On Monday morning Elizabeth Warren, the 2020 candidate known for her policy-dense Medium posts detailing her extensive plans, released yet another policy-dense Medium post. This one, however, didn’t delve into housing or child care but instead offered a dark prophecy for America: A recession is coming. “I see a number of serious shocks on the horizon that could cause our economy’s shaky foundation to crumble,” she wrote.
Adding credibility to her claim is the fact that Warren was talking about subprime mortgages and debt years before the 2008 financial crisis hit. But back then she was merely an academic and policy wonk. Now she’s surely aware that her candidacy could hinge on whether Americans are worried about the state of the economy.
The U.S. economy is strong by most conventional metrics, and unemployment remains very low. Still, the threat of recession hovers in the background, worrying anyone who remembers what 2008-09 was like. The burst housing bubble left some trapped with suddenly worthless properties. As the George W. Bush administration scrambled to prevent banks from collapsing, millions lost their jobs; the class of 2009 graduated into the worst job market in memory. So while many informed observers say there really isn’t cause for alarm right now, it’s perhaps understandable that people are skittish. One recent survey found that 40 percent of Americans are worried a recession will start in the next 12 months, and Democrats were more likely to be concerned than Republicans.
It’s in Warren’s interest to hype up those fears. Every incumbent president defends the performance of the economy and every challenger makes the case that the economy is actually bad or could be better. During the 2016 campaign, Trump warned people to get out of the stock market; now he routinely brags about stock performances. Warren’s concerns, as laid out in her campaign’s Medium post, are more specific than Trump’s attacks on a “rigged” economy were. They include the large amount of household and corporate debt held by Americans, a struggling manufacturing sector, and Donald Trump’s trade wars. Warren also points out that many other experts predict that the country will fall into a recession in the next two years, possibly before the end of Trump’s term.
But Warren isn’t just another analyst, she’s a politician whose presidential campaign hinges on the idea that the U.S. economy is failing everyday people. To win, she needs to create a sense of urgency, even despair, among the electorate, and shatter Trump’s message that the economy is humming along. If a recession comes as she’s warning, it’ll be bad for the country. But it might be very good for Warren.
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