A Visual Case For Democratic Economic Philosophy

I saw the following graph this morning on MSNBC:

This graph was based on a study done by Larry Bartels of Princeton. Bartels found that under Democratic administrations, growth rates were higher, unemployment lower, and incomes distributed more evenly. Think about that.

Timothy Noah, who has done great work on presenting the depressing news about the increasing income inequality in America, presented the graph based on Bartels’ findings this way:

The only difference is the end year. I don’t know why the MSNBC graph used 2008, but the point remains the same: Income growth for all income groups grew significantly more under Democratic administrations, especially groups of  lower and middle income folks, since 1948.

Look at those graphs. Study what they mean.* And then think about what they tell us every time you hear Republicans claim—as they do all the time—that they are better stewards of the economy and their economic philosophy and the resulting policies are far superior, in terms of economic growth, than those of the Democrats.


*  To be scrupulously fair, a conservative Republican political scientist from the University at Buffalo, SUNY, James E. Campbell, challenged these findings by Bartels and others in a paper that concluded this way:

The parties are different in many important ways and may well have important long-term economic differences between them, but the economic outcomes that the presidential parties have presided over during the tenure of their  administrations have not been significantly different once the economic conditions that they inherited are considered. The claim that Democratic presidents and policies have produced significantly greater economic growth, lower unemployment, and more equal distributions of income than Republican presidents and policies is not supported by the evidence.

Now, even if we grant this self-admitted Republican his argument—and I don’t after reading his paper—he is still not claiming that Republicans are better managers of the economy nor claiming that economic growth is better under their administrations. He is merely saying that there isn’t much of a difference between the two parties. So, even if we accept his conclusion, Republicans still have no business claiming the high ground on economic stewardship.



  1. Economics is surely so complex that almost any theory can be supported by some appropriate selection of data, but some data is straight-forward and common-sense. The last projection of tax rates I saw showed the intended Romney/Ryan policies giving a 6% or greater tax cut to families earning over $250K and only 2% to those under that level. It doesn’t take an Einstein to figure that that is only going to widen the already historically-wide income disparity. And while thinking about that, the image of a 150-foot yacht hosting a cocktail party jumped into my mind! Gee, where did that come from? 🙄


  2. ansonburlingame

     /  September 2, 2012

    I am auditing a course in Macro Economics at MSSU this semester. Last Thursday we discussed the three goals of Macro Economics. They were:

    Price stability (keep inflation under control)
    Unemployment (keep it low)
    Economic growth (measured by increases in GDP)

    I specifically raised the question in class as to the goals related to income distribution. There was hemming and hawing by the professor but bottom line, that is not a goal of Macro Economics based on academic studies of that subject at the undergraduate level. I speak only about the “science” of economics, not its politics.

    Over the last 50 years (up to 2008) inflation became a real national issue only once, during the Carter years and Reagan “fixed” it. Unemployment of a “rampant sort” did not become a long and burning national issue during much of those 50 years. As well growth in GDP was reasonably steady with an occassional blip during short term recessions and then we “took off” again after a year or two.

    Sum it up as by and large 50 years of American economic prosperity from ’48-08, by and large. Reasonably low inflation, reasonably low unemployment and reasonably steady growth in GDP was demanded by voters and the government delivered, by and large over those 50 years.

    But at what cost? Look at the national debt.

    What else has changed rather dramatically now over the most recent say 10 years. The world went flat on us. Go read Friedman’s book.

    So what to do. Well we have two very different approaches before us now. Each of us must decide as voters. But don’t show me 50 year old curves without accounting for the new realities of debt and globalization as well and how those factors will inevitably affect Macro Economics in America in the coming years.



  3. JD

     /  March 5, 2013

    Wow… You base an article on a graph you saw on MSNBC? The most slanted “news” network out there. What next? Will you take some graph from FOX to try to prove something like gays being bad parents? You can not take anything you see or hear from mainstream media as truth. FOX, CNN, MSNBC, they are all liars, just like the politicians (and polital figures) they talk about.


    • JD,

      Wow…You didn’t read very closely, did you? The post used a graph presented on MSNBC but it was based on the work of the much-respected political scientist, Larry Bartels. I was even “scrupulously fair” by presenting a challenge to Bartels’ findings by a conservative political scientist.

      So, all mainstream journalists and all politicians are liars, eh? That leaves you a pretty small pool of folks to get the “truth” from, doesn’t it? I’d like to know who’s in that pool. Perhaps you could enlighten me.



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