Paul L. Caron

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Sanchirico: President Trump Is The Great Extrapolator

The Hill:  The Great Extrapolator, by Chris William Sanchirico (Pennsylvania):

Ronald Reagan was known as “The Great Communicator.” Based on last night’s State of the Union address, some might be tempted to brand our current president “The Great Exaggerator.” But complaining that a politician exaggerates is like protesting that car commercials don’t list customer complaints. In both cases, it’s up to the listener to supply his or her own grain of salt.

So, what’s the right way to season the claims President Trump served us Tuesday night on how his tax and trade policy has benefited the economy?

“In just over two years since the election, we have launched an unprecedented economic boom” the president said, adding that “a boom that has rarely been seen before. There’s been nothing like it.”

Not quite.

For the most part, economic performance during the Trump administration has just been a continuation of President Obama’s second term. “The Great Extrapolator” might be a more apt moniker for the current president.

Two things about economic statistics make them rhetorically pliable. First, their graphs tend to bounce around a lot over time. That means you can often show increase or decrease, as you wish, by cherry-picking endpoints. (“The economy is growing almost twice as fast today as when I took office,” said the president during his address.)

Second, statistics about the economy tend to have a lot of zeros. That makes them prey to the Dr. Evil fallacy. (“We have created 5.3 million new jobs.”) Not every -illion is tremendously huge in the context of the point its proponent wants to make with it: 5.3 million is roughly the number of Hydrogen atoms that fit in the head of pin.

But zooming out, viewing each graph as a whole, looking for broad trends, one gets a more reliable picture of what has been going on. And almost every key graph tells the same basic story:

Put your pencil down on the curve several years before the end of the Obama administration. Start tracing out the graph. As you pass into the Trump administration, close your eyes, and just keep your pencil going in the same general direction. Open your eyes and look down at the continuation you’ve just drawn. That’s pretty much what’s happened since President Trump took office.

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