Americans: Still Making No Sense on the Economy?

More

It's Call Americans Stupid Week at your local East coast liberal news outlet. Days after Slate's Jake Weisberg implored us to "blame the childish, ignorant American public" for our political crisis, the New Yorker's James Surowiecki listens to the public's screams and says it's "just not clear that they're making any sense." Is James Surowiecki making any sense?


He is. Weisberg's piece held up individual polls to make Americans look hypocritical, which meant marshaling somewhat unfair evidence (polls are often misleading and limited) in pursuit of a defensible thesis. Surowiecki paints with a fatter brush: "if Democrats pass a stimulus package, they'll be lambasted for increasing the deficit; if they don't pass a stimulus, they'll be attacked for not caring about jobs." Sounds about right.

The central insight here is simple, but also easy to overlook: If unemployment stays around 10 percent all year, Obama and the Democrats should not expect to get the benefit of the doubt on any piece of legislation. Presidents live and die by approval ratings, as John Judis wrote, and approval ratings live and die by employment. Here are Reagan's numbers grafted with unemployment (for more examples, click here):

It's one thing to say: the Senate should pass a jobs bill, and quickly. It's another thing for the Senate to actually pass a jobs bill, even slowly. The people might be confused, but their scatter-shot take on simultaneous job-creation and deficit-reduction is reflected in the world's greatest deliberative body. As I wrote here, every Congressman would acknowledge that we need more jobs, but key senators won't vote for the money to incentivize hiring. Moderate Republicans won't even vote to re-direct money paid back from TARP to send to small businesses. The White House can't spend the deficit up without upsetting moderate Democrats, but Congress won't even vote on a commission to bring the deficit down in the future. If America's economic worldview stinks, it's a fish that's rotting from the head.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

The Remote Warehouse Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Where the Wild Things Go

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Adults Need Playtime Too

When was the last time you played your favorite childhood game?

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Business

Just In