Sorry Mom & Dad, Republicans Aren’t Better for the Economy

This might be a tad too ambitious for my second post here. The economy is pretty much the most complicated thing there is, and I am so very dumb. I tend to think that just about every one else I know is exactly as dumb as I am when it comes to the economy. But, for some bizarre reason, that doesn’t stop them from having an opinion on it.

When I was a child I labored under the belief that Republican leadership was generally ‘good’ for the economy, while the Democrats were ‘bad’ for it. My dad explained that Republicans favor policies like tax cuts that encourage economic growth, while Democrats like to raise taxes and inhibit growth. Anomalies like the Clinton Boom were brushed away by explaining that Reagan’s policies had been responsible for the ragin’ 90s. Even as I got older and more liberal, I still believed that Republicans were better at making the country money. Why else would big business love them so much?

So we’ll start with the simple question: Does the party in power have any influence on the economy? This paper from the University of Nevada (PDF) set out to answer just that question. They poured through annual data collected by the Department of Commerce since 1929 to look at how the economy has fared under either party.

“…the economy has grown significantly faster under Democratic administrations, and more than twice as fast in per capita terms.”

That sounds like an open-shut case. But that whole ‘great depression’ and ‘second world war’ thing probably inflated things for the Democrats. So what happens when we look at only the data past 1949?

Well…pretty much the same thing. Adjusted for inflation, we see real weekly wages rise, unemployment drop, growth rise and even corporate profits rise.

But hey, most of those Democratic presidents were preceded by Republican presidents. How can we know they weren’t just reaping the benefits of lagged conservative policies? Well, our friends in Reno accounted for that too. Even if you credit Republican policies with being responsible for a lag of up to four years, the Democrats still come out on top.

Now it’s critical to keep in mind that correlation does not equal causation. This data should not be used to argue that Democrats cause the economy to boom while Republicans collapse it. But this data does make a convincing case against the old argument that conservative leadership improves the economy. Put simply, there is no evidence that this is the case.

So let’s move on to the next big complaint against Democratic presidents: they spend like Rick Ross in a Florida strip club. That’s the argument I heard over and over again as a kid. Whenever the Democrats are in power they run up the deficit, what with their love of big government. If we could just get back to those good old Reagan era fundamentals we’d have this whole ‘debt’ thing cleared up in no time.

Balls. Once again, the data supports exactly the opposite. While our own Mr. Obama has presided over a substantial debt boom, we can clearly see that Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes are responsible for the vast majority of our nation’s debt. In other words, there is indisputable mathematical evidence that Republicans consistently build more debt than Democrats.

Since 1938, the debt has risen by an average annual rate of 8.3% under Democrats, which is admittedly pretty bad. But under Republicans it raised an average of 9.2% per year. That isn’t a huge difference, but it throws more water on the argument that Republicans are somehow better at managing our nation’s money. But hey- debt isn’t everything. Republicans are the party of business. They may spend the government dry, but at least the people have more money when an elephant sits in the White House.

If you’ve got any sort of pattern recognition, you know a big hairy “but” is coming up next. Over the last six Democratic terms the Dow rose by 247.9%. Over the last seven Republican terms, it only grew by 147.1%. On average, Democrats grow the Dow by 41.3% per term, while Republicans only grow it by 21%. Under Ronald Reagan, the perfect conservative, corporate profits increased by $143.5 billion. But under Clinton, they rose by $326.6 billion.

I hate it when people throw out a list of numbers with no context or analysis and then claim ‘checkmate’ on an argument. But not nearly as much as I hate it when people make an argument like, “Republicans are better for business” or “conservative policies grow the economy” and then back it up by claiming to speak from simple common sense. The economy does not run on common sense. Sound economic policy is often counter-intuitive and always incredibly confusing. Anyone who claims to have a simple answer to our fiscal woes should be immediately disregarded as crazy at best, and outright lying at the worst.

Numbers don’t necessarily tell us the truth, but they’re pretty damn good for revealing lies.

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14 Responses to Sorry Mom & Dad, Republicans Aren’t Better for the Economy

  1. This was an excellent read! I really enjoy finding a writer who both writes well and documents his assertions. Glad I clicked over here from your article on Cracked.

