Campaign Fantasy

Megan McArdle: Presidents Can’t Fix the Economy!

It’s delusional to ask one man to bring the country prosperity, argues Megan McArdle in our latest Op-Vid.

Mandel Ngan / AFP-Getty Images

It’s a ritual that seems as old as the Republic: every four years, two men get up and tell us that they—and they alone—can make the economy grow faster. “Elect me president,” each one says, “and I’ll put a chicken in every pot, a new car in every garage, and another zero on every paycheck. Elect the other guy, and you might as well take a vow of poverty right now.”

It’s remarkable enough that presidential candidates make such unlikely claims, but what’s even more amazing is that we seem to believe them. We attribute all sorts of magical qualities to the president, but none is more unreal than the ability to make the economy grow on command. The economy is big, and the president is just one man. And if you ask your neighbors, you’ll find that very few people are standing around, just waiting for the president to tell them to get moving and generate some prosperity.

After a few decades of listening to politicians make claims for their economic management powers that are literally incredible, you’d think we’d have been disillusioned. But as this election cycle seems to indicate—and as I stress in this Op-Vid, directed and produced by filmmaker Joe Posner—that’s the opposite of the truth. When their economic promises fail, we just ask them to promise harder.