sowell column sig

State, national columnists

Gross misconceptions remain as campaign winds down

By From page A7 | November 06, 2012

This country is at a historic crossroads, and the path we choose can determine our future far beyond the next four years. Our children and grandchildren may someday bless us or curse us for what we do Tuesday. Against that background, it is painful to see the petty talking points and gross misconceptions that seem to dominate this year’s election campaign.

Take the question of jobs. How many times have we heard about how many jobs have been added during the Obama administration? Yet few people bother to find out whether these are net additions to jobs – which is what is crucial.

The government can always increase some jobs, either directly by hiring more people or indirectly by policies that increase employment in particular industries or regions. But the real question is whether the government’s actions create more jobs than they destroy – that is, whether there is any net addition to jobs.

Yet who in the media even asks that question?

Instead, they focus on the unemployment rate. But people who have given up looking for a job are not counted as unemployed. The proportion of the working age population that is not working is higher now than it has been in many years.

Another gross misconception on the job front is that jobs created during a given administration are a result of the policies of that administration, as are any other signs of economic recovery. But this assumes that the economy is incapable of recovering on its own, without government intervention.

Yet the American economy recovered from downturns on its own for more than a century and a half, until President Herbert Hoover intervened after the stock market crash of 1929. Indeed, this was one of those bipartisan interventions so much hoped for by the media – and the results were catastrophic.

The media misconception today is that what we need to speed up economic recovery is to end gridlock in Washington and have bipartisan intervention in the economy. However plausible that may sound, it is contradicted repeatedly by history.

Unemployment was never in double digits in any of the 12 months after the stock market crash of 1929. Only after politicians started intervening did unemployment reach double digits – and stay in double digits throughout the 1930s.

There is nothing mysterious about an economy recovering on its own. Employers usually have incentives to employ and workers have incentives to look for jobs. Lenders have incentives to lend and borrowers have incentives to borrow – if politicians do not create needless complications and uncertainties.

The Obama administration is in its glory creating complications and uncertainties for business, ranging from runaway regulations to the unknowable future costs of the Affordable Care Act and taxes. Record amounts of idle cash held by businesses and financial institutions are a monument to the counterproductive effects of Barack Obama’s anti-business policies and rhetoric. That idle money could create lots of jobs – net jobs – if politics did not make it risky to invest.

We often hear that President Obama inherited the worst recession since the Great Depression. But just how do you define that? By how high the unemployment rate went? By how long the recovery takes? Or don’t you bother to define it at all?

The annual unemployment rate was as high under Ronald Reagan as it has been under Barack Obama. The difference is that Ronald Reagan did nothing, despite media cries for action, and Barack Obama did virtually everything imaginable, to the cheers of the media. The economy recovered a lot faster under Reagan.

If this is “the worst recession since the Great Depression,” it is the worst solely in terms of how long it is taking to recover. But how long this has lasted is precisely what critics of Barack Obama are complaining about. Yet clever political rhetoric turns Obama’s failure into an excuse for failure.

Contrary to political and media spin, President Obama did not “inherit” his unemployment from President George W. Bush. The annual unemployment rate never got above 6 percent during the eight years of President George W. Bush’s administration.

Unemployment has never been that low under President Obama. Passing the buck backwards is a very poor excuse – especially for someone using “forward” as his campaign slogan.

Thomas Sowell is an author, economist and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

Thomas Sowell


Discussion | 43 comments

The Daily Republic does not necessarily condone the comments here, nor does it review every post. Please read our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy before commenting.

  • G-ManNovember 06, 2012 - 5:36 am

    Forget the Media..there are a few conservative outlets..with FOX being @ or near the top viewer wise..but other than that media is liberal...As for obama inheriting the worst recession since the great depression..the comparison escapes me and I'd like to contest the will.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Danny BuntinNovember 06, 2012 - 8:33 am

    In your mind Gary, if a news outlet does not tell a story from a right wing perspective, it is liberal. Forget facts, and just add some opinion and there you have FoxNews. "Some people say...."

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • G-ManNovember 06, 2012 - 9:02 am

    MSNBC's new logo is FORWARD..how's THAT fact for you Buntin?

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Danny BuntinNovember 06, 2012 - 9:28 am

    FoxNews "Fair and Balanced", how is that for a fact of fiction. So I guess Fox will be taking on the new slogan "Moving Backwards"?

