Discover more from Letters from an American
December 22, 2021
Year-end accounts of the U.S. economy are very strong indeed. According to Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal—which are certainly not giddy media outlets—U.S. economic output has jumped more than 7% in the last three months of 2021. Overall growth for 2021 should be about 6%, and economists predict growth of around 4% in 2022—the highest numbers the U.S. has seen in decades. China’s growth in the same period will be 4%, and the eurozone (which is made up of the member countries of the European Union that use the euro) will grow at 2%.
The U.S. is “outperforming the world by the biggest margin in the 21st century,” wrote Matthew A. Winkler in Bloomberg, “and with good reason: America’s economy improved more in Joe Biden’s first 12 months than any president during the past 50 years….”
In February, Biden’s first month in office, the jobless rate was 6.2%; today it has dropped to 4.2%. This means the Biden administration has created 4.1 million jobs, more than were created in the 12 years of the Trump and George W. Bush administrations combined. Wages in America are growing at about 4% a year, compared with less than 1% a year in the eurozone, as worker shortages and strikes at places like Deere & Co. (which makes John Deere products) and Kellogg’s are pushing wages up and as states increase minimum wages.
The American Rescue Plan, passed by Democrats in March without a single Republican vote, cut child poverty in half by putting $66 billion into 36 million households. More than 4.6 million Americans who were not previously insured have gotten healthcare coverage through the Affordable Care Act, bringing the total covered to a record 13.6 million. When Biden took office, about 46% of schools were open; currently the rate is 99%. In November, Congress passed a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that will repair bridges and roads and get broadband to places that still don’t have it.
Support for consumers has bolstered U.S. companies, which are showing profit margins higher than they have been since 1950, at 15%. Companies have reduced their debt, which has translated to a strong stock market.
The American economy is the strongest it’s been in decades, with the U.S. leading the world in economic growth…so why on earth do 54% of Americans disapprove of Biden’s handling of the economy (according to a CNN/SSRS poll released yesterday)?
That disapproval comes partly from inflation, which in November was at 6.8%, the highest in 39 years, but inflation is high around the world as we adjust to post-pandemic reopening. Gas prices, which created an outcry a few weeks ago, have come down significantly. Patrick De Haan, an oil and refined products analyst at GasBuddy, an app to find cheap gas prices, tweeted today that average gas prices have fallen under $3 a gallon in 12 states and that in 36 U.S. cities, prices have fallen by more than $0.25 a gallon in the past 30 days. Falling prices reflect skyrocketing gasoline inventories.
Respondents also said they were upset by disruptions in the supply chain. But in fact, the much-hyped fear that supply chain crunches would keep packages from being delivered on time for the holidays has proved to be misguided: 99% of packages are arriving on time. This is a significant improvement over 2020, and even over 2019. It reflects that companies have built more warehouse space and expanded delivery hours, that people have shopped early this year, and that buyers are venturing back into stores rather than relying on online shopping.
What it does not reflect is a weakened retail market. Major ports in the U.S. will process almost one-fifth more containers in terms of volume than they did in 2019. Container traffic at European ports has stayed flat or declined. Consumer goods are flying off the shelves at a rate about 45% higher than they did in 2018: it looks like Americans will spend about 11.5% more in this holiday season than they did in 2020. Indeed, according to Tom Fairless in the Wall Street Journal, American consumer demand was the key factor in the global supply chain bottlenecks in the first place.
And yet 63% of the poll’s respondents to the CNN/SSRS poll said that the nation's economy is in poor shape. And here’s why: 57% of them say that the economic news they've heard lately has been mostly bad. Only 19% say they are hearing mostly good news about the economy.
How people think about the country depends on the stories they hear about it.
Those maintaining the Big Lie that Trump won the 2020 election know that principle very well.
Yesterday, former national security advisor Michael Flynn filed a request for a restraining order against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and a temporary injunction against a subpoena from the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Today, U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven of Tampa denied Flynn’s request, noting that his lawyers had not followed correct procedure. On Twitter today, legal analyst Teri Kanefield pointed out that, like so many others launched by Trump loyalists, Flynn’s lawsuit was not an actual legal argument but part of the false narrative that Trump and his loyalists are being persecuted by Democrats, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who stole the election.
That was the strategy behind the sixty or more lawsuits over the election—Trump won only a single minor one—and behind the continuing demands of Trump loyalists to relitigate the 2020 election. They have produced no evidence of the rampant fraud they allege, but the constant demand that election officials defend the results sows increasing distrust of our democratic system.
Douglas Frank, an associate of Trump loyalist and MyPillow founder Mike Lindell, has pressed claims across the country and told the staff of Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, that he was launching lawsuits across the country and that LaRose’s office had better cooperate.
“I’m warning you that I’ve been going around the country. We’re starting lawsuits everywhere,” Frank said, according to a recording reported on by the Washington Post’s Amy Gardner, Emma Brown, and Josh Dawsey. “And I want you guys to be allies, not opponents. I want to be on your team, and I’m warning you.” Frank has called for “firing squads” for anyone found guilty of “treason,” by turning “a blind eye to the massive election fraud that took place in 2020.”
And yet, we continue to learn about the reality of the effort to overturn the election. Today the January 6 committee asked Representative Jim Jordan (R-OH) to provide information about his conversations with Trump on January 6—a topic that has made Jordan noticeably uncomfortable whenever it comes up—as well as any other discussions the two men had about overturning the election results, and whether Trump talked about offering pardons to those involved in the insurrection. In October, Jordan said he would be happy to talk to the committee.
Also today, Proud Boy Matthew Greene pleaded guilty to conspiring with others to obstruct law enforcement on January 6 and has agreed to cooperate with law enforcement. His guilty plea and testimony that he helped to program handheld radios for the Proud Boys on January 5 establishes that there was a shared plan and preparation to attack the Capitol.
There are signs that some Republicans might want to get out from under whatever might be coming. Representative Tom Rice (R-SC) today said he regrets voting against counting the electoral votes of two states that voted for Biden, although he continued to say there were problems with the election. “In retrospect I should have voted to certify,” Rice told Olivia Beavers of Politico. “Because President Trump was responsible for the attack on the Capitol.”
And in a new interview, quite casually, when talking about his border wall rather than about the election itself, Trump himself undercut the Big Lie altogether: “We built almost five hundred miles of wall,” he said, “and had we won the election it would…be completed by now.”