President Bush is taking a beating on the economy, partly because he has failed to realize the power of numbers. In his 1996 re-election campaign, Bill Clinton took the numbers from a recovering economy and repeated them until the American public reached the point of statistical saturation and became convinced the nation had achieved economic nirvana. It was a classic case of "talking up" the economy. Lately, Democratic presidential candidates have done exactly the opposite, making a recovering economy seem a cesspit of misery. If Bush is to save his presidency, he must push back. He must tout his numbers.
The numbers speak of strong overall economic growth. The gross domestic product -- the figure for the total output economy -- grew at an 8.2 percent rate in the third quarter of 2003, and at a 4 percent rate in the fourth quarter. The GDP is forecast to grow at a 4.5 percent rate in 2004. As economist J. Edward Carter writes: "For the third consecutive year, the U.S. economy is poised to grow faster than most other industrialized economies. France, Germany and Japan, for instance, are not expected to grow even half as fast as the United States."
The numbers indicate an economy constantly finding new and better ways to work. Nonfarm productivity -- a crucial indicator of economic efficiency that corresponds over the long term with higher wages and greater national wealth -- grew at a healthy 4.2 percent rate in 2003. During Bush's first three years in office, productivity has been increasing at a 4.1 percent annual rate, the best start to any presidential term in roughly 50 years.
The numbers highlight a booming housing market. The rate of homeownership hit 68.6 percent during the past three months of 2003, an all-time high. Sales for new and existing homes were also at all-time highs last year. Housing starts have jumped 26 percent since 2001, and the 30-year fixed mortgage rate has dropped 20 percent, from 7.06 percent to 5.66 percent.
The numbers tell of bustling activity all around. Manufacturing production has increased 2.3 percent since January 2003. There was a 10 percent increase in equipment and software spending in the fourth quarter of 2004, the third consecutive quarter of strong growth in such investment. In January, retail sales were up a robust 5.8 percent over a year earlier. Profits among companies that are part of the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index increased by 26 percent in the fourth quarter of 2003.