Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Misery Loves Republicans

Here's an interesting opinion piece in the Christian Science Monitor by Larry M. Bartels of Princeton University. Ignoring for the moment that he's an east coast Ivy League university professor and almost certainly one of those elitists you hear about, there's some fascinating data in his article about unemployment and real income growth under Republican and Democratic presidents, and how this relates to the economic plans of McCain and Obama.

You might remember that things were pretty good economically under President Clinton - 22 million jobs were created, unemployment and inflation were low, and there were federal budget surpluses. Clinton presided over the longest economic boom in U.S. history. Looking further back, since the late 1940's, unemployment has averaged 4.8% under Democratic presidents, and 6.3% under Republicans. Whether these economic results are the direct or primary result of each president's actions is hard to say - it's a complicated thing - but the fact is that by and large, most Americans have done better economically under Democrats. Bartels notes that the economic plans of Obama and McCain are in most respects typical of their respective parties, though as you know, "past performance does not guarantee future results." Recent GOP performance has not exactly inspired confidence, and McCain basically offers more of the same, with policies weighted toward high income earners and big business.

The web site miseryindex.us offers another way to look at the history (the site offers a number of ways to look at historical unemployment and inflation). The misery index is the sum of the unemployment rate and inflation rate (smaller is better). Here's the average misery index history by president since Truman:

16.27 Jimmy Carter ( 1977 - 1980)
15.93 Gerald Ford (1974 - 1976)
12.19 Ronald Reagan (1981 - 1988)
10.68 George H.W. Bush (1989 - 1992)
9.98 Richard Nixon (1969 - 1973)
7.89 George W. Bush (2001 - 2007)
7.87 Harry Truman (1948 - 1952)
7.80 William J. Clinton (1993 - 2000)
7.27 John F. Kennedy (1961 - 1962)
6.78 Lyndon Johnson (1963 - 1968)
6.26 Dwight Eisenhower (1953 - 1960)

Although Eisenhower and Carter are exceptions, it looks like misery loves Republicans, but it's hard to tell because of the different numbers of years served. So I put this into an Excel spreadsheet and calculated a weighted average misery for Dem vs. GOP, the sum of (misery)*(years in office) for each, divided by the number of total Dem years (25) or GOP years (35). The average Democratic misery index is 8.9, while the average GOP index is 9.8.

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