Bidenomics vs. Vibecession and Vabpression
After President Joe Biden announced his intention to run for re-election in April of 2023, many in the President’s camp believed that touting Bidenomics would help move him toward victory again in 2024. It has not.
Instead, vibecession and vabpression appear to be winning and Bidenomics appears to be losing. Let’s examine why.
Bidenomics in Perspective
The term Bidenomics was bandied about considerably in the last half of 2023. What exactly is it?
On June 28 the White House issued a Statement titled “Bidenomics is Working: The President’s Plan Grows the Economy from the Middle Out and Bottom Up — Not the Top Down.”
That statement says the plan is an economic vision centered around three key pillars:
- Making Smart Public Investments in America
- Empowering and educating workers to grow the middle class
- Promoting competition to lower costs and help entrepreneurs and small businesses thrive
Accomplishments cited in each area include the following:
Making Smart Public Investments in America
- 35,000 new projects awarded funding thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law
- $490 billion in private investment commitments in 21st century industries
- Clean energy workforce added nearly 300,000 jobs in 2022
Empowering and educating workers to grow the middle class
- Inflation adjusted income is up 3.5% since the President took office
- Record low unemployment rates for African Americans, Hispanics and women
- Continuing to fight for universal pre-K and free community college
Promoting competition to lower costs and help entrepreneurs and small businesses thrive
- Historic Executive Order on Competition identifying 72 specific initiatives across the government to promote competition
- Hearing aids can be sold over the counter instead of just via prescriptions lowering their cost from as much as $5,000 to a few hundred dollars
- Saving taxpayers $160 billion over the next decade by giving Medicare the authority to negotiate lower prescription drug costs
The actions and numbers provided in the statement are impressive. Despite this, on June 28 — the same day this statement was released, in a piece explaining the ‘Bidenomics plan,’ Tami Luhby of CNN observed, “Biden, however is still struggling to sell his economic agenda to the public. Two thirds of Americans disapprove how he’s handled the economy and just over three-quarters feel the economy is in poor shape, according to a CNN poll conducted by SSRS in May.”
On November 3, Peter Nicholas, Megan Lebowitz, and Carol E. Lee open their article for NBC News on Bidenomics stating: “No one seems to like “Bidenomics,” the eponymous shorthand for Joe Biden’s economic policies — not voters, not Democratic officials, not even, at times, the president himself.”
From there they proceed to observe:
A University of Michigan monthly survey of attitudes toward the economy found that 20% of consumers expressed that their personal finances had deteriorated between Biden’s inauguration and September of this year.
More meaningful to Americans than the overall economic growth that Biden celebrates may be the stubborn reality that average food prices in U.S. cities have risen 20% since Biden took office.
Finally, Sylvan Lane in his December 28 article for The Hill, titled “Why Bidenomics is Falling Flat with Voters,” draws upon insights provided by Julian Pollak of ZipRecruiter to note:
While millions of workers may have ended up with higher wages relative to before the pandemic, Pollak said the legacy of its disruption may be shaping feelings about the economy.
“We’ve just had this massive whiplash reversal, so everyone has experienced good times and bad times since the start of the pandemic,” Pollak said. “When you have a situation where everyone has experienced bad times, everyone is feeling grumpy and angry at somebody.”
That somebody for many people in the past year has been President Joe Biden. In this presidential election year, it is not just Joe Biden versus Donald Trump. It is also Bidenomics versus the vibecession.
The Vibecession Impact
“Feelings are such real things.” That is a line from the song “It’s All Right to Cry,” sung by former professional football player Roosevelt Grier on the break-through children’s album “Free to Be…You and Me,” released in 1972.
Over one-half a century later, adults know that feelings are real things and are expressing them not by crying, but by crying out. They are saying that in spite of what the economic statistics say that they don’t feel good, and that the American economy is headed in the wrong direction instead of the right direction.
One of the terms that is used to refer to feelings is vibes. Vibes can be good and positive or bad and negative.
In June 2022, financial analyst and content creator Kyla Scanlon examined the disjuncture between the relatively strong performance of the economy writ large and the significantly low consumer sentiment, posting a column in her newsletter saying that America was experiencing a “vibecession” — combining the word “vibe” with the word “recession”.
