Presidential Debate: An Economy About to Take Off or a Bubble About to Burst?

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump offer sharply divergent pictures of the state of the economy

By Nick Timiraos

Monday night, Hillary Clinton characterized the economy as improving, while Donald Trump saw no such recovery. Photo: RICK WILKING/European Pressphoto Agency


Monday’s presidential debate featured two sharply different portraits of the U.S. economy, offering voters a choice not only on the details of trade and tax policy but also on which assessment best reflects the state of the nation.

Hillary Clinton characterized the economy as improving—and nearing a turn towards breakout growth—from a painful financial crisis and housing bust last decade. “We have come back from that abyss, and it has not been easy,” she said. “So we’re now on the precipice of having a potentially much better economy.”

Donald Trump saw no such recovery. “We’re a serious debtor nation,” he said, lamenting the state of an aging infrastructure. “We’ve become a third-world country.”

To the extent things are improving, it’s a mirage, he added. “The only thing that looks good is the stock market, but if you raise interest rates even a little bit, that’s going to come crashing down,” he said. “We are in a big, fat, ugly bubble.”

When the debate turned to solutions, Mr. Trump attacked U.S. businesses for moving jobs abroad and chided Mrs. Clinton for supporting trade agreements that he said fueled offshoring.  “We have to stop our companies from leaving the United States,” he said, pointing to plans to cut taxes and regulations for businesses. “The first thing you do is don’t let the jobs leave.”

Mrs. Clinton struck back by chiding Mr. Trump’s plan to give bigger tax breaks to companies and wealthy individuals. “Trickle-down economics all over again,” she said. “In fact, it would be the most extreme version…we’ve ever had.”

She said she would boost spending on infrastructure and research and development by raising taxes on the wealthiest households and curbing corporate tax breaks. “I’ve tried to be very specific about what we can and should do,” she said.

Mr. Trump tried to put Mrs. Clinton on the defensive over her husband’s support for the North American Free Trade Agreement, the trade pact passed largely with Republican votes by President Bill Clinton in 1993. “The single worst trade deal ever approved in this country,” he said.

Mrs. Clinton shot back: “I think my husband did a pretty good job in the 1990s,” she said. “Incomes went up for everybody.”

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