Last week, The Washington Post published an article by Jim Tankersley, The GOP is Debating Whether Reaganomics Needs an Update. It noted that many conservative economists are now admitting that faster economic growth probably will not do much to raise the living standards of the middle class. What an amazing observation! How could they possibly have come to that conclusion?! Could it have been the last four decades during which pretty much all the economic growth went to the richest people? Could it be that the fact that giving ever more money to the rich might only help, you know, the rich is now such an obvious thing that even conservative economists are starting to notice? Say it ain’t so!
But the article itself is disingenuous. It starts with this:
There are a couple of problems with this sentence. First, remember Reagan’s actual legacy: Tax Cuts for Rich, Tax Hikes for the Rest. Second, since when have Republicans ever made the government smaller? They’ve cut programs for the poor. But they’ve always more than offset this with spending on the kinds of programs they like: war and presents for the rich.
But what really bugs me are two words: “by themselves.” The implication is that “lower” taxes and “smaller” government have done something for the middle class. I don’t see this in the economic record since slightly before Reagan. The rest of the article is just a fiction about how Republicans are beginning to wake up to the fact that they need to try something else. There may be some grumbling, but that’s all. And that is all that there will ever be. As long as the Democrats’ economic ideas are only to do slightly more than nothing, the Republicans will not change a thing. Hell, they won big in 2010 and 2014. Why fix it if it ain’t broke?
Dean Baker noted an even bigger problem with the article, Conservative Economics Has Not Produced Rapid Growth. He provided the rate of growth during all the presidencies going back to Carter. I put it together in this handy graph:
I don’t especially like this statistic. It shows clearly that the economy has done better under Democrats than under Republicans. I think this is a real thing and it is policy based. But I think that liberals use this as proof and it isn’t very good proof for that claim. However, it certainly shows that we don’t see great economic growth under the Republicans. If their policies were so great, we would see it here. And as far as we can say anything based upon these data, it is that the economy grows better when Democrats are in charge.
Of course, this graph also shows why the Republicans will change nothing about their economic policy. Of the last six presidents, three of them have been Republicans. What’s more, each party controlled the White House for a total of five terms. So the Republicans can continue on funneling cash to their friends and making the working class think government is useless. And there is no political price to pay. If we liberals wait for conservatives to start caring about the working class, we will die waiting. The only way to make the Republicans care about the working class is for the the Democrats to start doing something for the working class. Yes, economic growth has been better under Democrats. But except for a couple of years under Clinton, the working class itself hasn’t done better.