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Trump keeps making outlandish claims about GDP

Matt Linden

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President Donald Trump’s cheerleading of the economy has been a constant since he took office in early 2017, but new claims over the past week have exaggerated the US’s economic strength and falsely painted his administration as overseeing unprecedented success.

“The GDP Rate (4.2%) is higher than the Unemployment Rate (3.9%) for the first time in over 100 years!” Trump tweeted Monday.

Contrary to Trump’s claim, however, this is the 64th quarter in the past 70 years during which the unemployment rate was below the quarterly GDP number. The most recent was in 2006.

Trump also incorrectly claimed Monday that the economy is “perhaps the best in our country’s history.”

GDP growth hit 4.2% in the second quarter, the highest level since the third quarter of 2014, but that is still not the best reading since the most recent recession. In fact, quarterly GDP growth has topped the 4.2% mark four times since the recession, and the latest reading is well below record highs.

Trump has also made the dubious claim over the past week that GDP growth would be dramatically reduced had Hillary Clinton won the presidency.

“If the Democrats had won the Election in 2016, GDP, which was about 1% and going down, would have been minus 4% instead of up 4.2%,” Trump tweeted Monday. “I opened up our beautiful economic engine with Regulation and Tax Cuts.”

The claim closely mirrors Trump’s comment during a conversation with veteran journalist Bob Woodward released last Tuesday.

“If the other administration or representatives of it had kept going, had kept — you know, if the other group had won, I will tell you, that you would have, I think you’d have a GDP of less than zero,” Trump claimed. “I think we would’ve been going in the wrong direction. Because regulations are such a big part of what we’ve done, Bob.”

The president also touted the GDP number during speeches in Montana and North Dakota last week.

While GDP growth did pick up in the second quarter, it is hard to determine just how much of the increase is directly attributable to Trump’s — or any administration’s — policies.

Economists say some of the boost was due to transitory factors, such as an increase in soybean exports ahead of Trump’s tariffs, and it’s also likely recent government policies such as the GOP tax law and the bipartisan budget agreement added another boost.

But much of the recent strength of the economy is a continuation of a long post-recession trend, as unemployment continues to fall and US consumers keep spending. This same employment and personal consumption trends existed before the 2016 election and its unclear what government policy could have reversed it — much less push GDP to the deep recessionary level of -4%.

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