Monday, August 02, 2004

Two Fine Columns

Two of my favorite columnists have been in fine form recently. Here's Michael Kinsley, in the Washington Post, proving what should be obvious to anyone who thinks seriously about these things: that Democrats do a better job of running the country than Republicans do:

It turns out that Democratic presidents have a much better record than Republicans. They win a head-to-head comparison in almost every category. Real growth averaged 4.09 percent in Democratic years, 2.75 percent in Republican years. Unemployment was 6.44 percent on average under Republican presidents and 5.33 percent under Democrats. The federal government spent more under Republicans than Democrats (20.87 percent of gross domestic product, compared with 19.58 percent), and that remains true even if you exclude defense (13.76 for the Democrats; 14.97 for the Republicans).

What else? Inflation was lower under Democratic presidents (3.81 percent on average, compared with 4.85 percent). And annual deficits took more than twice as much of GDP under Republicans as under Democrats (2.74 percent versus 1.21 percent). Republicans won by a nose on government revenue (i.e., taxes), taking 18.12 percent of GDP compared with 18.39 percent. That, of course, is why they lost on the size of the deficit. Personal income per capita was also a bit higher in Republican years ($16,061) than in Democratic ones ($15,565). But that is because more of the Republican years came later, when the country was more prosperous already.

And here's Paul Krugman, of The New York Times, stating the obvious with his usual eloquence: that the major television news outlets are basically worthless.

Somewhere along the line, TV news stopped reporting on candidates' policies, and turned instead to trivia that supposedly reveal their personalities. We hear about Mr. Kerry's haircuts, not his health care proposals. We hear about George Bush's brush-cutting, not his environmental policies.

Even on its own terms, such reporting often gets it wrong, because journalists aren't especially good at judging character. (“He is, above all, a moralist,” wrote George Will about Jack Ryan, the Illinois Senate candidate who dropped out after embarrassing sex-club questions.) And the character issues that dominate today's reporting have historically had no bearing on leadership qualities. While planning D-Day, Dwight Eisenhower had a close, though possibly platonic, relationship with his female driver. Should that have barred him from the White House?


At 12:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interesting but I’m not really convinced either way. Just because A comes with B does not mean that A caused B. Ill admit that he went in the right direction by giving the first year of a new administration to the previous one, but many facets of economic change take longer. It could be said that the policies put in place by Bush senior and Regan gave the economic boom that Clinton took credit for example. Or that the cyclic nature of our economy has coincidentally favored the democrats a bit (those numbers are in most cases not too far from each other). The economic upturn that Clinton enjoyed began in the last year of Bush senior's administration and the down turn started the last couple of months of Clintons.

Don't misunderstand me. I’m not blaming Clinton for the bad bush economy. I am a part of the camp that thinks that there is not a whole lot that a president can do about the economy. I am also by no means an expert on economic matters. I just think that Michael Kinsley's piece was very shallow and simplistic and unconvincing, for me at least.

I have nothing to complain about with Paul Krugman’s piece however. I totally agree in principal. It’s a bit too biased to the pro-Kerry side for my taste but everyone is allowed their preferences.

Joshua White

At 2:17 PM, Blogger Jason said...

Thanks for the comments. While it's true that correlation does not imply causation, I would point out that numerous economists (especially left-leaning ones like Lester Thurow and Paul Krugman) predicted ahead of time what the results of Reagan's and Clinton's economic policies would be. No one was shocked when Reagan's massive defense spending and large tax cuts led to unprecedented deficits and high interest rates, for example. On the other hand, congressional Republicans, in discussing Clinton's 1993 budget, all predicted that it would lead to economic catastrophe. Clearly, they were wrong.

Government policy is one factor among many affecting our economic health, but it is an important factor nonetheless. Clinton cut taxes on the middle class, raised taxes on wealthy people and made large cuts in government spending (and not just in the military). By contrast, George W. Bush gave large tax cuts to wealthy people while at the same time making massive increases in domestic spending. You can't tell me those policies are effectively equivalent in their effect on the nation.

Bush Sr. certainly deserves some credit for the properity of the 90's, becuase of his 1990 budget deal where he borke his no new taxes pledge. Tracing things back to Reagan strikes me as a bit implausible, given the enormous lag time that would imply between a change in governemtn policy and its measurable effects.

Finally, I certainly don't think Kinsley's column is the last word on the subject. But it can't be ignored that in almost every measurable way the country has fared better economically under Democrats than Republicans.

At 5:23 PM, Blogger Joshua White said...

I agree that it can’t be ignored that the country seems to do better under democratic leadership than republican. I just hope that it is because of the legislation and policies of the republican administrations that the country does better in the democratic administrations that follow (and correspondingly worse in republican administrations that follow democratic ones). I do not know for sure, I was just offering another perspective on the data that Kinsley collected. I have not done as much reading on the subject as I would like to. For example where I would look to see if I am right about this is the economic situation in California. CA has been democratically controlled for quite a while and the economic situation there is not very good. Is it the fault of Democratic Party policies? I don’t know, but hope to find out.

I agree that tax cuts and high spending in Regan and GW’s administrations are poor economic policies. I had a friend in the ARMY that said that Bush had to fight a war which gave him an excuse to spend money, but Bush has made no effort at all to cut spending anywhere else which in my opinion makes his economic policy poor. If the tax cuts increase the size of the economy as Bush hopes then the best we can hope for is for the deficit growth to increase at the same rate as the economy. Not the best situation.
With respect to the Republicans and what they have to say about Clinton’s budget, well I’m an independent and took that as partisan politics. I don’t remember much about that though as I have really only been paying close attention to politics for the last five years or so. BTW just for honesty I consider myself an independent conservative which is why I tend to side with republicans more often like in the Kinsley article.

As far as the effects of Clinton’s vs. Bush’s economic policies go, I don’t know if they are effectively equivalent. I can see how they might be. Overall effect of lowering taxes on the middle class and jobs lost in raising taxes on the rich might be comparable to the jobs gained by the tax breaks that Bush gave to everybody including the rich (the rich provide most of the jobs after all). Remember that the “rich” in tax law is every body making I believe 150-200K and above. That is a lot of small business owners that might not be able to expand with the higher taxes that Clinton imposed. Also when you lower taxes by percentile of course the rich are going to get more, especially since they pay the overwhelming share of the tax burden. Why should they be treated any differently if they are going to be given a tax break as well? I only mention this because you did not mention the cuts that he made to all the other tax brackets.

You are probably right about tracing back to Regan. Like I said I’m by no means an expert. These are just casual comments I am making because I enjoy a discussion and am interested in your perspective on my comments as well. I try to pay as much attention as I can.

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