Beating GOP at its own game

April 03, 2005|By Michael Kinsley

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 statistical tables of the 2005 Economic Report of the President, which confirms that the party with the best record of serving Republican economic values is the Democrats. It isn't even close.

The Republican values I'm referring to are universal. We all want prosperity, we oppose unemployment, we dislike inflation, we don't enjoy paying taxes, etc. These values are only Republican in the sense that Republicans are supposed to treasure them more.

So consider:

Federal spending ("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, Democrats have raised spending by $40 billion a year and Republicans by $55 billion.

Let's start our measurement in 1981, the date when 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.

Federal revenues (taxes). Republicans do cut taxes. Or rather, tax revenues go up under both parties, but about half as fast under Republicans. 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 to lower spending.

The numbers in the Economic Report of the President 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.

As for general prosperity, let's take just two measures.

From 1960 to 2005, the gross domestic product measured in year-2000 dollars (in other words, factoring out inflation) rose an average of $165 billion a year under Republican presidents and $212 billion a year under Democrats. Measured from 1989, the results are similar. And how about the average annual rise in real per capita income? That's the statistic that puts money in your pocket. Democrats score about 30 percent higher.

Democratic presidents have a better record on inflation (averaging 3.13 percent compared with 3.89 percent for Republicans) and on unemployment (5.33 percent vs. 6.38 percent). 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, Republican presidents edge out Democratic ones on inflation, 4.57 to 4.36. Congratulations.

Michael Kinsley is opinion page editor and editorial page editor of the Los Angeles Times, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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