We Have a Good News / Bad News Situation.
How does Biden do better?
1. Everything Is Great!
Last week Matthew Winkler wrote a column in Bloomberg arguing that if you go by the numbers, Joe Biden has had a tremendously successful first year. Here’s the rundown:
U.S. financial markets are outperforming the world by the biggest margin in the 21st century, and with good reason: America’s economy improved more in Joe Biden's first 12 months than any president during the past 50 years . . .
Corporate America is booming because the Biden administration's Covid-19 vaccination programs and $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan reduced the jobless rate to 4.2% in November from 6.2% in February, continuing an unprecedented rate of decline during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Consider that real, or inflation adjusted, gross domestic product surged at an average annual rate of 5.03% in each of the first three quarters of 2021, and is poised to expand 5.6% for the year based on the average estimate of more than 80 economists surveyed Bloomberg. If that forecast proves accurate, it would be more than 2.8 times the average between 2000 and 2019 and double the average since 1976.
All of which makes Biden's first year in the White House the standout among the seven previous presidents, based on 10 market and economic indicators given equal weight. According to data compiled by Bloomberg, no one comes close to matching Biden's combination of No. 1 and No. 2 rankings for each of the measures:
Gross domestic product (1)
Profit growth (1)
S&P 500 performance (2)
Consumer credit (1)
Non-farm payrolls (2)
Manufacturing jobs (2)
Business productivity (2)
Dollar appreciation (2)
S&P 500 relative performance (2)
Per capita disposable income, which rose 1.08% this year, is the only comparable weakness for Biden, trailing Donald Trump’s 2.17%, George W. Bush’s 2.01%, Jimmy Carter’s 1.80% and Ronald Reagan’s 1.42%.
So that’s the good news. And it really is good news. The kind of news that matters if all politics boils down to jobs, the unemployment rate, growth, and “it’s the economy stupid” stuff.
Because if you go by those traditional measures, Biden is killing it.
I mentioned this a few weeks ago, but Nebraska recently recorded the lowest unemployment rate in the history of unemployment rates.
Back in 2019 when it looked like Donald Trump was going to have a good shot at getting reelected, the sophisticated explanation was that people didn’t care about the scandals, or the impeachment, or the tweets. The Great and Good American People just care about the economy and if unemployment is low and the stock market is high, then that’s good enough for them.
Do you hear anyone suggesting that maybe Joe Biden is going to be competitive in Nebraska because he’s done such a great job in putting Cornhuskers to work? Do you hear anyone saying that Biden is in a great position for reelection because unemployment is crazy low and 401k’s are sky high?
And this question brings us to the bad news. Here’s Biden’s approval rating today:
How bad is that? Well, here’s Donald Trump’s approval rating the day after voters threw him out of office:
Virtually identical at -8 net.
Which brings us to the worse news: What is Biden supposed to do to recover lost ground?
Have the economy heat up more?
Get unemployment rate even lower?
As David Frum notes, Biden’s legislative agenda has been pretty successful, considering his Congressional margins. He stuck to passing economic bills. He governed from the center and left progressives disappointed. There was no Supreme Court packing or Socialism or defunding of the police. Instead, Biden moved heaven and earth to get bipartisan support on infrastructure—because voters are always saying how very much they care about bipartisanship and having politicians just “get something done.”
The economic indicators are mostly—though not universally—positive. The Biden agenda has been largely centrist and focused on kitchen-table economics. Biden himself has delivered on the return to normalcy that he promised.
And voters view him as indistinguishable from Trump.
So what fix is available to him?
Warning: For the next 30 seconds I’m going to sound like this guy:
I’m naturally skeptical of technology. Not a fanboy. But for Christmas my BiL gave me an Oculus Quest VR rig and I’ve been absolutely, positively, blown away.
This is the first piece of tech I’ve used since the original iPhone that felt like something from the future.
My sense is that the Oculus has been positioned mostly as a gaming platform, but that’s the least interesting application.
The two uses that left me speechless were:
(1) Immersive travel experiences. There’s a short tour through Rome where you are standing in the middle of landmarks: at the Trevi Fountain, inside St. Peter’s, in the Pantheon. And by God you feel like you are standing right there. You look up. You turn around. You examine different parts of the building. Astonishing.
(2) Filmed entertainment. You can link your Amazon account to the Oculus to watch movies and it feels like you have the perfect seat in a theater all to yourself. I’m an AV nerd and watching a movie on the Oculus might be the best home theater experience you can get.
Another thing that got me: The Oculus Quest 2 feels a lot like the first iPhone in that it has a number of obvious deficiencies. And like the first iPhone, you can clearly see how future versions will fix them.
The next-gen Oculus might have the potential to impact our world in a large way.
I now fully understand the VR hype.
The metaverse is another matter.
3. History of the Oculus
I remember when the Oculus arrived on Kickstarter in 2012. The idea was formed exclusively around videogames. But less that two years later, Facebook bought the company for $2 billion. Here’s a brief history of that crazy period:
Around the age of 15, Palmer Luckey started to fall in love with the concept of virtual reality.
By day, he attended classes at the local community college. By night, he was the founder and admin of ModRetro, a community dedicated to modifying vintage gaming consoles. Taking a N64 and making it portable; contorting an Xbox into a package half its original size — that sort of thing.
If there’s anything that videogames have taught gamers to love, it’s collecting things — the rarer, the better. Palmer’s favorite thing to pick up? Early attempts at virtual reality headsets.
Throughout the late 80s and 90s, dozens of companies tried to turn VR headsets into commercial success. All of them failed — hard. Some were too expensive; most just didn’t work worth a damn. All of them were far too ahead of their time (with components being far too expensive to source, and most home computers being far too weak to power anything worth playing.)
Sourcing his collection everywhere from industry liquidation sales to government auctions and carting himself out to the seller to avoid paying for shipping, he’d get his hands on headsets that once cost nearly $100,000 for less than $100. By his own estimates, Palmer has the largest private collection of virtual reality headsets in the world.
Around the age of 16, Palmer took on a new hobby: building headsets of his own. Unhappy with the performance of everything he’d obtained, he set out to build something better. Some of the prototypes were pieced together from his collection; others were modified versions of displays other enthusiasts had put together; others were built entirely from off-the-shelf pieces.
Even then, though, it wasn’t entirely clear that there was a company in the making. He was attending classes at Cal State Long Beach, pursuing a journalism degree. Meanwhile, he worked as an engineer at USC’s Mixed Reality lab, experimenting with VR and head-mounted displays.