The Jeb Bush Show (Launching the Light Fantastic)

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signs autographs from the window of a food truck afterhe formally announced that he would join the race for president with a speech at Miami Dade college, Monday, June 15, 2015, in Miami.  (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

“It depends how radically Mr. Bush plans to restructure the economy.”

John Cochrane

Okay, work with me, here: If we bear in mind that a writer should always accommodate the intended audience, then what are we supposed to think about articles like “6 takeaways from Bush’s launch” by Niall Stanage of The Hill, which actually does, in fact, feature a sentence that reads, “Here are six takeaways from a positive day for the Bush campaign”?

To the other―

Jeb Bush had a lot riding on his official presidential launch on Monday.

Stumbles over the last few months have stripped the sense that the former Florida governor is the front-runner for the Republican nomination next year.

Bush has looked rusty at times on the campaign trail, and a reshuffling of his campaign team just last week highlighted the sense that he needs to get his candidacy in order. But the professionalism of Monday’s launch is likely to calm the nerves of some early Bush backers disconcerted by the early missteps.

Here are six takeaways from a positive day for the Bush campaign.

―it really is a pretty good primer, and carries the metavalue of aptly demonstrating the lowered expectations permeating the GOP’s 2016 nomination contest.

Meanwhile, Steve Benen took a moment from the formal launch of Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign to consider what might be “perhaps the most curious rhetoric”, that the Serious Clown would aim for four percent GDP growth. It is about what we might expect; Timothy Noah of Politico explains:

“There is not a reason in the world why we cannot grow at a rate of 4 percent a year,” Bush said as he formally announced his presidential bid in Miami. “And that will be my goal as president — 4 percent growth, and the 19 million new jobs that come with it.”

But while 4 percent growth can last for years at the state level, it has never been anything approaching the norm in U.S. economic history, even during the boom years that followed World War II. “I can go back 200 years,” said Claudia Goldin, an economic historian at Harvard, “and not get anything like this in a sustained manner” ....

.... Bush might raise eyebrows for relying on his brother’s think tank were it not for the fact that the 4% Growth Project was Jeb Bush’s own brainchild, first proposed in a 2010 conference call. “We were having a quarterly meeting,” recalled James Glassman, former executive director of the Institute, where Bush served on the advisory board, “and Jeb just piped up, ‘Four percent growth.’ And I just thought, ‘Wow, that’s a great idea.'”

Glassman, himself no stranger to economic hyperbole — in 1999, he co-authored a book titled “Dow 36,000” — said he figured that boosting the historic growth norm to 4 percent was “a good aspiration” and “certainly possible.” The Institute organized a conference featuring four Nobel prize-winning economists. It also hired former Wall Street Journal editorial writer Amity Shlaes, author of several contrarian books of economic history, to run the project. In 2012 the institute published a book titled “The Four Percent Solution: Unleashing the Economic Growth America Needs.”

Even Glassman concedes that 4 percent growth would be a startling break from the past. Economic growth has reached or exceeded 4 percent annually in only 23 of the past 63 years, most recently during the tech boom of the late 1990s, under President Bill Clinton. “Four percent for a decade?” asks economist Robert Gordon of Northwestern. “Impossible.”

Yeah, you know? “Wow, that’s a great idea.” Is there really a successful business sector where that brief narrative from Mr. Glassman inspires confidence? How about makes sense? No, really, how does that not sound like bourgeois university freshmen solving all the world’s problems? And he just said, ‘Four percent growth’, and I just thought, ‘Wow, that’s a great idea’.

Just sayin’.

There are, of course, more educated analyses to consider, such as Neil Irwin offers for the New York Times:

From 2010 to 2014, the economy grew an average of 2.2 percent a year, which has translated into a halting, slow recovery for the millions of Americans who were left unemployed by the Great Recession.

But simple math suggests the next president is unlikely to see sustained 4 percent G.D.P. growth absent a remarkable, rapid upward shift in the nation’s productive capacity.

If the economy continues growing at the 2.2 percent annual rate of the last several years between now and inauguration day in January 2017, the next president will take office with no output gap at all. In fact, under that math the economy would be functioning a bit above potential in the first quarter of 2017, $7 billion worth.

In other words, if there is 4 percent G.D.P. growth under the next president, it is likely to take place against a backdrop of an economy already operating somewhere near full employment and full capacity. You already see that in the job market. The unemployment rate was 5.5 percent in May, with 280,000 jobs added. If job creation continues near that level, the unemployment rate will most likely be comfortably below 5 percent come January 2017, because that is getting into the range of what economists at the Federal Reserve and the private sector believe to be full employment.

Indeed, if a President Jeb Bush achieved 4 percent growth each year, the G.D.P. at the end of his first term would be nearly $1.1 trillion higher than the C.B.O. believes to be the nation’s potential economic output at the start of 2021. That would be nearly as big an economic outperformance as the depths of the Great Recession were an underperformance.

In other words, Bush is setting himself up to fail by making one hell of a promise. To the one, campaign promises are what they are, and we all know it. To the other, keep these points in mind; there will come an occasion when you find yourself wondering how four percent annual growth could possbly be a serious part of the discussion, and there really isn’t anything to be done about that sinking feeling that hits when it becomes clear that nobody else actually cares what reality suggests. After all, why are the naysayers rooting against America?

But that’s pretty much the only place a promise like this can go.

Something about calming nerves and early missteps goes here, but just how low are we setting the bar this time ’round?

Still, though, it is a warning if nothing else. Watch the birdie. From Noah’s consideration of four percent GDP growth:

John Cochrane, a senior fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution, says he considers 4 percent “entirely possible.” It could be achieved, he says, through a number of measures, including simplifying the tax code and reducing the burden of regulation. “I think we have an easy 10 years, 20 years of economic growth,” says Cochrane. “It depends how radically Mr. Bush plans to restructure the economy.”

And there you go.


Image note: Detail ― Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush signs autographs from the window of a food truck afterhe formally announced that he would join the race for president with a speech at Miami Dade college, Monday, June 15, 2015, in Miami. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Noah, Timothy. “Jeb Bush’s 4 percent solution”. Politico. 15 June 2015.

Stanage, Niall. “6 takeaways from Bush’s launch”. The Hill. 15 June 2015.

Benen, Steve. “Jeb Bush, a poor economic messenger”. msnbc. 16 June 2015.

Irwin, Neil. “Jeb Bush Wants 4 Percent Growth. That Will Be Hard to Reach.” The Upshot. 15 June 2015.

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