Both parties agree that it’s the economy, stupid, but when the relationship between government and the economy is mentioned, sparks fly.
On the right, Republicans call for smaller, less intrusive government, lower taxes and fewer regulations on business activity.
On the left, Democrats demand sufficient federal law and regulation to enforce fair business and financial practices; to acquire sufficient tax revenues to support traditional services, cutting-edge scientific research, excellent infrastructure and education; and ensure a distribution of American income and wealth that maintains a generally satisfied citizenry, including a well-paid middle class.
For voters needing real information about candidate policies, what can we learn from previous presidents?
I compared five Democratic administrations covering 28 years in office and six Republican administrations covering 36 years between 1945 and 2008. I have not included years after the 2008 crash because of the emergency nature of expenditures and actions that were taken to avert a depression. The period chosen includes business downturns and boom times, wars and congressional majorities supportive and opposed to the administration in power.
All of the data came from the historical tables of the “Economic Report of the President, 2013,” a report updated and sent to Congress each year from the executive branch. The tables relevant to the questions posed here sometimes did not include data for all the years between 1945 and 2008-9, but all data available during this period were used.
On the size of federal government, what was the average percent change in number of nonmilitary federal employees per term during seven Democratic and seven Republican terms, 1946 – 2001? Answer: Democrats had a 0.8% decrease per term. Republicans had a 1.3% increase per term.
On expenditures in relation to revenues, what was the average dollars spent per term in excess of tax revenues? Answer: Republicans had $124.7 billion per term. Democrats had $22.4 billion per term.
The national debt as percentage of GDP was reduced by administrations of both parties from 1945 to 1981. What was the average percentage reduction in debt per term of five Democratic and four Republican administrations? Answer: Democrats had a 13.2 percent reduction per term. Republicans had a 4.7 percent reduction per term.
Between 1981 and 2008, the national debt, as percentage of GDP, again increased during two Democratic and five Republican terms. What was the percentage cumulative change in national debt by each party as percentage of GDP during this period? Answer: Democrats had a 9.7 percent decrease in two terms. Republicans had a 60.6 percent increase in five terms.
Regarding economic vitality, what was the average percentage unemployment during four-year terms of five Republican and four Democratic administrations, 1962-2009? Answer: Republicans had 6.2 percent unemployed per term. Democrats had 4.8 percent unemployed per term.
What was the average percentage growth in GDP per year during those years? Answer: Democrats had 3.2 percent GDP growth per year. Republicans had 1.8 percent GDP growth per year.
What was the average percentage increase in corporate before-tax profits of four-year terms relative to the previous four-year terms of five Republican and four Democratic administrations, 1962-2009? Answer: Republicans had a 23.3 percent increase in GDP. Democrats had a 41.8 percent increase in GDP.
These data, remarkable in consistency for Democrats, do not offer “proof” of anything, but because of the many years tallied, the answers deserve serious thought and further analysis from economists. Republican claims of being the party of choice for restraining government bureaucracies, boosting the economy and providing better conditions for GDP and job growth are not supported by the results.
Robert W. Merriam, Ph.D., of Chapel Hill is a retired SUNY Stony Brook professor.