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'Tough number to swallow': Romans breaks down inflation data
01:08 - Source: CNNBusiness
Washington CNN  — 

In a Wednesday appearance on the ABC late-night show “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” President Joe Biden made a dramatic claim about the US economy – and repeated himself for emphasis.

“Look, here’s where we are. We have the fastest-growing economy in the world. The world. The world,” Biden said.

Facts First: Biden’s claim is false. The US economy grew by 5.7% in 2021, but more than 50 other countries had faster growth that year, figures published by the International Monetary Fund show; many of them are small or developing countries, but some of them are large or wealthy. In addition, the US economy shrank in the first quarter of 2022, while various other countries experienced growth. And while economic experts expect the US economy to resume growing over the rest of this year, a significant number of other countries are expected to grow faster.

Asked for comment on Friday, a White House official did not attempt to specifically defend Biden’s claim that the US has the fastest-growing economy in the world.

Instead, the official pointed out that the 5.7% growth in the United States’ real gross domestic product in 2021 was the fastest for the country since 1984. The official also pointed out that the International Monetary Fund has projected that, as of the fourth quarter of this year, the size of the US economy will be bigger relative to its late-2019 pre-pandemic level than any of the other six countries in the international forum known as the Group of Seven: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom.

Those comments are accurate. But Biden said on Kimmel’s show, three times, that the US economy is growing faster than that of any other country in “the world,” not just growing faster than six particular countries. And that’s inaccurate.

“Clearly the US has been the G-7 economy that has done best in terms of GDP growth rates since the inception of COVID, but is not literally the fastest-growing economy in the world over this period,” said Gian Maria Milesi-Ferretti, a former International Monetary Fund official who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank’s Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy.

How the US compares

Biden took office in late January 2021. Among the dozens of countries that saw faster real GDP growth than the US in 2021 were Ireland (13.5%), Chile (11.7%), Turkey (11%), Colombia (10.6%), India (8.7% for the fiscal year that began in April 2021), Greece (8.3%), Israel (8.2%), China (8.1%), the United Kingdom (7.4%), France (7%) and Italy (6.6%), according to figures published by the IMF and the countries’ governments. (Many countries’ growth rates were higher than usual in 2021 because their economies were rebounding from the 2020 economic crisis caused by the pandemic.)

An economic outlook released this week by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development projected the US would grow by 2.5% in 2022. That was lower than the OECD’s 2022 projections for 11 other members of the Group of 20 international forum: Saudi Arabia (7.8%), India (6.9% for the fiscal year), Indonesia (4.7%), China (4.4%), Australia (4.2%), Spain (4.1%), Canada (3.8%), Turkey (3.7%), the United Kingdom (3.6%), Argentina (3.6%) and South Korea (2.7%).

We’ll add one caveat. There are various ways to measure growth – among other things, you can pick different start and end points and different gauges of economic activity – and there are various complications involved in the data.

Laura Veldkamp, a finance professor at Columbia University’s business school, said there is “no way” that Biden’s claim is true if he was using “fastest-growing” in the usual way, referring to a percentage change. She said, however, that she would personally describe the President’s claim as “misleading,” rather than false, since “the word growth in conversation can mean many things.”

We’ll respectfully stick with our harsher conclusion. If Biden was citing some unusual or obscure measure of growth, he could have explained that. He didn’t, and the White House didn’t either when asked for comment.