Well, Jonathan Chait has let the cat out of the bag. He actually wrote down what I’ve been thinking for a couple of years but was too superstitious to put into print or bits or whatever it is we are doing here. I probably have mentioned it along the way, but I didn’t write a whole article about it! My mother always told me, “Don’t tempt the gods.” So I try not to. Apparently, Chait never learned this lesson, because today he wrote, Have House Republicans Extended the Economic Recovery Into 2016? Well, in a word: yes. In a couple of words: almost certainly.
The speculation is that by doing everything they can to stop the recovery, the Republicans have only succeeded in creating a slow but very long recovery. The economics on this is actually pretty simple: left alone, economies do recover. In a downturn, people may put off buying new cars, but eventually they will have to do it. So unless the government just does everything wrong, the economy will heal. The Republicans have had enough power to do really bad things to slow the economic recovery (for example: the Budget Control Act of 2011 with its sequester), but they have not had enough power to stop it.
So the economy continues growing, but slowly. As it is, the unemployment rate is 6.2%. Even if you forget about the fact that this is artificially low because of all the discouraged workers, this is much higher than the 4%-5% unemployment rate generally thought to be full employment. So barring anything surprising happening, the economy should continue to grow at its anemic pace for long enough to elect Hillary Clinton in 2016 (or whoever else the Democrats run).
In one sense, there is no fear of letting the cat out of the bag. The Republicans have already created this destiny. It’s not like they could start legislating properly, allow an economic boom, and hope for a bust some time in the middle of 2016. But in another sense, this is extremely dangerous. There are things the Republicans could do to destroy the economy in 2016. In particular, they could refuse to raise the debt ceiling and throw the world economy into untold chaos. Now the people might actually blame the Republicans for this and destroy the party. But I’m not convinced it would work out that way. It could quite easily lead to President Ted Cruz.
Regardless, I think it is a mistake to give the Republicans the idea that they have painted themselves into a corner with regard to 2016. This will only encourage the consistent call from their base, “The problem with the Republican Party is that it isn’t conservative enough; we need to destroy the economy in order to save it!” More and more, it seems that the Republican Party will do anything to get and keep power. I don’t, for example, ever remember a minority party actively sabotaging the economy because they thought it was in their best political interests. So I don’t know what they’d do if they got the impression that 2016 was hopeless. Most likely, however, they won’t conclude that. Instead, they will stay in their own echo chamber and assume that economic calamity is just around the corner, and the country is as conservative as they are.