Message to my fellow conservatives: Please don’t blame the mainstream media for the improvement in jobs, unemployment and economic growth. Reporters are not making this up. The economy is better. It’s going to give President Obama a leg up on the election. GOP beware, and come to your senses.
Take Friday’s jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nonfarm payrolls gained 200,000 and the unemployment rate slipped to 8.5 percent from 8.6 percent. It may well be that a seasonal quirk added 42,000 messengers and couriers to the totals, but that will be lost in the headline reporting. It will be given back next month. It’s inconsequential to the overall story. Likewise, a normal labor participation rate would yield much higher unemployment. But that’s academic.
Like any president, Mr. Obama will take credit for these economic gains. He’s doing that right now. And he has a case to make: A year ago the unemployment rate was 9.4 percent, and in 2011 it fell almost a percentage point. In the 12 months through December 2011, the economy produced 1.64 million new jobs, while in 2010, only 940,000 were created. On a monthly average basis, 137,000 new jobs per month were created in 2011, compared to only 78,000 a month in 2010. Things are getting better.
Now, whether this has anything to do with Barack Obama’s policies is quite another matter. After all, coming out of a deep recession, monthly jobs should be closer to 300,000 or 400,000, as they were during the Reagan recovery in 1983-84. The unemployment rate should be falling much faster. This should be the Republican message.
Ironically, while President Obama takes credit for better jobs today, his forecast at the time of the $800 billion stimulus package was for near 6 percent unemployment at this stage in the cycle. So the stimulus didn’t work. And in terms of recovery rates, pro-growth policies following a deep recession — as per the Reagan experience — might be creating 6 to 8 percent economic growth rather than the 2.5 percent tepid growth of the two-year Obama recovery.
Message to Republicans? Be bold. Adopt a 5 percent growth target. Don’t settle for less. Adopt a clear pro-growth platform that emphasizes aggressive fundamental tax-and-regulatory reform for individuals and businesses. Especially make the case for the energy revolution, where blue-collar employment is vitally involved. Deregulate Obamacare to zero. Work on a sound King Dollar.
Most of all, get government out of the way. Instead, open the door for the animal spirits of risk-taking that could torque the economy. And work harder to make a case for limited government spending and deficit reduction, as Sen. Marco Rubio has just done with a tough letter to the president. As Rubio put it: “It’s a tragic reality, but on [Obama’s] watch, more and more people have come to believe that America is becoming a deadbeat nation.”
Finally, avoid special preferences for individual parts of the economy that distort economic incentives and actually slow down economic growth. As Kim Strassel writes in The Wall Street Journal, the Reagan plan years ago was an optimistic growth message for everyone, not just targeted classes or economic sectors. So don’t mimic Obama. Mimic Reagan. Clarify the goal of growth, growth, growth.