Despite Donald Trump’s indictments and looming trials, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis faces virtually insurmountable challenges in his bid to defeat his party’s cult leader and win the GOP nomination. In the latest reboot of his faltering campaign, DeSantis has shifted his attention away from “woke” to the economy.
This effort will almost certainly fail, but it’s instructive because the new DeSantis “Declaration of Economic Independence” embodies much of the Republican case against Bidenomics. Yet on virtually every point in DeSantis’s “Declaration,” the economic record offers a strong case for Biden’s policies.
Let’s start with DeSantis’s goal for the overall economy, which echoes a Trump promise from 2016: 3 percent annual economic growth. DeSantis says he can achieve that through private investment, government deregulation, and tax cuts. But the data tell us that Biden has already done that—and more. In 2021 and 2022, real GDP grew at an average rate of 4 percent annually—more than 50 percent faster growth than the 2.6 percent average annual gains in 2017 and 2018, Trump’s first two years. It’s the same story with investment: Gains in fixed investment after inflation grew an average of 6.5 percent per year during Biden’s first two years, or 44 percent faster than the 4.5 percent average annual gains in 2017 and 2018.
DeSantis also promises to “create a fair labor market by securing the border and enforcing our laws.” He doesn’t mention that Biden has presided over the most robust labor market in modern times, with employment gains averaging nearly 5.3 million jobs per year in his first two-and-a-half years as president. That beats the annual job creation under Trump for the comparable period by 158 percent.
As for the border and its putative impact on jobs, Biden has cracked down much more effectively than Trump did. Annual enforcement actions at the border averaged 1,185,578 cases annually in 2021 and 2022, or 58 percent more than the yearly average of 751,123 cases in 2017 and 2018.
DeSantis hits another GOP talking point by pledging to “unleash American energy independence.” That’s another aspiration that’s become a reality under Biden: In 2021 and 2022, American energy production outpaced energy consumption by an annual average of 1.5 percent, despite fast-rising energy demand to fuel the rapid economic growth. The contrast with the Trump administration once again is stark: In 2017 and 2018, even with weaker energy demand from slower growth, U.S. energy consumption outstripped domestic energy production by an average of 8.5 percent.
U.S. energy imports and exports tell the same story: Under Trump, our energy exports lagged our energy imports by an average of 29 percent in 2017 and 2018; under Bidenomics, our energy exports outpaced our imports by an average of 23 percent annually in 2021 and 2022.
DeSantis also tries to ape Trumpian populism by feigning dissatisfaction that “the bottom half of American households have less wealth today than in 1989 while the top 10% have added $29 trillion in wealth over the same period.” To begin, there’s sleight of hand at work here: While the share of wealth held by the bottom half fell over those 34 years, the value of their assets, adjusted for inflation, increased from $1.63 trillion in 1989 to $3.44 trillion in early 2023 or 111 percent.
And the reversal that the proto-populists Trump and DeSantis claim they want to happen has begun under Bidenomics. Over Biden’s first nine quarters as president (January 2021 to March 2023), the bottom half of Americans owned an average of 2.5 percent of all private assets—a share nearly 40 percent larger than the average 1.8 percent share for the comparable period under Trump. In dollar terms, the bottom half has held an average of $740 billion in assets under Biden, or 16 percent more than their $637 billion average in inflation-adjusted assets under Trump. By both measures, the bottom half of Americans saw their wealth grow more under Biden than Trump.
Similarly, the wealth of the top 10 percent grew more under Trump than under Biden. Their assets increased by $3.16 trillion during Biden’s first nine quarters as president compared to $3.53 trillion over the first nine quarters of Trump’s term—and after adjusting the gains under Trump for inflation, the wealth of the top 10 percent jumped $4.16 trillion or 32 percent more than under Bidenomics. The real populist is Biden.
A legitimate GOP criticism of Bidenomics, of course, involves inflation. Even so, prices rose more rapidly in the advanced European economies than in the U.S.—and inflation has eased more rapidly here than there. In all cases, the world’s recovery was helped by the end of pandemic supply bottlenecks and falling energy prices from higher U.S. production and the slowdown in China’s growth. The difference is that the Federal Reserve’s tight monetary policies have been more successful than those adopted by the European Central Bank and the Bank of England. Nevertheless, DeSantis maintains his streak of getting virtually everything wrong by promising to “rein in” the Federal Reserve.
Tally it up, and you find that on virtually every significant aspect of the DeSantis/GOP economic program—overall growth, investment, employment, border enforcement, energy independence, wealth inequality, and anti-inflation policy—the data show that Bidenomics has greatly outperformed the record of the last GOP president who is also likely to be the Republican nominee again in 2024.
And so, DeSantis’ economic critique and policies should remind us that having a bachelor’s degree from Yale and a law degree from Harvard doesn’t necessarily mean you understand anything about the economy.