Last week, the Treasury Department released this fine piece of agitprop:
Tapped's Ezra Klein wonders what was going on in the missing period that the graph omits, and points out that it implies Bush's 2003 tax cut turned the economy around in a matter of months:
Maybe others can decode this bit of Treasury Department propaganda better than I, but it seems, contra its own billing, to show that the first three years of George W. Bush's were really, really bad, not that his fourth year was really good. After all, the 2003 tax cut the graph trumpets appears to heal the economy in under a month, but Bush was elected three years earlier -- so what was he doing during the interim? Playing Boggle?
Meanwhile, Columbia statistician Andrew Gelman was moved to invoke Orwell in a denunciation of the chart as misleading and poorly constructed:
The graph is so ugly I put it below the fold.
Anyway, it got me to thinking about a famous point that Orwell made, that one reason that propaganda is often poorly written is that the propagandist wants to give a particular impression while being vague on the details.
In that spirit, I'd like to offer a quick corrective. Here's a simple graph of the jobs data since Bush took office, which shows that the Treasury chart begins just before the low point of Bush's tenure:
Likewise for the unemployment rate, which peaked in mid-2003:
And here's the long-term historical path of the unemployment rate by presidential administration:
It is true, of course, that presidents have less direct influence over the economy than the public believes, so don't be misled by my labeling, which is intended as a rejoinder to the Treasury graph. On the other hand, however, Princeton's Larry Bartels has demonstrated that Democratic presidents have consistently produced greater GDP growth, lower unemployment, and lower inequality than Republican presidents (without producing much more inflation) since World War II. This finding suggests that pundits like Matthew Yglesias shouldn't be so quick to shift blame away from President Bush for the lackluster labor market, which Kevin Drum also attributes to Republican labor market policies. Contrary to Treasury's propaganda, the labor market has been relatively slack under President Bush, and his failure to deliver across-the-board employment and income gains appears to be part of a long-term historical pattern.