Victor Davis Hanson, writing in National Review, repeats a claim that has become all too familiar. According to Hansen, investors are so afraid of and offended by the Obama administration that they have refused to invest, in effect conducting a “sit-down strike … that has paralyzed the country and has been largely ignored by the media.”
Well, let’s ignore it no longer. However, before we try to assess the validity of Hanson’s argument, we should test the assertion on which it is based. Has there in fact been a sit-down strike by capital “that has paralyzed the country and has been largely ignored by the media?”
Oddly, Hansen offers not a shred of evidence or data to support that contention. He simply assumes that it is true and assumes that his readers will assume that it’s true.
It is not true. In fact, it is demonstrably false.
This is not a new meme, of course. Conservatives have been making this identical claim from the very beginning of the Obama presidency. As far back as March 9, 2009, the Wall Street Journal editorial board was telling its readers that the stock market was faltering because of what it called “a declaration of hostility toward capitalists across the economy” by the Obama administration. (At that point, the administration had been in power for all of five weeks.)
Here’s what they wrote back then, under the headline “The Obama Economy: As the Dow keeps dropping, the president is running out of people to blame”:
“From punishing business to squandering scarce national public resources, Team Obama is creating more uncertainty and less confidence — and thus a longer period of recession or subpar growth….
“The powers in Congress — unrebuked by Mr. Obama — are ridiculing and punishing the very capitalists who are essential to a sustainable recovery. The result has been a capital strike, and the return of the fear from last year that we could face a far deeper downturn. This is no way to nurture a wounded economy back to health.”
Again, that was five weeks after Obama’s inauguration. Here’s what the stock market has done since then:
That’s a 59.4 percent increase, representing one of the fastest rises in the history of the Dow Jones index. Since the Dow bottomed out on March 6, 2009 — three days before the WSJ editorial was published — the index has doubled.
Quite the “capital strike,” right? And yet the meme survives.
Now, let’s take a look at a less well-known but still critical measure of investment, Gross Private Domestic Investment:
The chart illustrates the fact that since the second quarter of 2009, gross private domestic investment has risen by $564 billion, an increase of 38 percent. For comparison’s sake, GPDI increased by 24 percent in the two and a half years after the economy bottomed out in the 2001 recession under George W. Bush. (See note below)
Hanson, in other words, has based his entire argument on a “fact” that is not a fact at all, but a fabrication. When conservatives started offering this critique barely a month into Obama’s presidency, it was absurdly premature but at least had some plausible foundation in the data. Today, the data tell us that the critique is utterly without foundation, yet still it is being offered.
Why? Because it conforms to the ideology, and in the minds of the modern conservative movement, conforming to the ideology is far more important than conforming to reality.
(NOTE: That raises an obvious question. If investment is indeed rebounding, why is the economy still so troubled? The answer is, because we have so much ground to make up. By the time Obama took office, private investment had fallen to levels not seen since 1997. The Great Recession had wiped out all of the gains of the 21st century and then some. During this recovery, we’ve clawed our way back to the investment levels of 2004.
– Jay Bookman