  2. Meh. I knew Republicans were evil aliens from outer space since the first time I watched the Colbert Report.

    But I object to the economy remark. It’s not the economy that’s always confusing, it’s the people who report on it.

  3. Yeah, economics is confusing as all get-out, but you did a pretty decent job of explaining the basics of the US’s fuck-ups. So you’ve got that. Thanks for clarifying some stuff!

  4. POOPFEAST 420 says:

    Now check Republican Congressional Leadership vs Democrat congressional leadership

  5. Plasma says:

    Really? You were raised to think the Republican positions were just the perfect economy-runners? Because here, outside of the US, it’s generally thought of as: Republicans spend more money, Democrats save more money, and neither of which are objectively better. A country’s debt is rarely, if ever, a good measure of its economic progress.

    In other matters, it’s kinda… off to say that Clinton’s economic policy was the reason for the huge increase in corporate profits. Rather, I’d say that’s an entirely different, Clinton-related (or was it Gore?) change in society – the boom in business computers and the internet!

  6. Andrew J. Talon says:

    Except there’s a critical flaw in your argument: Presidents do not set economic policy, they merely carry it out. They might endorse economic plans and do the legwork to get the support needed for them, and maybe have some input and take credit, but in reality they have very little input on the actual make up of the plan: That’s left to Congress. By law, Congress is the one that manages the economy. The economic boom under Clinton didn’t actually start until there was a Republican-dominated Congress. So it’s not the Presidents you should be looking at unless they had a major say

    Now, this isn’t to say that Republicans are inherently better at managing money either. Arguments based on that are as illogical as arguing Democrats are inherently more compassionate. I’m just pointing out that you probably shouldn’t be looking at Presidents, but the make up of the various Congresses these presidents had to deal with. The public perception is looking for someone to laud or blame for successes and failures and the President is the most visible member of our government. So naturally that’s where it goes.

    Hence, a President promising to cut the national debt in half in his first term and instead pushing programs that increase it by a trillion dollars is just asking for trouble. Maybe it won’t lead to the end of the world economy but when you promise the moon and deliver a pile of rocks you’re not going to make a lot of friends.

    • Paulo Rocha says:

      You’re saying that during the Clinton administration there was an economical boom only because of a republican majority in the congress while all reforms of the Obama administration are ‘pushed’ by the president? So, when good things happen is only because republicans are controlling the congress and bad things are ‘pushed’ by a democrat president? Really?

      Critical argumentative flaw indeed. I think that everyone should be able to voice their opinions, even my enemies, but you republicans sure make it difficult.

      • Cousin J.D. says:

        Are you saying Obama’s unprecedented abuse of executive order and sultry speaking voice arnt the cause of all my problems? Balls.

      • Paulo Rocha says:

        I don’t think that anything Obama (or any other US president in history, IMHO, republican or democrat) has said or done qualifies as ‘unprecedented abuse of executive order’. I’m a brazillian, and as such I’m familiar with the reality of being born in a military dictatorship and I have much more problems with using words such ‘dictator’, ‘opressive’, ‘abusive’ and, of course, ‘Hitler’ than most republican pundits.

        And ‘sultry speaking voice’? Man, do we disagree on that.

  7. Cousin J.D. says:

    Having spent the last several years achieving a 3.6GPA towards a Finance graduate degree, I think economics and economy’s are easy to understand. Thomas Sowell wrote a couple of great, easy to read books which might help.

    This is what I always hate when I hear these arguments… we’re overlooking the facts in front of us. BOTH parties want to increase the some of the gov, no matter what they say! Their actions always, always over time indicate their true goals.

    Seriously, I’m purchasing assets in Brazil. Fuck this nonsense. RonPaul2012

  8. You make some very good points. Clearly, Republican administrations in general have not been great for the economy. However, I would point out that Republican administrations and conservative economic policies are not the same thing. Nixon was a Republican but he instituted price controls. JFK was a Democrat who cut taxes. Perhaps if policies instead of parties were analyzed, there might be different results.

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