Paul Krugman is feeling a tad optimistic as the year 2014 winds down. In his Friday column, he writes about “Tidings of Comfort,” if not quite tidings of great joy. The reason? Despite all the miserable messages about a world spinning out of control and a government completely not up to the task of confronting tough problems, “a number of major government policies worked just fine,” he writes. “And the biggest successes involved the most derided policies. You’ll never hear this on Fox News, but 2014 was a year in which the federal government, in particular, showed that it can do some important things very well if it wants to.”
Here are the four areas where Krugman posits the government, and in particular, the Obama administration showed its competency:
Just a month or so ago we were in a full-blown panic about Ebola coming to this country. And the message of many policiticans was that our public health officials were in no way up to the task of dealing with it using conventional methods.” Instead, they insisted, we needed to ban all travel to and from West Africa,” Krguman writes, “imprison anyone who arrived from the wrong place, and close the border with Mexico. No, I have no idea why anyone thought that last item made sense.”
This was all wrong. It turned out that the epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention actually knew what they were doing, despite some early mistakes. Ebola is still killing people in Africa, but there was no outbreak here, despite what the fearmongers projected.
But the story you hear all the time portrays economic policy as an unmitigated disaster, with President Obama’s alleged hostility to business holding back investment and job creation. So it comes as something of a shock when you look at the actual record and discover that growth and job creation have been substantially faster during the Obama recovery than they were during the Bush recovery last decade (even ignoring the crisis at the end), and that while housing is still depressed, business investment has been quite strong.
What’s more, recent data suggest that the economy is gathering strength — 5 percent growth in the last quarter! Oh, and not that it matters very much, but there are some people who like to claim that economic success should be judged by the performance of the stock market. And stock prices, which hit a low point in March 2009, accompanied by declarations from prominent Republican economists that Mr. Obama was killing the market economy, have tripled since then. Maybe economic management hasn’t been that bad, after all.
In fact, Year 1 surpassed expectations on every front. Remember claims that more people would lose insurance than gained it? Well, the number of Americans without insurance fell by around 10 million; members of the elite who have never been uninsured have no idea just how much positive difference that makes to people’s lives. Remember claims that reform would break the budget? In reality, premiums were far less than predicted, overall health spending is moderating, and specific cost-control measures are doing very well. And all indications suggest that year two will be marked by further success.