More GOP Than the GOP

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It was the TV talker Chris Matthews, I believe, who first labeled Democrats and Republicans the “Mommy Party” and the “Daddy Party.” Archaic as these stereotypes may be, they do capture general attitudes about the two parties. But we live in the age of the one-parent family, and it is Mom, more often than Dad, who must play both roles.

It has not escaped notice that the Daddy Party has been fiscally misbehaving. But it hasn’t really sunk in how completely the Republicans have abandoned allegedly Republican values -- if, in fact, they ever really had such values.

Our text today is the 2005 Economic Report of the President. I did this exercise a year ago, and couldn’t quite believe the results. But the 2005 data confirm it: The party with the best record of serving Republican economic values is the Democrats. It isn’t even close.


The values I’m referring to are widely shared. We all want prosperity, we oppose unemployment, we dislike inflation, we don’t enjoy paying taxes, etc. They’re Republican only in the sense that Republicans are supposed to treasure them more, and to be more reluctant to sacrifice them for other goals, such as equality or clean air.

Statistics in the Economic Report back to 1960 tell the story. And a consistent pattern over 45 years cannot be explained away by shorter-term factors, like war or who controls Congress. Maybe presidents can’t affect the economy much. But the assumption that they can and do is so prominent in Republican rhetoric that they are stuck with it.

Consider federal spending (a.k.a. “big government”). It has gone up an average of about $50 billion a year under presidents of both parties. But that breaks down as $35 billion a year under Democratic presidents and $60 billion under Republicans. If you assume that it takes a year for a president’s policies to take effect (so, for example, President Clinton is responsible for 2001 and George W. Bush takes over in 2002), Democrats have raised spending by $40 billion a year and Republicans by $55 billion.

Leaning over backward even further, let’s start our measurement in 1981, the date when Ronald Reagan took office on a platform of shrinking government and many Republicans believe that life as we know it began. The result: Democrats still have a better record at smaller government. Republican presidents added more government spending for each year they served, whether you credit them with the actual years they served or with the year that followed.

Now look at federal revenues (a.k.a. taxes). You can’t take it away from them: Republicans do cut taxes. Or rather, tax revenues go up under both parties, but only about half as fast under Republicans. This is true no matter when you start counting, or whether you give a president’s policies that extra year to take effect. It’s the only test of Republican economics that the Republicans win.

That is, they win if you consider lower federal revenues to be a victory. Sometimes Republicans say that cutting taxes will raise government revenues by stimulating the economy. And sometimes they say that lower revenues are good because they will lead (by some mysterious process) to lower spending.


The numbers in the Economic Report undermine both theories. Spending goes up faster under Republican presidents than under Democratic ones. And the economy grows faster under Democrats than Republicans. What grows faster under Republicans is debt.

Under Republican presidents since 1960, the federal deficit has averaged $131 billion a year. Under Democrats, that figure is $30 billion. In an average Republican year the deficit has grown by $36 billion. In the average Democratic year it has shrunk by $25 billion. The national debt has gone up more than $200 billion a year under Republican presidents and less than $100 billion a year under Democrats. If you start counting in 1981 or attribute responsibility with a year’s delay, the numbers change, but the bottom line doesn’t: Democrats do Republican economics better than Republicans do.

As for measures of general prosperity, each president inherits the economy. What counts is what happens next. Let’s take just two measures, although they all show the same thing: Democrats do better under every variation.

From 1960 to 2005, the gross domestic product measured in year-2000 dollars (in other words, taking inflation into account) rose an average of $165 billion a year under Republican presidents and $212 billon a year under Democrats. Measured from 1989, or with a one-year delay, or both, the results are similar. And how about this one? The average annual rise in real per capita income (that’s the statistic that puts money in your pocket): Democrats score about 30% higher.

Democratic presidents have a better record on inflation (averaging 3.13 % versus 3.89% for Republicans) and on unemployment (5.33% versus 6.38%). Unemployment went down in the average Democratic year, up in the average Republican one.

Oh yes, almost forgot: If you start in 1981 and if you factor in a year’s delay, inflation under Republican presidents averages 4.36%, while under Democrats it’s 4.57%. Congratulations.