To be fair, the weak recovery has other, larger causes: the hangover from the financial crisis and Great Recession. The burst real-estate bubble destroyed $6 trillion of housing values. Rebuilding their wealth, many Americans are repaying debt and saving more. This depresses consumer spending — the economy's main engine — which is growing about 2 percent annually, down from 3 percent before the crisis, notes Behravesh. Likewise, the failure of housing construction to revive has hurt this recovery compared to most others, argue economists Michael Bordo and Joseph Haubrich in a new paper.
But Obama's missteps have made the situation worse. How much? The honest answer: We don't know. Economists' efforts to measure the impact of "policy uncertainty" are primitive. My guess is that Obama's errors had a modest effect. Suppose they cost 25,000 jobs a month. Beginning in 2010, job growth has averaged about 125,000 a month. The extra 25,000 conceivably might have strengthened confidence and accelerated the recovery.
As it is, Obama faces a tight re-election race. His performance will be judged against Mitt Romney's promises. He will soon know whether the American people give him a flunking grade.
Robert J. Samuelson is a Washington Post columnist.
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