It’s the Inflation, Stupid
Dangerously high inflation has left Americans deeply dissatisfied with the economy and likely to punish the Democrats in this year’s midterm elections. US President Joe Biden would be wise to follow the example of his predecessor Bill Clinton, lest he end up sharing a political fate similar to Jimmy Carter's.
STANFORD – Thirty years ago, Democratic political strategist James Carville focused Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign with the mantra, “It’s the economy, stupid.” America had just experienced a relatively brief, mild recession, owing partly to sharply rising oil prices following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Between the slow recovery and Ross Perot’s independent candidacy (which peeled votes away from then-President George H.W. Bush), the stage was set for a Clinton victory.
Today, America’s job market remains resilient, with healthy job creation, low unemployment, and almost two job openings for every unemployed person. But dangerously high inflation has left Americans deeply dissatisfied with the economy. At 8.6% as of May, the annual consumer-price-index inflation rate is quadruple the norm of recent decades, and has outpaced wage growth, leaving most families with falling real incomes. Even core inflation – which excludes volatile food and energy prices – is running at 6%, higher than in other major economies. No one under 60 has experienced anything like this in their adult life.
Worse, the odds of a recession are growing. Housing starts and retail sales are stalling, and stock and bond markets (imperfect predictors, to be sure) are signaling problems ahead. There is little monetary- or fiscal-policy ammunition left to deal with a recession, and the fiscal profligacy of the past three administrations has left the country poorly equipped to address exploding Social Security and Medicare spending costs, not to mention the now-apparent need for more defense spending.