Are We Better Off Than 4 Years Ago? Of Course Not

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"Are you better off than you were four years ago?" is a perfect question for Republicans to ask for two reasons.

First, the answer to the question is so clearly: No, we are not better off. Tim Noah rounds up the case: Compared with the summer of 2008, median household income has fallen, unemployed has increased, and the misery index (joblessness plus inflation) is up. Of course, this is starting our timers five months before Sen. Obama became President Obama. In the administration-adjusted count, in which "four years" equals "three years and eight months," the record is slightly different. The most dramatic increase in job losses that you see above happened before or during the changing of the White House. In fact, the unemployment rate is the same today as in Obama's first full month in office.

Second, asking voters how they feel about the last four years is a good way to talk about the past if you don't have much to say about the future. Even with the addition of Paul Ryan to the ticket, Republicans have been fairly vague about how they plan to cut the budget, reform taxes, or address health care beyond repealing the Affordable Care Act. Democrats, feeling little pressure in the specificity department, have been similarly vague about what exactly the president prioritizes for his second term. Maybe the debates will squeeze some policy specifics from the candidates. But for now, this is a tug-of-war between The Failure Argument ("The president didn't get the job done, he has to go") and The Fear Argument ("Do you really want these guys running the country?") with very little left over about the future.

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

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