On election night 2016, I gave in temporarily to a temptation I warn others about: I let my political feelings distort my economic judgment. A very bad man had just won the Electoral College; and my first thought was that this would translate quickly into a bad economy. I quickly retracted the claim, and issued a mea culpa. (Being an old-fashioned guy, I try to admit and learn from my mistakes.)
Outside the Federal Reserve in Manhattan.Credit…Todd Heisler/The New York Times
What I should have clung to, despite my dismay, was the well-known proposition that in normal times the president has very little influence on macroeconomic developments — far less influence than the chair of the Federal Reserve.
This only stops being true when the economy is so depressed that monetary policy loses traction, as was the case in 2009-10; at that point it mattered a lot that Obama was willing to engage in fiscal stimulus, and it also mattered a lot, unfortunately, that Republican opposition plus Obama’s own caution meant that the stimulus was much smaller than it should have been. By 2016, however, the aftershocks of the financial crisis had faded away to the point that the usual rules once again applied.