September 07, 2023
Bret Stephens had to be creative to push the “Why are Americans so down on Biden” story in his New York Times column this week. He starts his piece by pointing to a number of positive developments. But then we get the big warning:
“But there’s another explanation: The news isn’t all that good. Americans are unsettled by things that are not always visible in headlines or statistics but are easy enough to see.”
Okay, statistics never capture everything, but what does Stephens have to show us?
“Easy to see is the average price of a dozen eggs: up 38 percent between January 2022 and May of this year.”
Well, that looks like a statistic, but a somewhat dated one. If Stephens had bothered to look at the most recent data from July he would see that egg prices have fallen by 9.3 percent in the last two months, putting egg inflation since the pandemic only slightly higher than nominal wage growth over this period.
He then points to the price increases in chicken, bread, and gas. Only the latter has substantially outpaced wage growth under Biden, largely a result of the recession-depressed gas prices of 2020.
Incredibly, Stephens then tells readers:
“Yet none of these increases make it into what economists call the core rate of inflation, which excludes food and energy. The inflation ordinary people experience in everyday life is not the one the government prefers to highlight.”
This is wrong to the point of being virtually an outright lie. In discussing the impact of inflation on living standards, literally every economist in the country uses a measure of inflation that includes food and energy prices. The core index, which excludes these volatile components, is a useful analytic tool, but no economist would try to say that it is an accurate measure of the inflation people see.
Stephens then turns to crime and general upheaval, at one point saying:
“And news reports of brazen car thefts, which have skyrocketed this year.”
Sounds pretty bad, but the headline of the article to which Stephens linked is “Most violent crime is declining in the US after COVID-19 surge, while car thefts soar.” So, I guess in Stephens’ view people don’t care about the drop in violent crime, they’re just upset about the rise in car thefts.
It’s an interesting view. Oh yeah, and when did violent crime soar? That was in 2020, when Donald Trump was in office.
Anyhow, the NYT is the country’s leading newspaper. If this is the base case one of their conservative columnists can make against Biden, I guess he is doing pretty good.