Monday, October 20, 2008

Divided Government?

One of the dads on my weekend camping trip with Max, a friend I've known a couple of years, made some interesting comments about why he is voting for McCain. He is Jewish, works as a financial manager, was born in the US but was raised in Israel, and served in the Israeli military before moving back to the States.

I found myself alone in my support for Obama among these men, which was disconcerting to say the least. Or perhaps some didn't speak because they didn't want to get involved, but it was pretty clear that most of them were Republicans.

As we sat around the campfire eating pistachio nuts and drinking a special vodka drink one of the other dads concocted, my friend said that he was voting for McCain because, while he like Obama and had nothing against him, he argued that having a Democratic president and Democratic congress would be a disaster. He said government always worked better when the two branches of government were of different parties. He also said that he would vote for any Republican (I couldn't believe he said Hitler!) if it meant avoiding solid Democratic control of government.

I argued that Bush had solid Republican majorities for six of the last eight years, and he got more done on his agenda than he has in the past two when the Dems took over congress, but this didn't seem to get through to him. I had no other answer for him because 1) I was a little drunk, and 2) I couldn't really remember the stuff I'd read before that suggested otherwise.

Then I got an email this morning from Dr. Titus Levi, which pointed to two articles in the SF Chronicle, one of which was an "economics sweepstakes quiz" and one an article by Arthur Blaustein, a faculty member at UC Berkeley and a Carter appointee to an advisory panel on economic opportunity. Both of these articles jogged my memory of past pieces I'd read about how much better the US economy fares under Democratic presidents. Then I connected to some Wikipedia stuff on congress to see which party was in power since WWII. Here's what I found, using the two Chronicle articles as a foundation:
  1. The highest growth in GDP was during the Truman administration (Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress for six of his eight years)
  2. The highest growth in jobs was during the Clinton administration (Mostly Republican Congress, but he is the exception among Dem presidents because he worked solidly as a centrist)
  3. The biggest increase in after-tax disposable income happened under the Johnson administration (Democratic majorities in both houses for all of his term)
  4. Industrial production grew the most under the Kennedy administration (Democratic majorities full term)
  5. Hourly wages grew the most during the Johnson administration
  6. The lowest Misery Index (inflation plus unemployment) happened under the Truman administration
  7. The lowest inflation rates occurred during the Truman administration
  8. The largest reduction in the budget deficit occurred during the Clinton administration.

Other things relative to the economy:

  • During the 20th century the Dow rose 7.3% during Republican administrations, but 10.3% under Democratic ones. That's a 41% better performance.
  • Real middle class wage growth during Democratic administrations is double what is has been under Republican ones.
  • Since WWII, the national debt increased 3.7% per year under Dems, but 10.1% per year under Republicans.
  • Since WWII, the avg. unemployment rate was 4.8% under Dems, but 6.3% under Republicans.
  • The Bush tax cuts in 2001 provided the wealthiest 1% of Americans with 43% of the benefit. At the same time, the budget went from a $326 billion surplus to a $500 billion deficit.
  • During the Bush years, government spending grew far faster than at any other time in history. McCain says he wants to implement an across the board spending freeze, but most economists will say that will have a negative effect on job creation and tax revenue, adding to the deficit and further crippling the economy.
At a time when we need to create jobs and prevent economic collapse, worrying about government spending is the wrong idea. Letting the market work this out is a fallacy; the market is crippled and unable to function properly on its own because the flow of money is also crippled. It has taken massive government intervention all over the world to stimulate cash flow so that banks and stock markets are willing to lend, invest, and keep the flow going.

Now I'm not saying that these facts prove without a doubt that unified government works best. Clinton got lots of stuff done (mostly in his first four years before the Lewinsky scandal) with a Republican congress. Eisenhower saw some pretty impressive numbers during his term and had a mostly Dem congress, but he was clearly on the side of shrinking defense (and he learned that while in office). Nixon didn't do so bad either in extricating us from Vietnam and he had a Democratic congress (his price control measure in 1971 got us off the gold standard and stemmed inflation -- it also probably helped him get re-elected in 1972).

But the numbers above show that his statements would likely mean worse performance for the economy. And it's pretty clear that poor economies are tied to political unrest and violent conflict all over the world.

If you want a stronger economy, vote for Obama.

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