Ugh. I have learned over the years that posts that verge onto politics give me the most negative mail. My politics are more complex than most, and I can tell you I am not voting for Romney or Obama. So please, do not take what I say as advocacy for either party.
As this article from Bloomberg points out, it’s not easy to answer whether you are better off. Like the article, I also think of Ronald Reagan in 1980 posing the same question. Now a Vulcan would have said, “Of course I am better off. 1977 & 1978 were great years, more than offsetting the problems of 1979 & 1980.” A human says, “I’m uncertain about the future, things don’t seem good now, so no, I am not better off.”
Note the difference: forward-looking vs backward-looking. It is not a question of how income has changed, but how prospects for income have changed.
Thus the question should be: “Do you feel better off?” But the politicians don’t say that because it is too touchy-feely.
Both fiscal policy and monetary policy are unsustainable. That does not engender a sense of confidence about the future, and as such many of those that think about this end up saying they are not better off, even if their income is higher over the last four years.
There is another way to view it, which I know is unpopular, but I think people implicitly deduct the growth in government debt from GDP growth, because they realize that much of what the government spends money on does not grow the economy.
This is another way of being forward-looking. When people are asked if they are better off, they do not look at past improvement, but whether the future looks better than it did four years ago. Now that you know what Obama is like, do you really have any confidence that the future will be better if he is re-elected?
Don’t get me wrong, I think the Republicans are full of hot air. I don’t think they would deal with entitlements the way they should be reduced. Further, I don’t even see them making any dent in current budget imbalances.
But if you feel less certain about your prospects now than four years ago, odds are when someone asks you if you are better off than you were four years ago, your answer will likely be “No.” We look forward, not backward.