1. Paul Ryan said the people are not better off. And Joe Biden said America is better off. I actually think you can make a really good argument that they’re both right. And here’s what that argument would look like. The country itself is better off. Four years ago, September 2008, we were just about to enter a horrific downturn. The collapse of Lehman Brothers set off the worst of it. If you look at something like world trade, stock prices, industrial production world-wide – an economist named Barry Eichengreen with colleagues have done some of this work – it is remarkable how similar 2008 looks like 1929 in terms of the speed of the declines, in almost any global economic indicator of import that you look at. In most of the ways, 2008 was a little bit worse than 1929. And yet, of course, we don’t have anything that looks like the Great Depression. As bad as the economy is, we don’t have unemployment at 20 percent. When you look at those measures, what you see is in 2009, the economy really stabilized. It’s remarkable to look at those lines continue to fall back in 20s and 30s, and sort of flatten out in 2008 and 2009. The Obama administration can claim a lot of credit for that. They broke the back of this, along with the [Federal] Reserve, and by the way, with an assist from the outgoing Bush administration, which was quite aggressive in its final months. And so is the country better off today or when it is was in the very early stages of this really frightening crisis? I don’t think there’s any question that we’re better off today as a country than we were then. …

    "But, there is also a very serious argument that a typical American household is worse off than it was four years ago and that’s because financial crises don’t do all their damage at once. They do it over many months and then there are long, slow disappointing, painful recoveries. And I think one of the fairest indictments of the Obama administration is that it has consistently underestimated the severity of this crisis. It didn’t in 2009, but since then it has. It thought the recovery would be better than it really was. And the same goes for the Federal Reserve. And so most of the reason why we’re not better off is just that’s the way financial crises work. But some portion of it is that the policy makers, The Fed and Obama administration looked on the bright side a little bit too often. And didn’t take every step they could have taken. And so when you look at something like household income, when you look at median wealth, when you look at the percentage of the population that’s working – on all of those measures we are lower than we were four years ago. And so I think it’s fair to say the typical American household isn’t better off, but the country is.

    — New York Times Washington bureau chief David Leonhardt on the question: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

  2. David Leonhardt

    Are you better off now?

    Paul Ryan

    Joe Biden