The state of democracy, and the state of the economy

It's that time again.  Bright Line Watch has released the latest Wave of their study, evaluating "democracy" in America, based on public and "expert" assessments.  Here's the link to Wave 5, with the usual warning that I'm in that sample of so-called "experts," so, you know, obviously it isn't a very carefully-selected sample.  They'll give Ph.D.s to anybody these days...  Anywho, I've rambled before about this survey, but here's where I stand these days on the questions.  The big concern for me at the moment is the inability of the legislature to check the executive.  Concerns about money, redistricting, etc., continue to be overblown, but checks and balances, or lack thereof, have become a central concern, for what should be obvious reasons.  There are others, but basic point:  we've got serious problems.

But, um... how's the economy doing?  We just had the latest report come out yesterday, and it was pretty damned good.  Unemployment is down to 3.9%.  GDP is growing at 2.3%, based on 1st quarter data.  Inflation is right around target, so the Fed is on course for its very-gentle rise in interest rates.  The stock market is relatively stable at a pretty high level-- it feels weird because it was booming for so long, and it isn't just giving us new highs every day, but current levels are good when you take a step back (if you own stock and didn't just buy at the top, you have money).  The only weak point is that wages aren't growing, but that's been true for a long time, so...

Internationally?  North Korea has calmed down, and while I doubt they are going to give up their nukes, they are at least talking.  That's improvement.  The trade war is still in that maybe/maybe not stage, so it isn't clear what kind of exogenous shock might destabilize the economy.  Could something happen?  Of course, but there isn't an obvious cause at the moment.

All of this brings me to a basic point.  Donald Trump is a reprehensible, idiotic, corrupt, incompetent, racist, misogynistic, lying, festering boil on the body politic.  He has no idea what he is doing, except enriching himself and covering up a lot of wrongdoing.  He may very well be in Vladimir Putin's back pocket.  Democracy is suffering, with the greatest problem, in my opinion, being that the legislature refuses to impose any checks because the President is of the majority's party, and they are unwilling to face any electoral consequences for uncovering his corruption.  Consider, for example, Devin Nunes, who ranted about his demands for documentation in his fraudulent "investigation," and then didn't bother to read those documents.  Because "TBI Tom Cotton," as I have called him on occasion, can't read.

The Federalist Papers, 10 and 51 in particular, described the problems of factions, and the necessity of a system of checks and balances to pit factions against each other in order to prevent the worst abuses of power.  This is what happens when that system fails because the mentality of a faction holding onto power supplants any impulse towards legality, decency or patriotism.  Yes, there is some irony to me typing this while referencing Bright Line Watch with its "questioning patriotism" elements, but given what we know about Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Don Jr., Roger Stone, Trump's business dealings with Russia, his bizarre unwillingness to criticize Vladimir Putin for anything, the unwillingness of congressional Republicans to so much as investigate any of this... all of this tells us something about how they weigh the potential electoral fallout of uncovering scandals and the danger of letting those scandals fester.  A useless idiot like Devin Nunes might seriously believe Trump's "witch hunt" bullshit, but Nunes can barely keep the drool from dripping down his chin while on camera.  Mitch McConnell?  Paul Ryan?  They're not stupid.  They have made calculations.  They would rather cover up and protect a President who is at best guilty only of obstruction of justice, but may truly be compromised because the alternative is sharing power with the other party.

You can probably figure out what kind of answers I gave in Bright Line Watch.

And yet, by the numbers, things are pretty good!  Don't delude yourselves.  If you are reading this pretentious, little blog, there is a high likelihood that you don't like Donny-boy.  There is also a strong empirical pattern.  If you don't like the president, usually because of partisanship, your assessment of the economy is biased downwards.

Be an empiricist.  Whenever you want to know the real deal with the economy, ask your good buddy, FRED.  Federal Reserve Economic Data.  FRED'll set'ya straight.  He'll also put the data in historical context.  The economy tanked in 2007 and 2008, cratering in 2009.  Then, it started to improve.  We've been on a good track since then.

Trump just hasn't fucked it up.  And that's the thing about presidents.  They can fuck the economy up.  However, just by being lousy and being in the Oval Office, they don't automatically crash the economy.  Think about drunk drivers.  A drunk driver, with enough booze, in heavy traffic, will crash.  However, a drunken ship captain?  Yeah, you can have an Exxon Valdez moment, but just because the captain is drunk doesn't make the boat crash.  Why?  Well, first of all, you have to be near land, or an iceberg, or another boat, or something crash-able.  You also have a lot of other people 'n stuff.

Donald Trump is Captain Hazelwood.  And man, is he tanked.  It's also really disturbing that everyone knows it and nobody wants to remove him from command.  However, if we aren't near land, the weather is clear, and instruments are working properly, we aren't about to die.

Best case scenario, Hazelwood passes out drunk as the ship pulls into port, and someone with blood in his bloodstream rather than booze handles the tricky part.  There usually is a tricky part.  Obama came into office with a tanking economy, for example.  Bush 43 had to face 9/11 and the crash itself.  Clinton... got lucky, so to speak, but Reagan and Bush 41 had to navigate the tail end of the Cold War and a variety of other challenges.  Carter?  Stagflation, Iran...  Nixon sort of made his own crises, but, well... any time I get going on this track, I always wind up back at 1962.

Crises happen.  Anyone can captain a ship with clear weather on open seas.  But, if the captain is a drunken idiot, you better hope he has already passed out when the crisis hits.  He may wind up puking his guts out as the ship gets tossed and turned in choppy seas, and someone unlucky has to clean that up, but that's better than having him actually in command during the crisis.

So, that's kind of my point.  If you take a step back and look at the economy, things actually look fine, and in the long-run, the economy in the US tends to do well.  Then again, somebody once pointed out something about the long run and dying, so...  The economy can grow just fine with a lousy president and crumbling democratic norms and the collapse of the rule of law.


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