Who deserves credit for the strong economy?

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During his State of the Union address last week, President Trump touted the strength of the U.S. economy. “I am thrilled to report to you tonight that our economy is the best it has ever been,” he said. Though some may quibble with such a bold statement, there’s no question that — at least by certain metrics — the economy is booming.

The economy is in the midst of the longest expansion in American history, as it continues to grow from the worst days of the Great Recession. Unemployment is at the lowest rate in 50 years, and the stock market has spiked to record levels. 

A strong economy may be the most potent argument Trump has as he campaigns to win a second term. Even though a president’s influence on the economy is limited, voters tend to reward them when it’s strong and punish them when it’s weak. The last two incumbents to lose reelection, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, were defeated during flagging economies. 

Why there’s debate

Trump’s supporters say he deserves praise for the historic highs the economy has reached since he took office. They credit his trillion-dollar tax cut and the trade battles with China, Mexico and others for boosting investment and creating jobs in the U.S. 

Trump’s detractors say the gains made in the past three years are merely an extension of the progress Barack Obama set in motion. Not only did Obama prevent another depression, they argue, but he also built a solid foundation on which the current economic expansion has grown. Others say Trump has weakened the country’s long-term prospects by cutting taxes and increasing spending to create a short burst of growth that will ultimately destabilize the economy. 

Another group rejects the idea that the economy is doing as well as it may seem. Most of the gains have been experienced by the wealthy, while the working class has fallen further behind, they argue.

What’s next

Though the economy is still growing, the rate of that growth slowed last year to the lowest levels in the Trump presidency. Whether that’s a sign the economic upswing is reaching its peak is unclear, economists say. Economies can’t grow forever, and another recession will come eventually. 

Perspectives

Supporters

Trump deserves credit

“The Trump administration’s policies have finally produced the economic benefits that American workers should have experienced coming out of the recession but did not.” — Andy Puzder, Washington Post

Trump’s policies have directly led to economic growth

“Those things aren’t good luck or accidental. They’re the results of capitalism and a Republican president who passed the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and removed job-killing regulations that were stifling the business sector under the prior administration.” — Adriana Cohen, Fox News

Voters recognize Trump’s positive influence

“Trump’s policies have sparked the greatest economic renaissance America has seen in decades, and no amount of political spin can conceal that fact from the millions of Americans who are better off today thanks to his efforts.” — Julio Gonzalez, South Florida Sun Sentinel

Obama gets too much credit for the recovery

“Barack Obama inherited an economy with nowhere to go but up, and what followed was the slowest recovery since World War II. President Trump inherited an economy theoretically overdue for a recession and already returned to what economists considered full employment.” — Tiana Lowe, Washington Examiner

Critics

Trump is riding Obama’s momentum

“Overall, the economic metrics Trump beats his chest about are continuations of trends that started during the Obama administration, suggesting that the country has been climbing out of a recession for many years, not that Trump’s policies were necessarily transformative.” — Harry Cheadle, Vox

Down-ballot Democrats have helped more than Trump

“Poverty rates are falling not because of GOP tax cuts and the resulting ballooning of both inequality and the federal deficit, and not because of deregulation that makes the environment dirtier and workplaces less safe. They are falling mainly because Democratic-controlled cities and states are raising the minimum wage in the face of federal inaction, and are looking for ways to increase access to health insurance.” — Sasha Abramskyy, The Nation

The working class is being left behind by Trump’s policies

“The economy is not working for average Americans. … Rather than helping, President Trump has broken his promise to stand up for average Americans. When facing a choice, he has regularly chosen the rich and powerful over the economic security of middle-class Americans.” — Christian Weller, Forbes

Trump’s short-term thinking has weakened the economy going forward

“It’s hard to see how the short-term sugar high can come close to balancing the long-term costs of ignoring climate change, the large budget deficits and the trade war. Actually, not hard. Impossible.” — Alan Blinder, Time

It’s complicated

Neither Trump nor Obama deserves full credit

“Presidents always get more credit for good economies — and more blame for bad ones — than they deserve.” — Alan S. Blinder, Wall Street Journal

The economy isn’t as strong as metrics make it look

“Suicide rates are at a record high in the post-World War II era, and more Americans die every two weeks from drugs, alcohol and suicide — “deaths of despair” — than died in 18 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. These deaths are symptoms of a larger economic malaise for working-class Americans that predates Trump.” — Nicholas Kristof, New York Times

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