Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics, and Economic Propaganda

A reader recently emailed me with concerns about this propaganda email piece going around mostly in the right wing world but also apparently - and probably not surprisingly - infiltrating people on the Left. It's a chart that purports to show how much supposedly worse off we are now than when Obama took office in January of 2009.

OMG! How horrible terrible no good very bad Obama! Actually, it's just flat stupid. But it's effective. Because (a) the items listed are cherry picked for you, and (b) you only see two numbers - January 2009 and "now" - instead of seeing any trendlines, analyzing anything, or looking at the economy as a whole with other numbers. There are lies, damned lies and [misused] statistics.

But I am going to do something for the propagandists here. We are going to look at many of the above items in terms of trendlines. Let's start with gas prices. Yes, it's true that right now, gas prices are rising (and hell, I'd love some gas for $3.10 a gallon somewhere around where I live), and in January 2009 the prices were an average of $1.83. But that was the lowest point since the beginning of 2008, according to the Department of Energy. According to the DOE's historical data, here's how the prices have been over the last decade:
US oil prices decade of 2000

How convenient. But here is the truth: gas prices remained fairly steady throughout the 90s and early 2000s, but it suddenly started rising right around late 2002 and early 2003. I wonder what was going on then. Oh, yeah, war drums against Iraq - a war based on lies that Bush and his cronies manufactured out of thin air and one that we are still paying the price for. Followed by the Oil Man White House, Bush and his cronies managed to screw up the oversight of the domestic oil production so much that we then were stuck with the BP oil volcano. And I'm certain that the current unrest in the Middle East has either nothing to do with the price of gasoline, right? Hey, I get it that those people are fighting for their freedoms and democratic rights, but hey man, do we have to put up with higher gas prices for that?

Yes, thanks to the rise in gasoline prices, food prices are also on the rise. But we are actually faring not so badly when looked at in the context of how much gas prices are rising, the increasing global food demand, and inflation. As The Mountain Times in North Carolina reports:
Food production in the U.S. relies heavily on petroleum. But, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, in 2011, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for all food is projected to increase only 3 to 4 percent. Grocery store prices are forecast to rise 3.5 to 4.5 percent, while restaurant prices are forecast to increase 3 to 4 percent. This is due to higher energy and food commodity prices, along with strengthening global food demand.

We Americans are faring well when you look at some of the poor countries. The United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization released figures in February 2011 showing that global food prices have risen 41 percent since June of 2010, primarily due to a combination of bad weather and an increase in global demand.
And our current inflation rate, as reported in March, is about 2.7%. Compared to that, food prices are still rising faster than inflation, but not that much faster.

Oh, look, gold is going up in price. Hmm, ask Glenn Beck, he knows why. Do tell who's been driving up the "buy gold, horde gold" craziness since Obama took office? I wonder if artificially driven higher price. And just what middle class family is buying gold for their everyday needs?

Oh, no. The unemployment rate is higher today than it was in  January of 2009? Really? You don't say. Yes, unemployment is higher now than in January of 2009. But once again, we are missing context, missing trendlines, missing anything close to the full picture. Here is more of a complete picture: when President Obama took office, thanks to the George W. Bush administration's handling of the economy and deregulation of the financial marketplace for the last 30 years, we were shedding nearly 800,000 jobs a month. Under President Obama, we have had a year of steady private sector job creation, and last month, we created 216,000 jobs. A picture is worth a thousand words.

Let's also not forget that the Republican party in Washington did everything in its power to keep jobs from being created these past couple of years. Important economic stimulus measures like the Recovery Act to state aid that kept millions of teachers, police and firefighters on the job to unemployment insurance extension to small business aid were all delayed and cut in size thanks to almost always unanimous Republic opposition and filibuster. They killed important jobs legislation like the Make It in America bill in the previous Congress. The Republican party opposed every measure to help the economy under Barack Obama, and they have presented no serious alternative of their own. Not only that, they slowed down everything in the Senate by demanding 60 votes on almost everything, even items that eventually passed with 80, 90 votes. This tactic helped ensure the Senate did not get to a lot of job creating legislation for the lack of time.

Even after they returned to power in the House, their idea of job creating legislation can be summed up thusly: attempts to defund women's health care, to repeal a 35% tax credit businesses are now getting to cover their employees with health insurance, and planning to dismantle Medicare and Social Security. This is not a statement of emotion but of fact: the Republican Party leaders and their far right economic ideology is not simply responsible for the worst economic slump since the Great Depression, but they have also done everything in their power to slow down and stop the recovery for their own political agenda.

It is exactly thanks to this culmination of 30 years of right wing economics and two years of Republican obstruction that is responsible for today's still-high unemployment rate and the first decade in over half a century of declining median household income (when people don't have jobs and a Party in Washington is putting all their efforts to ensure jobs are not being created. During George Bush's tenure, the median household income in the US fell from $52,301 to $50,112 (2009 dollars) - a 4.2% drop in real income, according to the US Census Bureau. It's also funny of the propagandists to use the $49,777 for 2009, the income in which year is mostly a result of Republican policies that had already wrecked havoc the year before. The complaint here is essentially very simple: OMG Barack Obama did not wave a magic wand and turn everything around in 11 months. Also, never mind the constant obstruction the Right offered. Oh, and by the way, over the last year, individual incomes in the US have grown, thanks to President Obama's policies.

But the problem with propaganda pieces like these isn't simply that they fail to account for trendlines and context within the limited information they give you. The problem is also that it fails to put the information in the context of the larger economic conditions. For example, consumer spending is up, and last year's fourth quarter growth data was also revised up to a 3.1% annualized rate from the previous 2.8% annualized growth, and up from a 2.6% rate from the third quarter. Here's how it went from the start of the Bush recession to now that we are at the early stages of the Obama recovery:

GDP bikini graph as of q4 2010

The plain fact of the matter is that George Bush left us with a Great Recession, and President Obama's leadership has lead us out of it. GDP growth is estimated to reach 3.5 to 4 percent by the second half of this year.

Even US exports are increasing. Thanks to Obama's policies, US exports to China grew by an impressive 32% last year alone, and our beeef exports were up 50% overall. The Department of Commerce reports that we are slowly decreasing our trade deficit:
In February 2011, the monthly U.S. goods and services trade deficit decreased by 2.6 percent to $45.8 billion when compared to January 2011.

U.S. goods and services exports in the first two months of 2011 are up 15.0 percent to $332.7 billion from the $289.4 billion in exports in first two months of 2010.
Maybe if the Republicans let us enact the Make It in America agenda, we could do even better.

The numbers do speak for themselves, if one knows how to read them properly. Since Barack Obama's policies have had a chance to take effect, the facts are these: we have gone from bleeding 800,000 jobs a month to sustained job creation, from a deep, hard recession to economic expansion (though modest), closed our trade deficit, reset the decade-long falling income trend-line and incomes are starting to rise at a very modest rate again, rescued an entire American auto industry, and saved the country's and world's financial systems from collapsing while actually making taxpayers a profit.

As we know, President Obama took the helm of the Titanic after it hit the iceberg. And he's doing a pretty damn good job of bringing it ashore for repairs.

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