The article here by Ryan Lizza and Daniel Lippman notes that "Instead of forecasting a prolonged Depression-level economic catastrophe, Furman laid out a detailed case for why the months preceding the November election could offer Trump the chance to brag — truthfully — about the most explosive monthly employment numbers and gross domestic product growth ever."
A friend sent me the article, understandable concerned, especially since the article asks Furman about the level of concern among top party officials, and he replied, “It’s high — high, high, high, high.”
As I told him, first and foremost, I think it's good for Democrats to take nothing for granted, and to be concerned by everything when it comes to the election. Not only including this, but especially this.
I'm also not an economist, so zero of my opinions have any substantive meaning..
I know too that accomplished as Jason Furman is, he is only one economist, and the article points out that all the other economists on the Zoom discussion were stunned by what he said.
And it's notable too that the only people agreeing with him in the article are those in the Trump administration, including Happy Talk economic adviser Kevin Hassett (who on Sunday referred to the public as "Human capital stock," along with Larry "We have the coronavirus contained" Kudlow and trade adviser Peter Navarro, about whom Mother Jones wrote --
"Dubbed 'Trump’s looniest economic adviser' by the Wall Street–focused Dealbreaker, Navarro is an academic who famously made up a fake expert to quote in his books. A five-time failed political candidate in San Diego, Navarro is widely known there 'as a nut,' says one veteran California GOP political consultant. Navarro’s views on trade are considered so fringy that, for years, reporters covering him have been trying unsuccessfully to find a credible source who may agree with him."
Not being an economist myself, my reaction is that this scenario postulated by Mr. Furman is ridiculous and the article only slightest touches on the counter-argument and leaves out some massive points that go far beyond economy as deal with other aspects of the real world.
Most notable is that the article focuses only on money and leaves out -- 100,000 Americans are dead. Right now. That we know of. And that it will probably go to at least 150,000 dead Americans. And even if the economy comes back, they aren't.
It also quotes Mr. Furman saying emphatically, though it seems awfully glibly that the economic bounce back “can be very very fast, because people go back to their original job, they get called back from furlough, you put the lights back on in your business" -- while only later in the article does it eventually note that many businesses actually went bankrupt, and there won't be jobs to go back to. And moreover that many businesses will be downsizing, so no jobs there either. And it doesn't ever mention a critical point -- you can give someone a job, and turn the lights on, and open the doors...but that doesn't mean customers will come rushing back. And according to numerous polls, between 60-70% of the public says that they won't until there is a vaccine distributed to everyone -- which at the very best won't be for a year.
Also, the article buries near the end that Jason Furman off-handedly says, "If there’s a second wave of the virus and a really serious set of lockdowns, I wouldn’t expect to see this. But I think the most likely case is the one I just laid out.” But the thing is, he's an economist, not is a scientist -- so saying, "But I think the most likely case is the one I just laid out" is as totally meaningless as me not being an economist. Less so perhaps because most every actual science expert says that there pretty much ALWAYS is a second wave, and that it can be more virulent than the first. And we're already seeing numbers go up from the recent small-numbers of business openings. It's hard for me to imagine based on all these experts and the numbers we've already seen that there won't be a second wave -- which even Furman says would not allow the recovery he's predicting.
So, the reporters wrote a very long article about the one economist who says it will be a great turnaround, but bury even deeper Austin Goolsbee -- who was Furman's predecessor as President Obama's Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors -- saying, "I view it as Trump left the door open and five rats came into the kitchen and you’re going to brag, ‘Look I got two of the rats out?’ There’s a high risk you look completely out of touch if you still have double-digit unemployment rates.”
And it leaves out one other huge thing.
Last night on MSNBC, they had a well-regarded journalist who has written extensively about pandemics. She said that life won't begin returning to something like normal for at least THREE YEARS at a minimum. And Jason Furman thinks everything will be great for Republicans because the economy will be booming in a few months.
Forget for a moment viewing Trump's re-election from purely an economic analytic model. Let's take a step back and look at real world that model exists in.
