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December 22, 2005

There Are Lies, Damned Lies, and Fred Barnes Columns

Fred Barnes, energetically attempting to wake the Bush propaganda machine from its torpor, writes:

Yet there's a strong case Bush and his aides can make for impressive economic gains at the individual level. True, rising healthcare costs have cut into the gains, but tax reductions have helped. By citing micro numbers or fleshing out macro numbers, the administration would convey this message: it's not just you who's doing well. Most Americans are. The country is.

For instance, there's the growth in per capita disposable personal income from $26,424 in 2003 to $27,001 in 2004 and $27,365 in 2005. That's not all. In November, hourly wages were up 3.2 percent. And people are able to spend more. Real personal consumption spending has risen nearly 3 percent in the past year. True, these last two numbers are macro, but they're ones people can understand.

Matt, who's perfectly willing to let the publicity department remain lethargic, replies:

Sadly, per capita numbers don't really tell you anything about how "most" people are doing. But here on the White House Economic Statistic Briefing Room website we have a link to median household income data. Median household income in 2004 was $44,389 which is a lot by world standards. But in 2003 it was $44,482 which was more. In 2002 it was $44,546 which was even more. In 2001 it was $45,062 which was even more. In 2000 it was $46,058 which was even more. In 1999 it was $46,129 which was even more. In 1998 it was $45,003 which was less, but still higher than today's median. And if you go all the way back to 1997, it was $43,430 -- lower than it is today.

What you take from that, of course, is that the gains of the Bush economy have mostly amassed to the rich and very rich, not the same folks pessimistic about their economic outlook. If the administration wants average Americans to think the economy's working better, it might want to put some thought into making it work better for them.

December 22, 2005 | Permalink


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The historical numbers quoted are inflation adjusted. Which means that median income is remaining pretty steady, and with inflation currently at about 3%, that matches exactly the 3% increases Barnes is quoting.

Inflation adjusted median household income first broke 40k in 1986. It has historically bobbed up and down somewhat. The times when it was 'rising' don't seem at first glance to be necessarily good economic times, for the nation as a whole or people in particular and the times it went down do not appear to me to be bad times in particular.

Posted by: Dave Justus | Dec 22, 2005 1:59:28 PM

This is one of those issues that is going to politically kill this administration. The real effect on incomes for most people has been devastating. Fred can massage the numbers all he wants, most citizens know where their checking accounts are and what they have in the bank versus what they owe.

This is one of the weakest things any rethug could bring up. I hope they keep pounding it. Even Cletus the slack jawed yokel ain't gonna be buying into that $300 "tax rebate' in 2006.

Posted by: ice weasel | Dec 22, 2005 5:00:53 PM

Ah, that spinning almost makes me nostalgic for those "average" vs "median" refunds taxpayers were gonna get from their tax cuts.

Posted by: ItAintEazy | Dec 22, 2005 6:06:08 PM

If you're Fred - you can start with the premise that 'the economy' is getting better, because you do not know many people who are not in 'the economy,' and if you heard about them, you would just think they are lazy steelworkers or something who have not yet learned HTML.

Posted by: Gotham Image | Dec 22, 2005 10:49:44 PM

the only way fred is massaging the numbers is dishonestly.

there is no such thing as an honest discussion of income that isn't based on "real" income.

there is no such thing as an honest discussion of current consumption that isn't also a discussion of current levels of household debt (unprecedented) and home equity extraction (equally unprecedented).

the jump in cost of a gallon of gas is the clear indicator: at $3.00/gallon, people were hurting, and the average household only use 1000 gallons/year. That's not a sign of a strong economy.

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