In presidential election years, the basic rule is that politicians and journalists can say anything they want about the economy ... so long as it isn't true.
For some strange reason, I keep getting fund-raising letters from the Kerry campaign. But I don't contribute to this particular cause (big government), because I already gave at the office (to the IRS).
A recent letter said, "The first thing John Kerry will do is fight his heart out to bring back the 3 million jobs that have been lost under George W. Bush." How they came up with that number is fascinating. From January 2001 to August 2003, payroll employment fell by 2.6 million. Those more interested in politics than economics began describing that as "nearly 3 million." At times, they forget the word "nearly."
On March 9, Kerry Campaign Chairwoman Jeanne Shaheen awarded George Bush the Herbert Hoover Award, saying, "On behalf of the nearly 3 million people who have lost their jobs under this administration, we are awarding George Bush the first ever ?Herbert Hoover Award' for having the worst jobs record since the Great Depression."
This was nothing new. Kerry and his running mate, Sen. Edwards, began comparing President Bush to Herbert Hoover soon after that bizarre analogy first appeared in a September 2003 report from the Economic Policy Institute.
Six months later, the Kerry campaign began running a TV ad in Ohio with the senator solemnly saying, "Three million jobs lost ... that is an astonishing failure." By then, the 3 million figure had evolved from bogus to preposterous.
Payroll employment rose 1.5 million from August through June. Normally, it might seem reasonable to subtract that 1.5 million from 2.6 and come up with a net job loss of 1.1 million. But this is not a normal year. It's an election year. So the Kerry for President website still complains about the "3 million jobs that have been lost."
By early July, Kerry moved closer to reality by saying, "We have a million and a half jobs lost, and I don't believe that's the best that we can do." Of course that isn't the best we can do. We are doing better every month. He said his campaign is not about pessimism. But what on earth has he been thinking by repeatedly comparing a relatively mild cyclical job loss to the Great Depression?
The loss of payroll jobs in this slump never amounted to more than 2 percent -- much less than the 2.8 percent job loss in 1974-75, 3.1 percent in 1981-82, 4.4 percent in 1957-58 or the 5.2 percent job loss in 1948-49. The pace of job recovery appeared faster after those deeper recessions mainly because many more jobs were lost.