There is a strange disconnect in American economic reporting today. On the one hand, there is a steady stream of news telling us that things are looking quite bright; economic growth for the third quarter of 2023 was recently reported to be a whopping 4.9 percent, a scale of expansion long believed to be out of reach for developed nations in our era of secular stagnation. At the same time, opinion polling paints a bleak portrait of how Americans feel about the state of the economy. A mere 19 percent of those surveyed in a recent New York Times poll said the US economy was either “good” or “excellent,” compared to the 81 percent who considered it to be in “fair” or “poor” shape.
These polling numbers aren’t just bad news for the Biden re-election campaign. They also hint at an ominous dynamic in American (and European) political life: an almost complete divorce between the world of official announcements—the consensus reality constructed by the sense-making apparatus of politics and the media—and reality as it is perceived by ordinary citizens.
To some, like Nobel Prize-winning economist and Times columnist Paul Krugman, this growing divide between the official figures and the increasingly dismissive or resentful attitudes of the masses ultimately comes down to mere ignorance on the part of the latter. A month ago, Krugman took to social media to pronounce the war on inflation “over,” concluding that America had “won, at very little cost.” This unleashed a torrent of mockery, however, because the chart used to show that inflation was a thing of the past excluded food, energy, shelter, and used cars—in other words, many of the things ordinary Americans worry about.