increases, or they’re so blinded by partisanship that they have no problems gaslighting Americans and are basically campaigning for Biden. (It’s the latter.)
One thing is for sure: Democrats are hitting the panic button.6 As James Carville once said, “It’s the economy, stupid,” and an economy like ours does not bode well for an incumbent president. Four in 10 swing-state voters in a recent Bloomberg News/Morning Consult poll said the economy was their top issue in the 2024 presidential election. And now, not only is Trump leading the polls in key battleground states, he’s the favorite to win.
As I have written before: With the election drawing near, if Biden’s approval rating remains this low and voter dissatisfaction with the economy remains high, expect Democrats to use the existential stakes of Our Democracy™ as operational justification to ensure Biden wins and Trump loses. Conditions will be created to ensure they can rule in a state of exception because they cannot accomplish what they want within the commonly understood confines of a constitutional republic. Whether that means imprisoning Trump or finding an excuse to impose another state of emergency that will allow them to gamify the election rules again remains to be seen. But when “Democracy is on the ballot,” losing is not an option.
Bloomberg: “Many Americans have seen their pay rise rapidly since 2020, but much of those gains have been gobbled up by inflation. Some of the fastest wage increases in decades have left the average American largely no better off than before.”
A recent survey by the polling firm Global Strategy Group showed half of respondents reported not being able to afford going out to a restaurant. Two-thirds said they couldn’t afford a vacation.
In order to properly understand how much money this is, it helps to put it into context, as Roll Call’s David Winston does here: The next million seconds will take 11.6 days. The next billion seconds is 31.7 years. and the next trillion seconds is 317 centuries.
See for example the December issue of the Atlantic, which is almost entirely devoted to hysterical articles warning that another Trump presidency will spell the end of all that is good and right in this world.