Krugman’s blog, 6/16/15

There were two posts yesterday.  The first was “Little Big Men:”

The big question about the supposed Republican frontrunner is “Jeb! Why???” What does he have to offer? What does he stand for?

Well, yesterday we got a sort of answer: he’s going to run as the candidate of economic growth, which he claims to know something about because as governor of Florida he had the honor of presiding over a huge housing bubble. But it’s an even odder choice of themes than this fact implies.

First of all, isn’t it weird how conservatives have convinced themselves that they have the secrets of growth? It’s as if a bunch of guys who are only 5’7″ (my height, btw) were running around in the firm belief that they’re all 6’2″. Nothing at all in the historical record supports this belief. Here’s the growth in real GDP under several presidents:

In case you’re wondering, Obama is below Bush at this point, but since Bush ended with a severe recession that continued into Obama’s first year, it’s almost certain that the full 8-year growth will be higher under the current president.

But Jeb! isn’t just drawing on the general conservative growth delusion. He’s piggybacking completely on his brother’s institute, which has a much-derided 4-percent growth project. FYI, the institute’s founding executive director was James K. Glassman, described by the Bush Center’s site as having “written three books on investing.” Indeed, and one of those books was “Dow 36,000.”

So Jeb! insists that he’s not his brother — he’s even replaced his last name with a punctuation mark — and is portrayed by sympathetic reporters as the serious, wonky member of the family that must not be named. But the best he can come up with in his campaign launch is some lukewarm leftovers from his brother’s already pretty sad excuse for a research institute.

Update: According to Politico, the 4 percent project was Jeb!’s idea. OK, but still pretty sad.

This has to be one of the laziest campaigns ever.

And Jeb! is supposed to be “the smart one.”  Yesterday’s second post was “More Florida Fun:”

Others are picking up on the sheer amazingness — make that amazingness! — of Jeb! citing the record of bubble-era Florida as proof of his skill in economic management. Jim Tankersley adds some data to the picture. But I think there are a couple of additional important points to make here.

First, how does the overall Florida record look now that the dust from the bursting bubble has settled? (Yes, that’s a horrible mixed metaphor. So sue me.) It’s actually kind of startling. Start from 1998, the year Jeb! was elected governor, and compare it with the US as a whole (the red line):

Florida fell into a deep slump when the bubble burst, much worse than the nation as a whole — and it has still not made up all the lost ground, so that Florida’s growth rate over the past 16 years is just 1.7 percent, slightly below the national average. This is even more remarkable when you bear in mind that the economy of a favored retirement destination should be growing faster than that of the rest of an aging nation.

Second, it could have been much worse. I’ve long argued that it’s useful to compare Florida with Spain — both warm places that experienced huge housing bubbles and suffered badly when the bubbles burst. Florida, however, had a much milder slump. Why? Fiscal integration: major programs, especially Social Security and Medicare, are paid for by the federal government, so that Florida in effect received large-scale aid when its economy and hence tax payments plunged but federal benefits just kept on coming.

But notice why that happened: it’s because of the big New Deal and Great Society programs, the ones Jeb!’s party wants to privatize and eventually kill. So not only did Jeb!’s supposed economic success consist of nothing besides presiding over a giant bubble; the only thing that kept the bubble from causing utter catastrophe was his state’s lucky dependence on big government.

And that, I think, really does warrant an exclamation point.

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