Several media outlets parroted Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush's economic message after he claimed his administration would oversee 4 percent economic growth and the creation of up to 19 million new jobs. But economists argue that his goals are unrealistic, and question the impact any single president can have on “decades-long trends.”
Media's Reporting Repeats Bush's Economic Policy Rhetoric Without Relevant Analysis
WSJ: Bush Promised 4 Percent Growth, 19 Million New Jobs As President. During his June 15 campaign announcement in Miami, Florida, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush promised that his administration would oversee 4 percent annual economic growth and the creation of up to 19 million new jobs, according to The Wall Street Journal:
Without providing specifics, Mr. Bush repeated his call for 4% annual economic growth and added that would translate into 19 million new jobs. The last time yearly inflation-adjusted growth in the nation's gross domestic product topped that percentage was in 2000, the year before his brother, President George W. Bush took office. [The Wall Street Journal, 6/15/15]
Wash. Post: Bush “Laid Out An Ambitious Goal” On The Economy. According to The Washington Post, Bush's target of 4 percent economic growth was “an ambitious goal”:
Bush laid out an ambitious goal of 4 percent economic growth, which he said would bring 19 million new jobs. “It's possible,” he said. “It can be done.” [The Washington Post, 6/15/15]
Tampa Bay Times: Bush's Economic Message “Tried To Appeal To Middle-Class Concerns.” According to the Tampa Bay Times, Bush's campaign rhetoric was tailored toward “middle-class concerns”:
Bush also tried to appeal to middle-class concerns, another problem in past Republican presidential campaigns.
He called for 4 percent annual growth, “and the 19 million new jobs that comes with it,” adding: “Economic growth that makes a difference for hard-working men and women -- who don't need reminding that the economy is more than the stock market. Growth that lifts up the middle class -- all the families who haven't gotten a raise in 15 years.” [Tampa Bay Times, 6/15/15]
CNBC: As President, Bush “Would Set A Goal” On Growth And Job Creation. CNBC's coverage of Bush's economic rhetoric simply stated that Bush “would set a goal of 4 percent economic growth and 19 million new jobs.” [CNBC, 6/15/15]
Boston Herald: Bush “Vows 4 Percent Economic Growth” At Campaign Stop. According to the Boston Herald, Bush reiterated his “vow” to oversee 4 percent economic growth and the creation of 19 million new jobs while defending his record and those of his father and brother during a campaign stop in Derry, New Hampshire:
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush tried to shake off Hillary Clinton's claims that the previous two Bush presidents wrecked the economy, while talking up his own jobs record in Florida and vowing 4 percent annual growth if elected president during a town hall here yesterday.
“If you ever see my good friend Rick Perry or even actually my brother George W., tell them we created more jobs than Texas during those years,” said Bush, citing 1.3 million jobs created from 1999 to 2007.
Bush said he'll grow the U.S. economy at 4 percent a year, create 19 million jobs and simplify the tax code if elected president. [Boston Herald, 6/17/15]
Economists, Policy Experts Doubt Bush Could Achieve Results
AP: Bush's Economic Growth Goals Are “Tenuous.” According to several economists interviewed by the Associated Press, Jeb Bush's stated goal of achieving 4 percent annual economic growth during his presidency is “tenuous” and would require “overcome[ing] decades-long trends that are largely beyond the control of the Oval Office.” The article also notes that the only presidents to achieve such lofty economic growth goals since World War II were Democrats -- Presidents Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, and Clinton:
Only four of the 16 presidential terms since World War II have experienced annual economic growth averaging more than 4 percent after inflation, according to research published last year by Princeton University economists Alan Blinder and Mark Watson.
President Harry Truman reaped the peace dividend as U.S. manufacturers helped rebuild nations devastated by World War II. The Kennedy and Johnson administrations enjoyed a boom because of tax cuts. And President Bill Clinton benefited during his second term from low interest rates and what eventually became a tech-stock bubble.
