In the deciding Game 5 of this year’s National League Division Series between the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers, score tied in the bottom of the ninth inning, Dodgers catcher Will Smith lifted a long flyball to right field. His teammates leapt over the dugout railing in excitement … just as the ball settled in the glove of Nationals right-fielder Adam Eaton. Premature celebrations are a sports-blooper staple — the more elaborate the preening and the more obvious the shortfall, the more embarrassing the quickly shared video clip. Somewhere between point guard Kemba Walker spinning and shimmying as his shot rattles out and running back Roosevelt Nix signaling his fake-punt first down after falling a yard short lies the victory lap underway for America’s economic recovery.
By comparison to the nadir of the Great Recession, current economic conditions appear exceptional. But better-than-terrible isn’t the goal. By comparison to prior booms, this business cycle is continuing a downward trend; on many of the dimensions that matter most, current performance is below the average for recent decades (recessions included) and in some cases near all-time lows. Such results are particularly concerning at a time when the nation is running an aggressively loose monetary and fiscal policy more characteristic of a struggling economy in need of stimulus. Demanding a rapid return to America’s best economic days might be unreasonable — after decades spent systematically undermining the foundations of robust and widespread prosperity, a few years of reform can only go so far. All the more reason to avoid declaring victory, and to emphasize instead the scope and scale of recovery still required.
Oren Cass is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of “The Once and Future Worker.” This piece is based on a new Issues 2020 issue brief, The Trump Economy: Solid but not the GOAT. Follow him on Twitter here.
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