In her piece, Scanlon states:
I think that’s the hardest part about all of this. People want a simple solution for Why Things are Bad (and I do too) but things are bad (and good) for many different reasons.
The overwhelming nature of it all creates a Vibecession. Where economically speaking, things are okay-ish but in reality… the vibes are off. People are feeling bad.
Vibecession — a period of temporary vibe decline where economic data such as trade and industrial activity are relatively okayish.
Scanlon’s commentary precipitated a slew of coverage both in the traditional media and on social media. Some have said that media coverage may have contributed to and intensified the vibecession.
This definitely is possible and maybe even probable. As we have written in the past, where and what one reads influences, and can reinforce, one’s personal perceptions. It is likely that seeing something in print about others feeling bad may affect one’s feelings about the economy in general.
When Scanlan published her piece in June of 2022, the U.S. economy was not in a recession, as measured by two consecutive quarters of a decline in GDP, or by “a significant decline in economic activity that is spread across the country.”
Nonetheless, consumers felt bad, and many thought the country was in a recession. Many felt and thought that way throughout 2023, and do so until today.
The reason for this is straightforward. National macroeconomic measures are not designed to assess microeconomic conditions or attitudes of market segments or individuals.
As we noted in our book Renewing the American Dream, “…while there may be a strong correlation between GDP and the general economic conditions of a country at the macro level, there can be very little at the micro or individual level.” This is why the vibecession persists and continues to have a negative impact.
Tressie McMillan Cottom, opinion columnist for the New York Times, doesn’t buy into the “bad vibes” explanation put forward by some that “media narratives have duped Americans into believing that they’re having a rough time, when, in fact, they’re doing fine.”
In her December 11 column, Cottom argues that the economy has bigger problems, asserting:
People are struggling with mortgage interest rates, housing shortages, and pricey grocery bills. They’re also consuming to make their lives work: on expensive, hard-to-manage child care, health care, and convenience spending — things like restaurants, travel, delivery services, and on-demand help — which are necessary for balancing work and life demands. Even when those services are affordable, they are full of friction. That is a nice way of saying the consumer experience sucks. It is hard to schedule things, hard to get customer service, hard to judge the quality of what you are buying, and hard to get amends when an experience goes bad. There is a reason industry analysts have reported that customer brand loyalty is low and customer rage is high.
Citizens’ economic circumstances are causing bad vibes. Contrary to some reporting, however, it’s not due to what they read in the press or see on social media. It’s due to who they are and what they are experiencing.
The Vabpression Impact
It’s not just the citizens struggling with their economic circumstances who are derailing Bidenomics. It’s also those citizens who, because of their political allegiance, are unable — or refuse — to see facts that are contrary to their mindset.
Those citizens engage in what we call vabpression. Vabpression is a term we have coined using the first letters of the words “values, attitudes, and beliefs (vab) combined with the ending (-pression) of the words repression and suppression.
To be clear all citizens have core values, attitudes, and beliefs. They are usually developed early in life and relate to areas such as abortion, same sex marriage, religion, and race relations.
Social psychologist Milton Rokeach from Michigan State University was one of the foremost experts on belief systems. His research disclosed that Americans basically share the same values, but we each have a value hierarchy, and the ranking of the values in that hierarchy varies considerably from individual to individual.
Rokeach also developed a psychology of dogmatism. He found that dogmatism was a measurable personality trait created by the convergence of a closed cognitive system, authoritarianism, and intolerance. The dogmatic, or closed-minded, person has immutable values and opinions that can’t be changed no matter what.
Research has shown that the most ardent Trump supporters are cultish and fall into this dogmatic and close-minded category. These Trump or MAGA Republicans constitute anywhere from 25 to 30% of the Republican party today.
And as the political polarization and the division between the opinions of Democrats and Republicans on almost every matter has grown substantially, there is an additional 50% or so of Republicans who would find it difficult to believe or accept anything that a Democratic leader might say. This means that for tens of millions of Americans, vabpression defeats Bidenomics and impacts their responses to economic and other social surveys.
Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman supports this interpretation in his January 9 New York Times opinion column. Drawing upon recent research from Civiqs, Krugman states, “I wouldn’t bet my life on the Civiqs estimates, but in what follows I’m going to use them to suggest that one of the factors everyone knows is affecting consumer sentiment — partisanship — may be even more important than most economists realize. Indeed, weak consumer sentiment may be almost entirely about MAGA.”
