Watered with liberal tears

How the American economy did under Donald Trump

IN HIS NEW book Casey Mulligan offers an intriguing explanation for why President Donald Trump makes outlandish economic claims. Mr Trump knows he is hyperbolising when he says that America has enjoyed “the greatest economy in the history of the world” on his watch, suggests Mr Mulligan, who was until recently the chief economist on the president’s Council of Economic Advisers. It is a “strategy for getting the press to cover a new fact, which is to exaggerate it so that the press might enjoy correcting him and unwittingly disseminate the intended finding”. Journalists’ dislike for Mr Trump, according to Mr Mulligan, blinds them to many of the administration’s genuine economic successes. He may have a point.

Assessing leaders’ economic records is fraught with difficulty. Presidents typically get credit when the economy is doing well and blame when it does badly—but short-term economic outcomes are usually more influenced by central banks, demography and what is happening in the rest of the world, among other factors. Even today, political scientists continue to argue over whether the economy in the 20th century did better under Democratic or Republican administrations. All this is of little use to the American public, whose vote for a president must be based, in part, on a real-time assessment of economic competence.

Mr Trump came to power with unrealistic promises to create 25m jobs and supercharge economic growth, and to that end cut taxes and boosted spending, widening the fiscal deficit (…