Columnist Byron York: Bidenomics 2023 — inflation down, prices up
The government announced Tuesday that the Consumer Price Index rose 3.2% in October from the same time last year. That is less than the 3.7% prices rose in September, leading to a lot of commentary about “good news” on inflation.
“Today we saw more progress bringing down inflation while maintaining one of the strongest job markets in history,” President Joe Biden said in a statement. “At 3.2%, annual inflation is now down by 65% from the peak.” Democrats will certainly hope that Biden, whose job approval for handling the economy has been in the 30s and shows no sign of improving, will benefit at least a little for trying to solve a problem that developed on his watch.
Don’t bet on it. This is the most important thing to remember about inflation and politics right now: Inflation is going down, but prices are still going up. “Yes, inflation has fallen sharply this year, but most prices have not fallen,” the New York Times’ David Leonhardt wrote recently. “Only their rate of increase has.” When prices shot up to insane levels at the grocery store back in 2021 and 2022 — well, they’re still at insane levels today and they’re still going up. They’re just going up more slowly than back then.
Look at the new Commerce Department report. At the grocery store, cereals and bakery products were up 4.2% in October, while soft drinks were up 3.3%. Meat, poultry, fish and eggs were up less, at 0.4%, while fruits and vegetables were up 1.1%. Only dairy products fell, 0.4%t, from last year, but remember that all these measurements are comparisons to the high prices of 2022.
If you eat out, a meal in a full-service restaurant increased in price by 4.3% in October, and a meal in a limited-service restaurant went up 6.2%. Services of all sorts went up 5.5%. Shelter went up 6.7 percent. Transportation, 9.2%. And this is the “good news” inflation report. The only really good news was a 5.3% drop in the price of gasoline and a much bigger drop, 21.4%, in fuel oil. Put it all together, and it amounts to an increase in prices of 3.2% overall in October.
What does that mean politically? Well, it’s not a great rallying cry for Democrats to say that prices at the grocery store rose to painful levels after Biden became president, but don’t worry — they’re still rising but at a slower pace than before. What voter will get fired up by that?
Indeed, lots of Democrats have been trying to convince the president that the label “Bidenomics” is not working the way he hoped. Biden believed that “Bidenomics” would communicate to voters all the wonderful things he has done for them. They don’t see it that way.
This is from Politico: “Earlier this fall, President Joe Biden’s top aides met a pair of progressives who had arrived in the West Wing with reams of data and a private warning: ‘Bidenomics’ wasn’t breaking through. The White House had spent the past three months trying to build enthusiasm for Biden’s economic record, spotlighting major policy accomplishments and celebrating a surging economy that it planned to make central to his reelection bid. But voters, discouraged by rising prices and baffled by the ‘Bidenomics’ brand, weren’t buying it.”
Biden’s economic failures have touched off a growing crisis inside the Democratic Party. This week, Politico’s Jonathan Martin talked with dozens of Democrats to get their advice on how Biden can improve his 2024 prospects. “Perhaps the most overwhelming economic messaging advice I picked up from Democrats was for him to heave ‘Bidenomics’ into the dumpster,” Martin wrote. “Attempting to make voters believe something they don’t is folly. Attaching your name to that strategy borders on the masochistic.”
Voter unhappiness with Biden’s economic performance is at the heart of the recent New York Times poll that terrified Democrats — the poll showing former President Donald Trump beating Biden in five of six critical swing states. “Voters, by a 59% to 37% margin, said they better trusted Mr. Trump over Mr. Biden on the economy, the largest gap of any issue,” the Times reported. “The preference for Mr. Trump on economic matters spanned the electorate, among both men and women, those with college degrees and those without them, every age range and every income level.”
Could it be any clearer than that? You can’t “make voters believe something they don’t.” Americans are living the Biden economy in their own lives. Yes, they might be marginally pleased that prices are going up less quickly than before.
But don’t try to tell them things are going well for them economically when they know it’s not true.