04 May 2008

Clear Reasons to Vote Democratic (2) ~The Economy Stupid!

Maybe, I am getting too old for politics. The Democrats are pretty far from my ideals and aspirations for my country. But they are the best we have got at the moment. And compared to the Republicans, they are - despite all my criticisms, and yours - considerably better on many dimensions, for many Americans than the Republicans. So this is the second in what will be an occasional series of posts on why you - yes you! - should vote for whomever emerges as the Democratic candidate this fall. That doesn't mean you should not work to push whomever that might be leftwards. It just means that voting Democratic will make a difference.

It is important, I think, to try to expand political discourse a bit. That means offering a bit of historical perspective on the upcoming presidential election. Yesterday I posted on the patterns of voting among current Supreme Court justices. The next president will very likely have a chance to appoint one or more justices and, given the extreme right-wing make up of the current court, that is a crucial concern. Here I concentrate on a more direct matter: economic performance.

In a recent work*, Larry Bartels of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, examines the relative success of Republican and Democratic administrations in securing economic well-being for Americans of different socio-economic groups in the post-WWII period (1948-2005). Most strikingly, but not at all surprisingly, Republican presidents seem to benefit the rich in terms income growth.
“Under Republican administrations, real income growth for the lower- and middle-income classes has consistently lagged well behind the income growth for the rich - and well behind the income growth for the lower and middle classes themselves under Democratic administrations.”
Of course, one might try to rationalize this pattern by saying that the differential rates of income growth somehow are offset by the fact that Republicans are more adept at achieving other macro-economic goals like per capita economic growth, or lower unemployment, or price stability. That is the standard conservative ploy ~ inequality is the cost of superior economic performance. Unfortunately for the right, this gambit falls flat. It turns out that relative to their Democratic competitors, Republican administrations during the six decades Bartels analyzes are notably inept when it comes to desirable macroeconomic performance. Over the six-decades he examines:
“The average level of unemployment over the entire post-war era has been almost 30% higher under republican presidents than under Democrats, while the average rate of real per capita GNP growth has been more than 40% lower. However, despite Republicans’ traditional emphasis on controlling inflation, the average inflation rate has been virtually identical under Republican and Democratic president over this period.”
In short, over the past 60 years, the Republicans have hit the trifecta - more skewed income distribution, higher unemployment, and lower economic growth than the Democrats - while not performing any better in terms of controlling inflation. Bartels is quite persuasive in arguing that the patterns he uncovers reflect partisan economic policies rather than simply “economic” factors like, say, energy costs or productivity growth or technical change or some such thing.

So, if you are motivated by egalitarian considerations you definitely should vote Democratic. And even if you are motivated solely by aggregate macro-economic performance - regardless of distributive implications - you should vote for the Democrats too.

Who, by contrast, should vote Republican? Those who care about increasing the income share of the wealthiest even at a cost to broader macro-economic goals. We'll call those folks selfish assholes.

And who should stay home or vote for some doomed third party candidate? “Progressives” who want to indulge their moralistic urges rather than face the world in which the poor and working classes actually live.
* Larry Bartels. 2008. Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Guilded Age. Princeton University Press/Russell Sage Foundation, pages 30,48.

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