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • G-ManNovember 06, 2012 - 1:05 pm

    I was talking about a news org aligning itself w/a political candidate..by adopting his campaign slogan "FORWARD"...and you come up w/fair and balanced..I think FOX has been using that phrase for quite a few years..MSNBC..just started parrotting obama..how ridiculous are you..damn it's gonna be great beating you.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Danny BuntinNovember 06, 2012 - 2:31 pm

    @Gary: I comprehended it incorrectly, because I do not watch the news on TV on a regular basis. So I would not know the latest slogans. But since you brought up the maligning of a news organization with a political party. I find it extremely hypocritical of you to make that statement, considering you watch GOPtv/Foxnews, and rave about its accuracy. When we all know that it does everything but enlighten its audience with factual news. Good luck with the election results tonight:)

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • CD BrooksNovember 06, 2012 - 1:44 pm

    G-Man, been a blast since you came aboard. Guess we'll only have further benefit of your caustic shots if your guy wins? Hate to think you'd just take your IQ and go if he doesn't.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • SavetheRepublicNovember 06, 2012 - 6:38 pm

    Gosh CD, you must be really bored. Maybe you should forget retirement and go back to work. If Obama wins I would hate to think of Gary just going away MAD.....MAD I TELL YOU....Boo ha ha ha!

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Joe PikeyNovember 06, 2012 - 6:46 pm

    Roadkill "just going away"...If we could be so lucky...

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Now, Now,......JP....B/NiceNovember 06, 2012 - 6:55 pm

    He might of been a headache but he never was a bore. How lovely it was NOT....I am so sentimental....

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Thanks for the MemoryNovember 06, 2012 - 6:57 pm


    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Shirley Bassey - No Regrets a Dramatic SongNovember 07, 2012 - 10:54 am


    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • CD BrooksNovember 06, 2012 - 9:42 am

    Just saw a Harvard EC map. Legalized marijuana legalized assisted suicide. Obama 496 to 23, 9 tied. Nice to see some humor out there, gotta love em! :)

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Mike kirchubelNovember 06, 2012 - 10:32 am

    Either sowell knows nothing about the US economy, jobs numbers, And history, or he is just pumping out propaganda that he knows is a lie. It diminishes this paper to continue to run this. We are all now dumber for having read it.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • MarciNovember 06, 2012 - 10:45 am

    Same has been said about your "column" and you're still here...

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • G-ManNovember 06, 2012 - 1:11 pm

    Speak for yourself Home Slice.. Say".You are dumber for reading it"...and how is that even possible?

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • G-ManNovember 06, 2012 - 1:49 pm

    Funny CD.., I figured you for a YALE man...I said some months ago that win or lose I'd be leaving DR...So in case your boy wins..Dubious congratulations.. all you liberals will have a front row seat to the demise of your Republic..if the right man wins.I'll take a few victory posts..wouldn't begrudge me that would ya?

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Danny BuntinNovember 06, 2012 - 3:00 pm

    @Gary: Well that is not very nice. Come back and gloat if he wins(Mitt), but not if he loses. You guys have never been much for the humility thing, so I understand.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Mike kirchubelNovember 06, 2012 - 3:09 pm

    When obama wins tonight, i would expect Gary And Marci to take a victory lap. After all, they have been pushing voters to obama with their "representation" of republican points.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Jason KnowlesNovember 06, 2012 - 5:24 pm

    I'm glad both sides have oppositional forces. Marci, G-Man, Kirch, CD, and Danny all bring something to the table and make our republic work. In all seriousness, even though I disagree with some of you, I always think of you as valued members of this country because you participate and you CARE!

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • CD BrooksNovember 07, 2012 - 9:16 am

    Very cool Jason. Thank you.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • rlw895November 06, 2012 - 5:27 pm

    Mike: That is SO Machiavellian.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Mike kirchubelNovember 06, 2012 - 8:02 pm

    RLW, no time to gloat just yet. A few minutes.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Mike kirchubelNovember 06, 2012 - 8:19 pm

    Obama wins it. Rest easy, America. You are safe.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • CD BrooksNovember 06, 2012 - 8:20 pm

    Congratulations to President Obama the Democratic Party and all their supporters

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Tom ChalkNovember 06, 2012 - 8:29 pm

    Too early to call Ohio just yet.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Danny BuntinNovember 06, 2012 - 9:01 pm

    Foxnews is just trying to keep viewers viewing. Simple business decision, who can blame them. I can just see Marci screaming "its not over - see". Obama could still lose Ohio and win regardless. Romney will lose the overall vote comfortably as well.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Tom ChalkNovember 06, 2012 - 9:08 pm

    So. Back to where we were as a nation two years ago. Huge disappointment. Obama has no mandate to do anything, because his campaign consisted of destroying Romney. Should be a great next four years. NOT!

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Danny BuntinNovember 06, 2012 - 9:26 pm

    @Tom: Should Obama of stood by idly and let Romney say what ever he wanted, and not rebut at all. As a Californian, I am glad we missed most of the ads. How about the mandate that the citizens elected Obama to lead the country the way he sees fit. He made lots of promises to the left leaning portion of the nation in 08. Most of those never where discussed after his election. Despite this, the people thought that Romney would only be worse.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Joe PikeyNovember 06, 2012 - 9:29 pm

    "Destroying Romney" Tommy?! I think Romney & the GOP did a fine job of that all by them selves. The 47% have spoken. The 99% have spoken. Now go talk to your chair.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Tom ChalkNovember 06, 2012 - 9:42 pm

    Yes, Joey. As usual, the GOP candidate fumbled on the goal line. That is the point. Your president could have and should have spent some time outlining his vision for the country. Trouble is, he shot his wad on Obamacare and spent the rest of his persidency in campaign mode. He has no vision for the country. I am hopeful that things improve for all Americans. Not counting on it. Are you?