Krugman goes on to observe that “It’s also clear that this partisanship is asymmetric: Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to say that the economy is good when their party holds the White House and bad when it doesn’t.”
A Pew Research Center report on trust in government released on September 19, 2023, disclosed a similar asymmetric pattern. The Pew report which reviewed public trust in government from 1958 to 2023.
It notes that, “Since the 1970’s, trust in government has been consistently higher among members of the party that controls the White House than among the opposition party. Republicans have often been more reactive than Democrats to changes in political leadership, with Republicans expressing much lower levels of trust during Democratic presidencies: Democratic attitudes have tended to be somewhat more consistent, regardless of which party controls the White House.”
In 2023, 25% of “Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said they trusted the federal government to do what is right just about always or most of the time compared to only 8% of Republicans.”
And a recent Gallup poll released on January 5 of this year found that today 38% of Democrats are satisfied with the way democracy is working in the U.S. compared to a mere 17% of Republicans. Add up these various surveys and you can see that vabpression abounds among Republicans in 2024 and has done so for some time.
In 2009, academics from the Universities of Illinois and Florida conducted a meta-analysis of various research studies on citizens’ processing of information. They found one study that showed many people do not even attempt to secure data if it does not agree with their viewpoints. Another study they found showed that if some people were provided with accurate information on something and then read a blog which provided incorrect information, they tended to believe the blog even after they were informed it was not true.
Fast forward ten to fifteen years, with the promulgation of significant disinformation, and the Big Lie a former Republican president and numerous other right-wing social media disinformers, who have collaborated to create a pseudo-reality.
Given this alternative national reality, we can predict with a high degree of confidence that, if a similar meta-analysis were conducted now, it would disclose that many more people would not be able to ascertain or to believe the truth. This is the case because they have been indoctrinated into a state of vabpression in which they repress their own ability to comprehend and attempt to suppress the importance and impact of facts.
Counteracting Vibecession and Vabpression with Citizenomics
Vibecession and vabpression are twins. They originate in a citizen’s minds.
Together, they will not kill Bidenomics. But they have, and will continue to, reduce its positive effect on the sentiment and behavior of the citizenry in general.
Given this situation, what can be done to counteract vibecession and vabpression? In general, the approach should be to de-emphasize Bidenomics and emphasize citizenomics.
Citizenomics elevates Individual Economic Well-being (IEW). It makes the expectations and the experiences of citizens the centerpiece for changes and communications.
There are three essential ingredients required to put a citizenomics approach in place. Shift from a macroeconomic to a microeconomic focus. Address kitchen table issues. Tailor responses to market segment and geographic needs.
Shift from a Macroeconomic to a Microeconomic Focus
At this point, Bidenomics relies primarily on national large-scale macroeconomic measures, new federal legislation, and governmental and policy initiatives to make its case. This makes the case within the Washington D.C. Beltway, but does not reach very far beyond it.
To make the case beyond the Beltway requires employing microeconomics to address the specific needs of individuals and market segments. Most importantly, this has to be done in a way that improves or will improve individual economic well-being (IEW) in a meaningful way. If the citizen does not feel a direct commitment to or experience a specific change personally, that change will not be recognized.
We have been advocating for a focus on IEW since 2010. Even if there is a shift in this direction, a key problem is that currently there is no reliable way to measure the impact of that focus.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) has been working on creating new measures of economic well-being and growth through its GDP and Beyond initiative since 2018. It has developed “prototype measures” for economic well-being such as “real personal income per capita by state” and “distribution of personal income across households,” but there is no timeline at this point for their full implementation.
Having said that, the short-term measure of whether progress is being made on IEW will be decided by each individual. With less than ten months to go until the presidential elections, it will be impossible to implement major initiatives that will have substantial effects on IEW. Therefore citizens will have to believe that the economic and well-being proposals put forward will be achievable and benefit them personally.
Address Kitchen Table Issues
As we moved toward the end of January, Paul Krugman, in his opinion column for the New York Times, and Catherine Rampell, in her piece for the Washington Post, commented on improving consumer sentiment scores and suggested they might be causing the vibecession to recede.
