What’s Their Counterfactual?

Jared Bernstein

Jared Bernstein,  Senior Fellow Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Posted 2/8/2012

As others have noted, conservatives who’d like bash the president on the economy are having an awfully hard time right now, as the recovery proceeds apace. Too slowly apace, for sure, but no objective observer can miss that the trend is our friend and that even the job market, while still far too weak and with conspicuous downsides (intractable long-term unemployment), is improving.

So, they’re stuck with “yeah, things are getting better, but if we were in charge, they’d be even better!”

This, of course, is the flip side of a rap with which I’m intimately familiar: “sure, things are bad — but without our actions, they’d be even worse!”

Neither are convincing to most people, because most people don’t engage in the economist’s counterfactual: the path the economy would have taken absent your interventions. It’s the “compared-to-what” in the above statements.

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