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • rlw895November 06, 2012 - 11:57 pm

    Tom: Obama has a very profound vision for America. Your heard it in his acceptance speech tonight. Like Jackie Robinson, he could't respond until he got through his "trial period." And for him and Robinson, it was a trial. An ordeal even. But all that changes now. It's a new start.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Tom ChalkNovember 07, 2012 - 4:38 am

    Ok. But can we finally hold Obama accountable for the economy? Is four years long enough to cure the Bush hangover? Will we finally admit that the true unemployment rate is about what, 20 percent, and do something about it besides stifle private sector business enterprise and create a Secretary of Jobs? Energy policy--what a joke. Fallout from Obamacare? The other shoe is about to drop. Your guy has the ball now. Hope he knows which way to run.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • rlw895November 07, 2012 - 4:49 pm

    Tom: A lot rests on the Republicans in congress. A good start would to stop abusing the cloture rule in the Senate. It should be enough that they have a majority in the House (because of gerrymandering, but a majority nonetheless). Legislation remains a shared responsibility. But it also is Obama's responsibility to lead. I think the first order of business (despite the hoopla over the "fiscal cliff") should and will be a new voting rights act to deal with what we saw happening in places like Ohio this election. Voter suppression has become a national disgrace, and we need to show the rest of the world as well as ourselves that we are going to address it right away. I was happy to see Obama say "we're going to fix that" as an aside during his thank-you speech last night. There is probably nothing more important for the agenda, and it should be bi-partisan, a good indicator of what is to come.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Joe PikeyNovember 06, 2012 - 9:16 pm

    Bye, bye G-guy...

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • CD BrooksNovember 06, 2012 - 9:31 pm

    I thought Romney might win the popular vote but the EC vote would be 350-188 Obama. The media drove this race into the ground, they were wrong and the people spoke. Now let’s hope our government figures out a way to work together. Good evening.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Danny BuntinNovember 06, 2012 - 9:54 pm

    Fox is already throwing Romney under the bus. Charles Krauthammer just called Romney a liberal.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • rlw895November 06, 2012 - 11:52 pm

    And so it goes in America. We dodged a bullet. Jackie Robinson will get that second year. Change is here to stay and not just a token effort, while the opponents of change sulk of and eat their young. The Republicans will remake their coalition and be back. In the meantime, the primary Republican goal of making Obama a one-term president is toast. So what will it be, four more years of obstruction? That can't possibly pay off politically. But I don't see the Republicans with an alternative plan yet. Obama will now oversee ACA implementation and get credit for the recovery. And did you hear him say we have to do something about voter suppression? I think there will be an early bipartisan effort to fix that. It's a start.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Mike KirchubelNovember 07, 2012 - 9:02 am

    I'm hoping for a little more cooperation from the repubs, now that their primary mission to make Obama a one term president is over. Their sacred vow to not raise taxes still exists, so no movement there. And why would they cooperate on a bill to end voter suppression? I see the repubs increasing their efforts at voter suppression expanding to include more and more groups of legitimate voters as their core demographic keeps shrinking as they die form old age.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • rlw895November 07, 2012 - 9:19 am

    Mike: First you form a commission to verify the facts. Then you get a report and a recommendation no one can oppose without paying a political price. It's low-hanging fruit. Obama only has to set it up right, and he's good at that. Look at how he dealt with DADT. That's a model that works to usher in change, but you have to have the time, resources, and patience.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • CD BrooksNovember 07, 2012 - 9:26 am

    Mike, Boner was all ready practicing his blowhard theatrics this morning about the "fiscal cliff." I don't believe for a second the GOP can be so crazy as to deny proper consideration for all business at this point. There are literally seats at stake in 2014 and they will have to bite the bullet and learn to be progressive. Sorry, I'll use positive instead.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Mike KirchubelNovember 07, 2012 - 9:39 am

    Geeze, youze guys, ok. I was just kicking the dragon to see if it was actually dead. Maybe its just too busy licking its wounds to respond. i am also hoping for cooperation in Congress. I see the economy picking up immediately too, now that this second term issue has been resolved.

    Reply | Report abusive comment
  • Recent Articles

  • Enter your email address to subscribe and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • Special Publications »

    Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Terms of Service (updated 4/30/2015) and Privacy Policy (updated 4/7/2015).
    Copyright (c) 2016 McNaughton Newspapers, Inc., a family-owned local media company that proudly publishes the Daily Republic, Mountain Democrat, Davis Enterprise, Village Life and other community-driven publications.