Back to work

BACK TO WORK…. Ron Brownstein published a paragraph this week that actually seemed hard to believe: “If the economy produces jobs over the next eight months at the same pace as it did over the past four months, the nation will have created more jobs in 2010 alone than it did over the entire eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency.”

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At first blush, it’s tempting to think that couldn’t possibly be true. The Republican economic policies — tax cuts for the wealthy, huge deficits, weak recovery, minimal public investment, even less oversight and regulation — were a spectacular mess that failed miserably. But can 2010 really top the job creation of Bush’s entire presidency?

Actually, yes. This chart, published by the Washington Post in January, tells a pretty remarkable story, showing job growth by decade. (You can click on the chart to see it larger.) Notice that red line down towards the bottom? That shows the anemic job creation over the first decade of the 21st century.

Indeed, it went largely ignored at the time, but the Republican Bush/Cheney ticket sought a second term in 2004 despite the fact that it was the first administration in the modern era to go four years with a net job growth of zero. The campaign was largely about national security, so voters overlooked this painful detail.

And so it creates the dynamic that Brownstein describes. If job growth holds steady the rest of this year — by no means a certainty, of course — the U.S. economy will create a net gain of about 1.7 million jobs. From start to finish, the net gain under Bush was about 1 million.

The Obama presidency, of course, will have a long way to go before it can start talking about a net gain. It inherited an economy in freefall, and over 4 million jobs were lost in 2009 alone. Making up that kind of lost ground will take quite a long time, though the stimulus has obviously helped get us back on track.

But in some ways, that only helps make the Bush comparison worse — he inherited an economy with a 4% unemployment rate, a huge surplus, and sunny skies ahead. Worse, Bush/Cheney and congressional Republicans got exactly what they wanted in terms of huge tax cuts, but the economic benefits they promised never materialized.

Oddly enough, these same Republicans think the economy will soar if we just return to Bush-era policies and repeat the same mistakes they already made. Why anyone who hasn’t suffered trauma would find this credible remains a mystery.