Mr. President, a recovery is not an expansion

Jim Blasingame

Dear President Obama:

For as long as there have been organized economies there have been economic cycles, of which there are essentially three elements:

  • Beginning at the bottom, a recession (sometimes, but rarely, a depression). Historically, sir, recessions are short – often measured in months.
  • In the middle is a recovery, which has the task of healing the defects that caused the downturn while reversing negative growth. Depending on the severity of the recession, recoveries take a little longer, from months to a year or so.
  • And finally, the tide that floats all boats, the expansion. Expansions can last for years, as they did under two of your predecessors, Reagan and Clinton.

In America, we expect a recovery to be a means to an end, not a way of life. Alas, that isn’t your standard, because perpetual recovery has been our economic fate since you took office, four months before the Great Recession ended in June 2009.

Recently, in a speech in Elkhart, Indiana, you said this: “By almost every economic measure, America is better off than when I came here at the beginning of my presidency.” Those of us who have made payroll every month of your tenure see things differently, as, apparently, does your own Department of Labor. Two days after the Elkhart speech, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a measly 38,000 jobs were created in May – the worst jobs month in six years. And labor participation – the number of Americans who work – has languished under your watch at rates not seen since the last president who manufactured malaise, President Carter. You can’t have an expansion, sir, if people aren’t working.

Let’s review your economic performance, Mr. President, by the numbers. First, we’ll cut you some slack and throw out your first year in office, 2009. The recession ended halfway through, but ’09 was a horrible year you didn’t create, going almost 3 percent negative. But the next six years, through 2015, the economy averaged a pitiful 2.15% GDP growth. Those are not expansion numbers, sir, and they’re the worst for any president since World War II. Any economist will tell you an expansion is annual growth averaging at least 3%. By the way, 2016 is not trending any better than the past six.

It’s a misnomer to refer to a president as “handling of the economy,” because there are really only two ways you factor directly into its performance: 1) helping by getting government out of the way of job creators; and 2) hurting by putting government in the way. Mr. President, you’ve set a record for the latter as an unprecedented assaulter on job creators. Your weapons are:

  • Anti-business rhetoric – “You didn’t build that” and referring to successful people as “fortunate” who need to pay their “fair share”;
  • Anti-business laws – both the specter and the reality of Obamacare, plus Dodd-Frank, to name the big two;
  • Anti-business regulations, guidance and executive orders from your EPA, NLRB, Labor and FCC.

All of these are unprecedented for any president in their tone, scope, and damage. Not to mention the palpable fear and uncertainty that manifested among job creators.

Here’s more evidence: The NFIB Index of Small Business Optimism, the gold standard for such research, reports the longest stretch of pessimism in the Index’s 43 years during your presidency. This from the sector that creates over half of the jobs and half of the U.S. economy. In my own polling of small business owners, only 9% think you have “been good for the economy,” while more than two-thirds think your policies have been “an economic nightmare.”

Referring to the economy in the Elkhart speech, you said, “We can make it even stronger.” Who are “we,” Mr. President? The Oval Office door will soon hit you in the backside for the last time. With all due respect, sir, if “we” make “it” stronger, that will happen after you leave.

Write this on a rock ... Out here on Main Street, Mr. President, we’re not going to miss you when you’re gone.

Jim Blasingame is host of the nationally syndicate radio show The Small Business Advocate and author of the multi-award-winning book The Age of the Customer: Prepare for the Moment of Relevance.

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