If no one ever said, “If people are talking about you, it means you’re important,” someone probably should have. It’s always been true in America, a place where hype is king. The mere fact that you’re mentioned in the columns makes you a player.
Some would argue that’s one of the reasons Donald Trump got to be president. But it’s also the way New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez got to be the ideological leader of the Democratic Party. She has a lot to say, doesn’t shy away from the spotlight and has views that land far from the center of the bell curve.
Lately, while attempting to argue that the Democratic Party of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is centrist, she’s had a lot to say about how bad the American economy is under Trump.
If she wasn’t serious, it would be silly. But she is, and should be taken that way because, like it or not, someday she and her kind may win a national election and set policy for the entire nation. And, with the polls in Iowa and New Hampshire showing a late surge for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist independent who caucuses with the Democrats and agrees with Ocasio-Cortez’s assessment of the economy, that chance may come sooner than many people expect.
Here’s the reality. By most traditional measures, the economy is stronger than it’s been in over three decades, especially where job creation is concerned. Trump’s policy of tax relief and deregulation—the president likes to brag his administration has eliminated more than a dozen regulations for each new one it has imposed—has led to the creation of the three most important things in U.S. politics: jobs, jobs and more jobs.
“On a scale of 1 to 10,” economist Steve Moore recently wrote of the job market, “it’s an 11.”
Moore has it right. The unemployment rate soared above 9 percent during President Barack Obama’s early years in office. Obama promised it would soon plateau at a manageable level if Congress would only approve his stimulus package to kick-start the public works projects we were all told were “shovel-ready.” It did, but they weren’t. And although unemployment began falling after 2010, as Moore wrote, “from January 2009 to December 2016, almost 10 million jobs were added, but amazingly, 1.6 million working-age people dropped out of the workforce.”
Under Trump, unemployment has continued to go down and the labor force participation rate is rising, contrary to what the Congressional Budget Office predicted would be the continuing trend just as he came into office.
More people are working, and because real wages are rising, they have the “hope,” finally, that Obama promised but found so hard to deliver. We’re as close to full employment as economists in the 1970s and 1980s said we’d ever be.
The reason Ocasio-Cortez and others who subscribe to her agenda regard this as a bad economy is precisely because it demonstrates people do not need the government as a mediating institution to succeed. Market capitalism, even in the hybrid form in which it exists in the United States, is enough to, as the late Jack Kemp used to say, create “a rising tide that lifts all boats.”
When that happens, the folks who want to use the government to plan the economy and redistribute the rewards of hard work, creativity and invention (not to mention luck) among the masses have no arguments to make. Their model doesn’t come from Adam Smith so much as it comes from Karl Marx. The people they claim to represent apparently can get ahead without their intervention or their interference. Ocasio-Cortez and her allies want the government to control the means of production, the allocation of resources, individual employment tracks and every important macro- and micro-economic lever. They believe they are necessary when the current economic realities show they are, at best, superfluous.
People should realize she’s serious. She’s not exaggerating or trying to score political points. She believes this, and not just because the numbers show income inequality is increasing. Even if some are better off than others, most everyone is better off now than they were four years ago. To Ocasio-Cortez and her kind in the Democratic Party, that’s unacceptable.
It’s as if, as Margaret Thatcher put it on the floor of the House of Commons in the waning days of her prime ministry, those who promote socialism—even the American kind, which is supposedly kinder and gentler than the East German version—would rather “the poor were poorer provided the rich were less rich.”