Jeb Bush pledged Monday to give the U.S. an economic growth rate of 4 percent a year — a goal that many economists regard as ambitious at best and most likely unrealistic for any lengthy sustained period.
“There is not a reason in the world why we cannot grow at a rate of 4 percent a year,” Bush said as he formally announced his presidential bid in Miami. “And that will be my goal as president — 4 percent growth, and the 19 million new jobs that come with it.”
In declaring himself able to increase economic growth at that brisk pace, Bush can contrast the slow pace of recovery from the Great Recession under President Barack Obama with the rapid economic growth in Florida during his governorship. GDP growth in Florida exceeded 4 percent in all but Bush’s last year in office.
Nationally, GDP growth has averaged 2.2 percent on an annualized basis since the recession ended halfway through the first year of Obama’s first term. Growth coming out of the eight-month 2001 recession under President George W. Bush wasn’t much faster. Historically, GDP growth coming out of recessions has been closer to 5 percent before dropping to about 3 percent.
But while 4 percent growth can last for years at the state level, it has never been anything approaching the norm in U.S. economic history, even during the boom years that followed World War II. “I can go back 200 years,” said Claudia Goldin, an economic historian at Harvard, “and not get anything like this in a sustained manner.”
Bush didn’t say precisely how long he expected the economy to grow at 4 percent. But the Dallas-based George W. Bush Institute, a think tank affiliated with the George W. Bush Library and Museum, sponsors a 4% Growth Project that proposes 4 percent rather than 3 percent as a new norm for economic growth. “If the economy grew at 4% per year,” the Institute says on its website, “we would create 10 million additional jobs during the next decade, returning the economy to full employment through growth alone, with no rise in government spending.”