Nor do they mention the research showing how the aftermaths of financial crises are much, much worse than after regular recessions. Here’s Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, showing how our downturn compares to the typical one associated with a big financial crisis:

This paper examines the depth and duration of the slump that invariably follows severe financial crises, which tend to be protracted affairs. We find that asset market collapses are deep and prolonged. On a peak-to-trough basis, real housing price declines average 35 percent stretched out over six years, while equity price collapses average 55 percent over a downturn of about three and a half years. Not surprisingly, banking crises are associated with profound declines in output and employment. The unemployment rate rises an average of 7 percentage points over the down phase of the cycle, which lasts on average over four years. Output falls an average of over 9 percent, although the duration of the downturn is considerably shorter than for unemployment. The real value of government debt tends to explode, rising an average of 86 percent in the major post-World War II episodes. The main cause of debt explosions is usually not the widely cited costs of bailing out and recapitalizing the banking system. The collapse in tax revenues in the wake of deep and prolonged economic contractions is a critical factor in explaining the large budget deficits and increases in debt that follow the crisis.

This isn’t to excuse Obama for failing to bring the economy back around much quicker. It’s just to be honest about the hand he was dealt.

Of course, creating the false impression that stimulus has failed, that Obama greatly increased spending when he came into office, is a key part of Romney’s campaign strategy.

Peggy Noonan’s column today in the Journal fits right in there:

It became apparent some weeks ago when the president talked on the stump—where else?—about an essay by a fellow who said spending growth is actually lower than that of previous presidents. This was startling to a lot of people, who looked into it and found the man had left out most spending from 2009, the first year of Mr. Obama’s presidency. People sneered: The president was deliberately using a misleading argument to paint a false picture! But you know, why would he go out there waving an article that could immediately be debunked? Maybe because he thought it was true. That’s more alarming, isn’t it, the idea that he knows so little about the effects of his own economic program that he thinks he really is a low spender.

Of course, most of the spending in 2009 was baked into the cake when Obama came into office. Four months of the fiscal year were already over. The budget deficit was already at $1.2 trillion for 2009 the day Obama took office. It’s utterly misleading to blame him for most of that increased spending.

But that’s just part of the air they breathe over at The Wall Street Journal opinion pages.

UPDATE: I read today’s Krugman column after posting this. It’s worth a read.


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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.