Consumer Confidence Contrast: Higher Under Reagan Than Obama, Despite mid-1980s Media Recession Predictions

After the jump is a graphic from Investor's Business Daily comparing post-recession consumer confidence readings from the Conference Board during the Reagan and Obama administrations. See it there or see it below, because you probably won't see it at any establishment press web site or in any of their publications.

What's remarkable about the graphic is how confidence was able to stay at or above 100 (a reading of 90 is considered the "healthy economy" benchmark) in the face of a virtually non-stop media onslaught which alternatively tried to deny the existence of the ongoing prosperity, constantly warned that another recession was just around the corner, or whined about how supposedly unfair the economy was becoming (Keep in mind that the Media Research Center didn't appear on the scene until 1987) -- which is quite different from the current establishment media cheerleading which occurs seemingly any time there's the least little sign that things might be getting better.


Here's the graph:

ConsumerConfidenceReaganVsObama

Here are a few paragraphs from what IBD had to say about the comparison:

The 1981-82 recession lasted almost as long as the last one — 16 months vs. 18 months — and pushed unemployment higher. Yet confidence roared back as Reagan's economic policies powered a strong and sustained recovery, with the index topping 100 most months.

What reason do people have to feel confident today?

Almost three years into the recovery, unemployment is still above 8%, household incomes are down more than 5%, gasoline prices remain at historic highs, and the economy can only eke out meager gains.

On top of this, we learned this week that housing prices are back at their mid-2002 levels. So, naturally, Obama's again making excuses and shifting blame.

And so is the press, with claims like the howler I've seen several times in the past couple of months, including in yesterday's AP coverage of consumer confidence, that the mild winter somehow "stole" economic and employment growth from the spring. If the fundamentals were right (predictable economic environment, strong but not confrontational or intimidating regulation, and the ability to get the domestic fossil-fuel resources which are there for the taking with sufficient will, to name a few), a mild winter should have buoyed even more growth. But the fundamentals aren't right.

I came across what follows in looking for something to exemplify how absolutely awful business reporting was in the mid-1980s (in my view, it was a backlash after the early 1980s when much of the business press "betrayed" the rest of their colleagues by telling readers the truth about how bad the Jimmy Carter economy was and refusing to go all-agenda, all-the-time against the Reagan tax cuts which turned the economy around).

What I found was a 27 year-old offering from, of all people, the Associated Press's Martin Crutsinger. The September 30, 1985 report which follows, titled "Business economists expect modest rebound at best," pretty much confirms that the AP reporter's career of over a quarter-century has been one of double standards -- gloom and doom when Republicans hold the White House, and sunny-side up and excuse-making when a Democrat is in the Oval Office (full report is here):

APonReaganEconNearRecession09301985

To the question of why the economists in the story were so pessimistic, the answer is that they read the papers with gloomy wire reports like Crutsinger's and watched the then-dominant broadcast TV newscasts (and CNN, which dominated cable) which had more of the same, with relatively little access to alternative interpretations. Of course they were dour.

During the period in question, key seasonally adjusted economic stats were as follows (Note: these are figures as of today; originally published figures were different, but still very positive):

  • GDP growth (interactive tables are here; use the first table in Section 1) -- an annualized 3.8%, 3.4%, and (yes) 6.4$ in the first second, and third quarters, respectively, of 1985. Growth during the next four quarters averaged 2.9%.
  • Jobs added per the Establishment Survey -- 1.936 million jobs added in the first nine months of 1985, an average of 215,000 jobs per month in a workforce which was over 30% smaller. Over 3 million jobs were added during the next 15 months.
  • Unemployment rate per the Household Survey -- The least impressive statistic of the three, it went from 7.3% in December 1984 to 7.1% in September 1985. But that's still a point lower than the current rate of 8.1%, and it was achieved without driving people out of the workforce, which has been the primary mechanism by which the rate has come down during the past several months. By the end of 1986, the rate fell to 6.6%.

Yet in the wishful land of Marty Crutsinger, the country was in serious danger of falling into a recession.

At least with MRC, NewsBusters, and the center-right blogosphere around, people who may as well be leftist mouthpieces like Crutsinger and his colleagues don't automatically get to dictate the narrative. But they still have far more influence on it than they've earned.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.