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Michael Kinsley

Democratic Superiority, by the Numbers

By Michael Kinsley
Sunday, April 3, 2005; Page B07

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 Republicans have abandoned allegedly Republican values -- if in fact they ever really had such values.

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Our text today is the statistical tables of the 2005 Economic Report of the President. I did this exercise a while back with the 2004 tables 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 Republican values I refer to are universal. We all want prosperity, oppose unemployment, dislike inflation, don't enjoy paying taxes, etc. These values are 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 and clean air.

Statistics back to 1959 make this clear. A consistent pattern over 45 years cannot be explained by shorter-term factors, such as 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. So consider:

Federal spending (aka "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.

Leaning over backward even farther, 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, whether you credit them with the actual years they served or with the year that followed.

Federal revenue (aka taxes): You can't take it away from them: Republicans do cut taxes. Or rather, tax revenue goes 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 revenue to be a victory. Sometimes Republicans say that cutting taxes will raise government revenue by stimulating the economy. And sometimes they say that lower revenue is good because it will lead (by some mysterious process) 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 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 rose an average of $165 billion a year under Republican presidents and $212 billon a year under Democrats. Measured from 1989, or measured 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 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 versus 6.38 percent). Unemployment went down in the average Democratic year, up in the average Republican one.

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.

The writer is editorial and opinion editor of the Los Angeles Times.


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