There are two primary ways to grow an economy faster: add more workers or increase their efficiency so that each hour on the job generates more income. Neither factor looks spectacular enough to deliver 4 percent growth, particularly since the share of Americans working has drifted downward as the number of retirees has increased. [Associated Press, 6/17/15]
WSJ: Bush's Goals “Will Require Some Real Wizardry.” According to The Journal's Real Time Economics blog, Bush's goal of 4 percent economic growth and 19 million new jobs created “will require some real wizardry, reversing long-running trends in population, job participation and worker productivity.” The blog noted that the economy is expected to produce those millions of jobs anyway, with or without Bush's targeted growth goal:
Even if everything goes right and the economy adds 19 million jobs, that's only employment growth of about 1.3% per year. In order to get 4% GDP growth, you're going to need the economy's productivity to climb swiftly. Productivity's last major surge lasted from the late 1990s to the the mid-2000s. Presidential policies may play some role in productivity growth, but most economists would attribute the 1990s boom to the information-technology revolution. That probably had more to do with engineers in San Francisco than politicians in Washington, and even so it didn't last for an entire decade. [The Wall Street Journal, Real Time Economics, 6/15/15]
Slate: Bush's Economic Goals Are “Nonsense.” A June 15 article by Slate titled “Jeb Bush Is Already Talking Straight-Up Nonsense About the Economy” questioned the former governor's growth and job creation targets and suggested that his “overconfidence” could produce future policy proposals not “tethered to reality”:
See, the thing is, there are lots of reasons that the economy is probably not going to grow at 4 percent per year in the near future. The fact that Bush suggests otherwise doesn't bode well for anybody hoping that his economic vision will be any more tethered to reality than his competitors'.
So Bush is too optimistic about our economic prospects. What's the big deal? My guess is that the overconfidence will be baked into his policy proposals. Don't be surprised to see white papers promising that with the right mix of tax cuts, deregulation, and tweaks to immigration, we'll suddenly be riding high on a new period of growth, which will allow for all sorts of heroic predictions about tax revenue and the future of the deficit. Sober and serious won't be on the menu. [Slate, 6/15/15]
NYT: 4 Percent Growth Would Require An Economic “Revolution.” According to a June 15 article by The New York Times' Upshot blog, “simple math suggests the next president is unlikely to see sustained 4 percent G.D.P growth absent a remarkable, rapid upward shift in the nation's productive capacity.” The article points out that the next president will likely inherit an economy operating near full capacity and would need “a revolution in American productivity” to boost growth to such high levels. [The New York Times, Upshot, 6/15/15]
Politico: 4 Percent Growth Hasn't Been Sustained In 200 Years, Would Be “Impossible” In The Long-Term. According to economists interviewed by Politico, despite Jeb Bush occassionally overseeing 4 percent growth at the state-level in Florida, national economic growth on that scale has not been witnessed in the United States in 200 years. Furthermore, sustaining such high levels of growth for nearly a decade would be “impossible”:
But while 4 percent growth can last for years at the state level, it has never been anything approaching the norm in U.S. economic history, even during the boom years that followed World War II. “I can go back 200 years,” said Claudia Goldin, an economic historian at Harvard, “and not get anything like this in a sustained manner.”
Economic growth has reached or exceeded 4 percent annually in only 23 of the past 63 years, most recently during the tech boom of the late 1990s, under President Bill Clinton. “Four percent for a decade?” asks economist Robert Gordon of Northwestern. “Impossible.” [Politico, 6/15/15]
Wash. Post: Bush Fell Into “Trap Of Setting Ambitious Economic Goals.” According to The Washington Post's daily PowerPost blog, Jeb Bush fell “into this trap of setting ambitious economic goals” that he cannot deliver on, similar to his father's now-infamous “Read-My-Lips” pledge wherein the former president promised “no new taxes” during his administration before being forced by fiscal and economic conditions to raise taxes several times. The blog also highlighted that neither George H.W. nor George W. Bush were able to achieve a single year of 4 percent growth during their collective 12 years as president:
The former Florida governor opened his presidential announcement speech in Miami yesterday by declaring that his goal as president would be to create 19 million new jobs. “There is not a reason in the world why we cannot grow at a rate of 4 percent a year,” he said. That begs the question: Why could neither his father nor brother do it during the 12 years they led?
Bush is the latest Republican to fall into this trap of setting ambitious economic goals in the name of being bold, which he'll get mocked for by some economists during the campaign and which he is unlikely to actually achieve if he is elected president. Then, even if the Republican does generate impressive growth, he'll be judged against a higher benchmark. In 2011, Tim Pawlenty made the pledge of 5 percent annual GDP growth a centerpiece of his failed campaign and got little buzz out of it. [The Washington Post, PowerPost, 6/16/15]