Monday, January 2, 2017

The U.S. Economy: Donald Trump's Newest Branding Effort

At LAT, "Donald Trump's newest branding endeavor: the economy":
Throughout his campaign for president, Donald Trump painted a gloomy picture of the American economy, scoffing at employment data that he said masked the truth.

“Our jobs are being stolen like candy from a baby,” the Republican said at an election-day rally in Michigan, lamenting how he saw global competitors like China outmaneuvering the U.S. economically. “They take our money. They take our jobs. They build their plants. They build their factories. We end up with unemployment and drugs.”

But his stunning election win seemed to change his —  and to some extent the public’s — outlook. The media-conscious president-elect has quickly adopted a role as the greatest cheerleader for an economy that was already on the rebound.

“The U.S. Consumer Confidence Index for December surged nearly four points,” Trump crowed in a tweet this week, noting in all caps that it reached a 15-year high. He added, with characteristic immodesty: “Thanks Donald!”

Donning the mantle of economic optimist is a time-honored tradition for presidents, who are seen as perhaps the most singularly influential person over the economy. Trump’s outlook, however, is notable for the reversal from the campaign and for his promotion of the unproven assertion that he himself is having a positive influence on the economy, even before he takes office.

“It’s clear that there’s been a bounce in sentiment since the election,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics. “Now, is that because he won the election or just because people are happy the election’s over? That’s impossible to know.”

The statistics Trump touts fit well into his view of a world divided into who’s up and who’s down, winners and losers. In place of the daily trickle of state and national political polls that dominated his campaign remarks, he has turned to the Consumer Confidence Index as well as the daily stock market closings for what he sees as his successes.​​​​​​

Like he did with polls, Trump has cherry-picked economic data. The Consumer Confidence Index did not suddenly rise after Trump’s election; it has, like other indicators, trended upward since bottoming out shortly after the 2008 economic collapse. Its first major spike came shortly after the inauguration of President Obama, and saw a similar uptick after his reelection in 2012.

Additionally, it is a volatile index, subject to negative pressure from political circumstance as well — most notably a 2011 battle over raising the nation’s debt limit that pushed the country to the brink of a historic default.

And another key part of his economic message, the touting of new jobs as if he were singularly responsible for their creation, ignores that they usually resulted instead from efforts already underway. On Wednesday, he trumpeted news that telecom company Sprint and technology start-up OneWeb would hire a total of 8,000 workers in the U.S. —  calling it "very good news" for the economy.

But OneWeb, which is building a network of satellites to deliver high-speed Internet access, said nine days earlier that it expected to create nearly 3,000 jobs in the U.S. over the next four years after securing $1.2 billion in funding, mostly from Japan's SoftBank Group Corp. And the head of SoftBank, which owns Sprint, had said on Dec. 6 that the company had agreed to invest $50 billion in the U.S. and create 50,000 jobs here...
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