There will likely be at least 150,000 Americans dead that we know of. Each of those people are mourned by immediate family, relatives, friends and associates. We already know of 1.7 million Americans who were infected, so far. Business went bankrupt and aren't returning. Companies are cutting back. About 60-70% of people say they won't go back to stores and restaurants until there is a vaccine for everyone and it's safe. And life will not be anything even remotely close to normal. Sports arenas aren't going to be packed with 60,000 fans by October. Even if teams begin playing, it will be in empty stadiums. And the related concessionaire industries will suffer. People won't be crowding into movie houses or stageplay theaters. Who knows when they've even be ready to again start making movies and TV shows. The crushed travel and hospitality industry that lost $800 billion is not going to pack airplanes, fill up hotels and load up cruise ships. Seriously?? Even putting fear of the virus aside, most people pummeled by job loss will likely be saving their money rather than take leisure trips. Businesses will use teleconferencing platforms rather than send executives around the country -- let alone to conventions. Further, the public knows Trump still recommended taking bleach and disinfectant, still said COVID-19 would be gone like a "miracle" in February, still shut down the Pandemic Response Unit two years ago, still cut $8.5 billion from the CDC, still ignored the Obama Transition pandemic playbook, still fired the CDC expert on infectious disease IN CHINA last June, and his level of trust is in the mid-30s. And all that's even if there isn't a second wave, which according to science experts, there's no reason to believe that there won't be. And Jason Furman is saying Trump and Republicans will be in great shape because stores will be opening very fast, very fast. Because apparently that's all it's about. The human capital stock.
There is a quip about economists. It's that an economist is someone who sees something happen in reality but doubts that it can happen in theory.
I don't know. I'm not an economist. Of course an expert like Jason Furman could be right. And it's good for Democrats to be wary about everything. Good that their concern over this is "high -- high, high, high, high." Concern about everything when it comes to Trump should be high. High, high.
But Austan Goolsby is an expert, too. And was Jason's Furman's predecessor. And all the other experts on the conference call were shocked by his statement.
Furthermore, an article in yesterday's Raw Story addresses reaction to the article and explains --
"A report from Politico caused a stir on Tuesday morning, as it quoted Democratic economists and operatives who were nervous that President Donald Trump could benefit from a rapid economic recovery in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"However, polling experts Nate Silver and Harry Enten both poured cold water on the notion that a V-shaped recovery would be sufficient enough to lift the president above former Vice President Joe Biden, who has consistently led him in polls throughout the year.
"Enten pointed out that Trump has for the entire year led Biden in polling on who is more trusted to handle the economy — but it hasn’t mattered, as voters in polls still said they preferred the former vice president to the incumbent overall."
And that's a critical point overlooked by Jason Furman's analysis -- perhaps the most-critical point: that Joe Biden has been leading Trump ever since he got into the race, and that's with the economy rolling along okay and with the public saying they trust him more on the economy! Now add in the 150,000 dead, bankrupt businesses and still not vaccine to return life to normal...which likely won't happen for at least three years.
Additionally, the article also references Nate Silver's observation that even if the current unemployment rate is cut by by six percentage points by the election, it would still Trump with a poor economy.
“It’s true that a partial recovery to 9% would be better for Trump than getting stuck at 15%,” Silver wrote. “But 9% is still quite high, and voters could also compare to 3.5% or wherever it had been before… The best strategy is therefore to use a broad basket of economic indicators over a broad range of time horizons. By that measure, voters’ assessments of the economy would likely still be fairly negative on balance by November even with a halfway recovery.”
(You can read the full article here.)
Honestly, of course I don't know how any of this will work out. I could be totally wrong. I'm not an economist. And it's not only good but critically important that people are concerned about this and about everything with the election.
And by the way, I hope the economy comes roaring back in full by the election. And that everyone gets their jobs back, all 42 million. And that there's a vaccine available in months. And that all the deaths stop as soon as humanly possible. This is a ghoulish real world we are living in -- not just in the United States, but all over the entire globe. I want the disaster over and resolved. I want the real world back to to normal.
But even if there is no second wave, which is considered probable to near-certain -- until it's pointed out why all these other reasons of real life I've mentioned and what all the other economic experts and science experts are saying is wrong and without meaning, and recognizing that Biden was ahead of Trump before the pandemic, then I think it's best to pay attention to Jason Furman, be wary of his analysis, and understand that the real world situation for Trump is truly horrific.
Economic theory and even economic reality are only a part of the real world. And the fullness of the real world plays a profound role in how human beings respond to pretty much everything.
And even if there is no second wave and many of the 42 million jobs lost come back, the real world where people live -- that "human capital stock" as Trump economic adviser quaintly put it -- will still be a deeply troubled place. Caused by Trump repeatedly cutting all manner of pandemic response and ignoring all warnings, certain instead that it would be gone like a "miracle." Helped by taking bleach and disinfectants.
And all the while, Trump played golf on Memorial Day as deaths neared 100,000, while Rome burned. Because even little things like that not only actually matter to "human capital stock" in the real world, but they remember them for what such little things signifies..
I could be wrong. So could all the other economic and science experts. I'm not an expert in any of those fields. So, I could be totally wrong. And them, too.
The thing is, the real world, where we all live -- it's a funny old place.