Alan Reynolds
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A recent Gallup poll found that only 41 percent of respondents approved of Bush's handling of the economy, compared to 55 percent who disapproved. Such a question would make sense, of course, only if the United States were a centrally planned dictatorship. In a free society, the less the president handles the economy the better off we are.

Because polls reflect perception rather than reality, the suspicion arises that many people wrongly believe the U.S. economy is in bad shape because that is what they keep hearing on TV or reading in the newspapers. And because there is a presidential election looming, partisans are sure to exaggerate the economic performance of the Clinton years in order to stir up discontent with the present.

Politics being what it is (a spectator sport), partisans can't resist attributing economic outcomes to the White House, rather than to the efforts of millions of business managers, workers and investors responding to incentives. In this spirit, Bill Sammon, a frequent guest on Fox News, set up a provocative duel at examiner.com between White House spokesman Tony Fratto and Gene Sperling, former economic adviser to President Bill Clinton and current adviser to Hillary Rodham Clinton. As might be expected, both contestants were not entirely candid.

Fratto plausibly complained that the mainstream media have displayed a "double standard" by ignoring or denying visible economic progress under Bush while puffing-up the economic conditions during Clinton's presidency. "If you go back to this point in the Clinton expansion," Fratto said, "they would have loved to have seen the numbers that we have right now. On the unemployment rate, we're a full percentage point below where they were at the same point in the expansion -- 60 or 61 months in."

"That's a rather absurd claim," replied Sperling. "In terms of job creation, in terms of wage growth, in terms of business investment, in terms of poverty, there's absolutely no comparison." There is a comparison, though he may not want it to be made.

The article listed "dueling data points" from the Bush Camp and Clinton Camp. The Bush Camp said: "Real wages rose 1.8 percent over the 12 months through February. This is substantially faster than the average rate of wage growth in the late 1990s." How does the past 12 months relate to some unspecified years during the late 1990s? Would it not be more honest to compare several years at a similar stage of the expansion?

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Alan Reynolds

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