Nevertheless, Krugman opined, “Will economic perceptions actually end up being a plus for Biden? Probably no.” And Rampell stated, “Though it seems unlikely that the economy will suddenly transition into a winning issue for the incumbent, it might stop being an albatross around his neck.”
The assessment of those experts are most likely accurate because — as has been the case in politics for decades — kitchen table issues will matter the most this year.
Factors such as the overall cost of living, the price of food, the price of gas, wages earned, and monthly rent or mortgage payments will influence people’s feelings and their sentiments on the economy. Those feelings and sentiments can either be ameliorated or exacerbated by what they hear from those in positions of power or in the media and in discussions that they have in the home with family or in gathering places with friends.
The framing of the policies and practices that have been or will be put in place to improve an individual’s relative status on the kitchen table issues can make a difference in terms of perception. So, too, will the messaging on those issues.
Tressie McMillan Cottom makes this point in her New York Times column writing:
Bad economic storytelling tells millions of Americans in an election year that they only think that they are struggling financially. Good economic storytelling would figure out how to account for their experiences and imagine a better future.
Acknowledging the economic conditions and problems of the average American and explaining what will be done to improve those conditions and eliminate those problems in a compassionate and convincing manner are essential in order to secure buy-in and support for four more years.
Tailor Responses to Market Segment and Geographic Needs
Research indicates that the market segments that will matter the most in this year’s presidential election are: young people, Hispanic, Black, female, suburban educated voters, true independents, and traditional Republican voters who are ticket splitters.
Some economic issues, such as the cost of living, are cross-cutting and relevant for all segments. Each segment, though, has issues that are of particular interest to them. Those may be economic issues or a wedge issue (a political or social issue which is of importance).
In our blog preceding this one, based upon polling by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University, we identified the following as the top economic and wedge issues for young people (ages 18–34): inflation/cost of living, jobs that pay a living wage, gun violence, and climate change. “Cost of living” is, by a wide margin, young people’s top concern.
As another example of a market segment wedge issue, consider the abortion rights-related votes cast in seven states since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The turnout or status of female voters in all those states ensured that abortion rights won out easily over antiabortion positions.
As the blue state/red state divide demonstrates, there are substantial differences by state in terms of the dominant values, attitudes, and beliefs of citizens and their economic, political and social orientations. There are also differences within most states between rural and suburban and urban areas.
As the results of the 2020 elections indicate, the turnout in swing states such as Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin from Democratic-leaning market segments and geographic locations made the difference in terms of President Biden’s victory.
That turnout was driven primarily by a reaction to the extreme right-wing “wedge issue” positions of Donald Trump. Those wedge issue positions galvanized his MAGA supporters for him but also galvanized his MAGA opponents against him.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear’s relatively easy re-election in November 2023 as a Democrat in a Republican-leaning state illustrates the importance of addressing issues that matter to all of the citizens across a state regardless of their political orientation.
Bruce Schreiner of the Associated Press reports that in his interview with Beshear on the day after he was re-elected, “the governor stressed the importance of everyday issues from good jobs and roads to quality health care and safe neighborhoods — what’s on the voter’s minds heading into the 2024 elections.” Schreiner quoted Governor Beshear as saying “And so if you really want to help people, talk about the things that they’re most concerned about.”
Many of those issue for Beshear were economic ones, but abortion rights (a wedge issue) was also on the table. He told Schreiner that “his reelection offered further evidence that voters want to change the state’s near total abortion ban.”
In summary, a citizenomics approach can make a difference with the majority of the population. It can help reverse the negative or bad feelings of many of the vibecessors.
It will not have any impact at all, however, on those in the deep state of vabpression. That state is irreversible.
We have focused on the Republicans suffering from vabpression in this blog. To clarify, they are not the only ones with that dogmatic mindset. They are joined by those on the extreme left in the Democratic party, and those who put their own personal rights and political or social agenda ahead of responsible citizenship.
In conclusion, 2024 will be a determinative year for the future of our American democracy. Bidenomics has put the country on the path of progress to move democracy forward.
Citizenomics will bring all responsible and concerned citizens together on that path. That will ensure that this Great American Experiment and journey toward creating a more perfect union continues.