Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Bidenomics and the NYT: Revenge of the Petruchio liberals


With apologies to regular readers who have heard this too many times already. The New York Times has, more than any other news organization with the possible exception of NPR, fully internalized the "if I keep his beer cold and the house clean, maybe he won't hit me anymore" mentality in response to conservative critics. The paper has fully equated the concept of bias with the possibility of making Republicans mad at them. Good news for the Democrats is underplayed; bad news is bumped to the front page, and the editors choose the most damaging framing for Biden as a default setting.

Though the NYT likes to boast about the diversity of opinions it publishes, with a handful exceptions, there are only a few acceptable narratives. The pretense of diversity only holds if you look only at the left-right spectrum, and even then not too closely. Far right figures like Tom Cotton, Brett Stephens, and Ann Coulter are given pretty much free reign, nominally liberal writers are expected to both-sides every question, and voices from the left tend to be Petruchio liberals, spending more time sniping at the mainstream Democrats than at the increasingly extreme republicans.

Petruchio liberals attack Democrats and, in effect, support Republicans because any real world proposal from a Biden or an Obama or a Pelosi meant to advance any progressive objective will inevitably fall short of their standards. To endorse a plan that is in any way short of perfect represents an unacceptable compromise of principle. Needless to say, these people are impossible to satisfy.

This NYT opinion piece by Karen Petrou is a minor classic of the genre. Damning criticism of the Democrats garnished with great performative concern for the disadvantaged and the left behind, supported by non-arguments and distorted statistics, dismissive of liberal accomplishments, strangely oblivious to the fact that, by the standards laid out by the author, in every case the republican policies would be worse.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the column is what it leaves out. Evidence of a good economy isn't explained away; it is omitted entirely. In a piece about income inequality, the word "employment" appears one time. "Jobs" doesn't appear at all. Likewise, the terms "union," "taxes," or "student loan." are also missing.

Instead, we get a lot of generalities.

The West Wing may believe Bidenomics is working because the macroeconomic gurus at the Federal Reserve are telling the White House it’s working. But Bidenomics has failed to create sufficient tangible improvement in the lives of most voters in a world in which groceries still cost more than they did a year ago, average rent and mortgage rates have spiked and health and child care grow ever more unaffordable. Mr. Biden cannot win in 2024 unless he speaks to the economy as it is, not as he wishes it was.

Make a note of the charge of scoring points by ignoring the way the economy really is. We'll be getting back to that one.

Although the Fed’s most recent Survey of Consumer Finances showed that wealth inequality has dipped a bit because of recent generous federal spending, income inequality is worse than ever. For most Americans, a sense of financial well-being doesn’t come from capital returns in the stock market or even from house price appreciation. It comes in each paycheck and benefit payment and is challenged by each bill and receipt from the supermarket. Paychecks are falling shorter and shorter for more and more households [Wages are slightly outpacing inflation, but let's not get bogged down with details -- MP], no matter the seemingly record high employment data the White House also likes to trumpet. [Thus concluding Petrou's entire discussion of the job market -- MP]

 Let's check in with the LA Times indispensable Michael Hiltzik.

“Bidenomics didn’t just promise economic growth,” wrote economists at the progressive Roosevelt Institute in a recent newsletter; “it promised a transition from the era of trickle-down, neoliberal economics to a new paradigm that focused on improving the wages and livelihoods of working- and middle-class people.” They titled their post: “It’s working.”

Indeed, as I reported in July, lower-income workers have been the chief beneficiaries of Bidenomics. Economists David Autor of MIT and Arindrajit Dube and Annie McGrew of the University of Massachusetts determined in a paper published in March that lower-income workers had recovered about 25% of the increase in wage inequality that had built up over the previous four decades.

Organized labor seems to have experienced a renaissance, or at least the glimmer of one. Unions won more representation elections, 641, in the first half of 2022 than they had in the same period for 20 years. The victory by the United Auto Workers over the Big Three automakers after the recent strike may be a harbinger of more victories to come, but even if not, it’s certainly a high water mark for union activism over recent decades.

If you'd rather get your economic takes from the NYT, back in June, David Leonhardt did a similar story about the racial wage gap shrinking though, being one of the paper's good soldiers, he managed to write an entire column largely about the success of Biden's economy without ever mentioning the name "Biden."

 There's also a time travel element to Petrou's criticisms. Joe still hasn't gone back to the 80s and prevented the Reagan administration.

Mr. Biden ignores the inequality at the heart of Bidenomics at his political peril. America’s top 1 percent always got far more than 1 percent of national income and wealth, but they have rarely gotten as much as they do now. The most recent data shows that the top 1 percent now owns 31.4 percent of American wealth, more than that of the entire bottom 90 percent. Between 1975 and 2018, American adults at the median income saw their paychecks go up at less than one-third the rate of G.D.P. growth while those with incomes at the 99th percentile saw their earnings rise nearly twice as fast as G.D.P.

About that "inequality at the heart of Bidenomics" line. Despite spending an entire column attacking Biden's economic policy in general, we have to wait till the last paragraph to find one specific policy mentioned, and it is a very curious choice.

On Nov. 9, the Biden administration’s Office of Management and Budget issued a rule instructing federal agencies in no uncertain terms to consider the impact of the standards they promulgate on economic inequality. Mr. Biden’s political advisers should do the same over the coming year, recasting Bidenomics to truly support the middle class instead of continuing to stand proudly atop an economy in which growth goes to those who already have a lot, not those who work hard yet still are in need.

  I've read over this paragraph multiple times trying to get a grip on what Petrou is trying to say here. Literally the only specific policy she mentions is one she strongly endorses, nor does she give any specific policy that Biden should be doing but isn't. The closest she comes is repeatedly attacking Biden for taking credit for parts of the economy that are going remarkably well.

 This and every other conversation about the economy needs to start with the fact that we appear to be in the middle of the fabled soft landing, which is roughly the economic equivalent of seeing a bigfoot and a yeti riding Nessie. The conventional wisdom going into this was that taming inflation would require a period of severe economic pain. You'd think that avoiding that would make Ms. Petrou happy. You'd be wrong.

No comments:

Post a Comment