Friday, July 27, 2018

Rush Limbaugh is a GDP boob, again

Rush Limbaugh can't remember good GDP under Obama for two reasons.

One, he's never read the press releases from the BEA. These are available anytime of day or night, including right now, right on Al Gore's amazing internet, for the whole Obama era, but it's more convenient to ignore them at the time if they occasionally disagree with your broader political point.

Second, Limbaugh doesn't realize that real GDP is a moving target. Real means it's an inflation-adjusted figure, and therefore is constantly updated going back in time to incorporate inflation's effects. Therefore no report of GDP he remembers from the past is worth anything today, except in the context of its time.

Limbaugh also doesn't understand that while GDP is subject to constant revision from month to month for this and other reasons, today's report is the 15th comprehensive revision, which occurs every five years. The last one was in 2013. If you looked at the data before the 2013 revision and compared it after you'd see noteworthy differences in the numbers you may have remembered differently.

Comprehensive revisions incorporate new methodologies and measurements across all the data. Today's data revision does just that going back all the way to 1929. Limbaugh wants you to believe new methods and measures under Obama distorted Obama's numbers uniquely but weren't applied uniformly to all the data, which is a complete falsehood.

Here's the recent history of 4.0 real GDP or better from today's revisions vs. contemporaneous BEA press releases:

2Q2018: 4.1%
3Q2014: 4.9% (5% in third estimate Dec. 2014)
2Q2014: 5.1% (4.6% in third estimate Sept. 2014)
4Q2011: 4.7% (3.0% in third estimate March 2012)
4Q2009: 4.5% (5.6% in third estimate March 2010).

Trump's GDP in the first half of 2018 is comparable to Obama's and Bush's best performances before him. That's a hopeful sign. But Trump supporters like me will have something to really crow about if and when these numbers look like they did in the 1990s, and do it consistently.

So far, they don't.