Sunday, July 22, 2007

Presidents Don't Matter?

In the Times, Tom Redburn makes the case that "Executive Power Reaches a Limit at the Economy." Traditionally "the economy" is a central issue in presidential elections, though it seems to be overshadowed at the moment. Redburn writes:
But this lack of focus on the current state of the economy could actually prove to be a good thing. That’s because American presidents, for all their efforts to claim credit for a growing economy or avoid blame for a slump, don’t really have much influence over such ups and downs. Almost none, in fact. Yet the tendency to attribute such God-like powers to the occupant of the White House obscures what Washington can actually do to improve the way the economy performs over the longer run.
The article offers a nice comparison of the current recovery with the previous one, and some nifty graphics. I completely agree with Redburn that the influence of the President on short-run economic fluctuations is often greatly exaggerated, and yet:

Average annual real GDP growth
Eisenhower (1953-60) - 2.87
Kennedy-Johnson (1961-68) - 4.73
Nixon-Ford (1969-76) - 2.72
Carter (1977-80) - 3.20
Reagan-Bush (1981-1992) - 2.93
Clinton (1993-2000) - 3.64
Bush (2001-2006) - 2.51

Republican (34 yrs) - 2.79
Democratic (20 yrs) - 3.99

That's a (economically) significant difference. Ok, so maybe the performance of the economy really has more to do with decisions taken the previous year, so, for example, 2001 should be attributed to Clinton, rather than Bush. Shifting everything by 1 year raises the Republican average to 2.84 and lowers the Democratic average to 3.83, still leaving a Democratic advantage of 0.99.

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