Though the autumn is one of my favorite seasons of the year weather-wise, I’ve come to despise the election campaigns of fall and the political advertising that poisonously pollute the airwaves. It is a good time of year for Americans to practice turning off their radios and televisions: go outdoors and become attuned to nature, give more time to friends and interesting conversation, or volunteer for worthwhile charity and civic projects. Though many people I know can’t imagine life without the “entertainment industry”, my assessment for all thinking Americans is they would be far happier without it. Everyone should ban commercial driven media and talk shows for the 30 days leading up to the election. That’s my prescription for an American pursuit of happiness.
Money talks they say, and in America money buys a lot of talk as well. Negative advertizing against candidates destroys the morale of our nation. It encourages cynicism, drowns out reasonable discourse, and causes the polarization in politics that paralyzes our democracy.
Far better for me was our diocesan election of a bishop – not once did any of the candidates warn about what would happen if one of their “rivals” was elected. Each simply spoke about their own experience in the church and how they might respond to issues should they become bishop. It is hard to imagine a calmer experience than the day of the bishop’s election.
I read with interest Mike Kimel and Michael Kanell’s PRESIMETRICS:WHAT THE FACT TELL US ABOUT HOW THE PRESIDENTS MEASURE UP ON THE ISSUES WE CARE ABOUT. I’m not so driven by statistics that I checked all their facts, but they offered an interesting view of what the Presidents from Eisenhower to GW Bush did while in office. I don’t know the authors’ political preferences, but liked the implication of some of their comments:
“A president who year after year produces surpluses, avoiding the temptation to spend unnecessarily, is making the country better off.”
“… a president who cuts taxes while at the same time driving up the debt is not really ‘cutting taxes.’”
I’m not going to make many more comments, but want to quote from the book – you can get a copy and read it for yourself. But there were real surprises in what the statistics show. (Abortion rates dropped sharpest under Clinton!) Certainly what the political parties claim to be their agendas and priorities aren’t always upheld by what presidents from those parties did while in office.
“…the notion that growth is hindered by taxes doesn’t seem to be borne out by the data we’ve been using. In our sample of eight administrations, the three administrations that raised tax revenues, and the one that reduced them by the least, happened to be the four fastest-growing administrations in our sample. The four biggest tax-cutting administrations also produced the slowest growth by far.”
“… the four administrations that produced the biggest annualized increases in social spending as a percentage of the budget were also the four administrations that produced the slowest economic growth.”
“Nevertheless, we have seen no evidence that cutting the tax burden increases growth rates, at least for the levels of taxation that we observed in the United States from 1953 to 2008. Quite the opposite, in fact.”
“Under Democratic administrations overall, debt as a percentage of GDP shrank, while on the average under Republican administrations it rose.”
“Democratic administrations have presided over faster economic growth on average and done so without adding as much to the national debt as Republican administrations. …. And the policies Democrats have pursued have increased income and wealth more quickly than the policies Republicans have pursued…. That is, a trickle-up economy seems to beat a trickle-down economy. So sayeth the data.”
“Of the eleven American presidents who served from the end of World War II to 2008, Reagan was the only one who increased both the size of the national debt as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and the percentage of Americans employed by the federal government.”
“Among all the administrations in our sample, the Clinton administration was the only one to actually reduce real spending per capita… By far the biggest annual drop in spending as a share of GDP came under Clinton.”
“…Ike and Clinton… both of them decreased current federal spending as a percentage of GDP, and yet both of them managed to increase the share of that reduced federal spending going to the state and local governments. And since of these two only Ike also cut taxes as well, perhaps Ike is the true conservative in a crowd of pretenders.”
“Republicans had a tendency to increase the percentage of total spending that went toward welfare almost four times more quickly than Democrats. We’re willing to bet that not what you expected to read when you started this chapter.”
“The only administration to move the country in the direction of energy independence was Jimmy Carter.” Voters didn’t like what that meant for their lifestyles which is no doubt why politicians so rarely advocate for the needed but unpopular decisions.
The authors looked at readily available economic information to plot their graphs and come to their conclusions. Some may not like their observations, but in as much as they fairly presented the data, it is not worth shooting the messengers.
What I certainly came away from in reading the book is that simply lowering taxes is not an answer in itself for helping the economy. There needs to be a corresponding reduction in government as a portion of the GDP to create a healthier future for the country. The national debt matters long term, but politicians ever mindful of voter approval focus on making popular short term decisions. That is why, according to the book, cutting taxes now always sounds right, but when no corresponding decrease in spending occurs, the taxes are simply pushed into the future as eventually the debt has to be paid.