Journalists Fail to Correct Obama Howler on Economy

November 16th, 2016 12:36 AM

At a press conference in Greece on Tuesday, President Barack Obama claimed that when he came into office, "the economy was contracting faster than it did during the Great Depression, but we were able to intervene, apply lessons learned and stabilize and then begin growth again."

Naturally, Elena Becatoros and Josh Lederman at the Associated Press and Gardiner Harris at the New York Times, all of whom were there, failed to report that statement and two others surrounding it, let alone expose how blatantly wrong Obama's claims were on so many fronts.

Here is video of the President's statement, made in response to a question from a foreign reporter about how to end Greece's protracted economic recession and malaise:

Transcript (bolds and numbered tags are mine):

BARACK OBAMA: We went through a very severe contraction. We were losing 800,000 jobs a month when I came into office. [1] In fact, the economy was contracting faster than it did during the Great Depression. [2] But we were able to intervene, apply lessons learned and stabilize and then begin growth again. [3]

But I do believe that one of the lessons we tried to apply is that it is important to combine structural reforms and good fiscal stewardship [4] with a growth strategy because when your economy is growing and more revenue’s coming in, that helps relieve debt. [5]

Here's the closest the AP pair got to reporting Obama's answer:


... The president seemed skeptical that "the new prescriptions being offered" (by President-elect Donald Trump) would satisfy the frustrations and anger evident in election. And he played a bit of defense, saying that his agenda over past eight years had dealt with economic issues head on and "the country's indisputably better off."

In other words, they didn't get close at all. Harris's coverage at the New York Times didn't even get into the neighborhood of what Obama said in the video segment above.

Taking Obama's claims, one by one:

[1] — It is true that in January 2009, the economy lost 791,000 seasonally adjusted jobs. It's also true that the three-month period from November 2008 through January 2009 was the worst three-month stretch for employment losses since monthly records began being kept in 1939:


The 3.69 million actual jobs lost in January of 2009 is the worst single-month job loss on record, again since 1939.

But on a seasonally adjusted basis, the unemployment rate during the 2008-2009 recession never rose by more than 0.5 percentage points (6.0 points per year) in any given month, and never rose by more than 4.0 points during any 12-month period. During the Great Depression, the estimated unemployment rate rose by an estimated 5.5 points in 1930, 7.2 points in 1931, and 7.7 points in 1932.

More fundamentally, why did the spike in unemployment in late 2008 and early 2009 happen? Leftists are going to hate the answer, but too bad, so sad, because it's accurate.

These losses occurred largely because Obama won the November 2008 presidential election on a business- and energy-threatening platform, but also because he sent clear signals during the presidential transition period that he would be going to war with U.S. businesses with a Congress controlled by his party. He even sided with union members who illegally "occupied" a bankrupt Chicago window manufacturing plant ("they're absolutely right"), effectively blackmailing two banks into paying them $1.75 million to leave.

As I predicted at the time, employers reacted as one would expect:

It won't take very much of this before businesses conclude that putting employees on the payroll must be avoided as long as possible, if it's to be done at all. They will more frequently use temporary agency employees as long as they legally can. They won't replace employees who retire or leave. They'll have more work done in other countries. They won't pursue business ideas that require U.S. employees.

And of course, that's exactly what happened.

Thus, Team Obama worsened the recession. It's more than fair to contend that they did so they'd be seen as even greater heroes once they engineered their marvelous textbook Keynesian recovery, which unfortunately but predictably never came.

[2] — Only full-year data is available from the Depression years, but it tells us that the economy contracted at an average rate during the the entire three-year period which was higher than the worst single quarter seen during the 2008-2009 recession (quarterly figures are presented as annualized rates):


The fourth-quarter 2008 economy was not contracting faster than it did during the Great Depression, and Obama's claim is absolute nonsense. When Franklin Delano Roosevelt became president in 1933, the economy had contracted during the previous year at a nearly 13 percent annual rate. There's little reason to believe that a similar level of contraction didn't also occur during January and February of 1933 (Roosevelt was not inaugurated until March 4).

[3] — Whatever lessons "we" learned, they didn't mean much in the real world. Stabilization took longer than it ever had, as the economy continued to lose seasonally adjusted jobs until February 2010. The 9-month wait until March 2010 for job growth to resume after the recession's official end in June 2009 is the longest on record for any post-World War II post-downturn period.

[4] — "Good fiscal stewardship"? Readers must surely wonder what country Barack Obama could possibly be talking about. It's not the U.S., which during his presidency thus far has run budget deficits totaling over $6.9 trillion.

[5] — Relieving debt? Again, what country is this? Again, it's not the U.S., where the national debt has grown by $9.216 trillion since Obama came into office, and as of Monday had reached $19.842 trillion.

The press will start conscientiously monitoring the accuracy of presidential statements on the economy in roughly 66 days — and then, if form holds, they'll start telling us why factually true statements really aren't.

Cross-posted at