Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Presidents and the economy

Audacious' post on immigration and unemployment got me thinking about the connection between the president and the condition of the economy. I've put a graph up of the trend in unemployment since 1948. Maybe my approach is too simple, but I looked to see if unemployment fell or was flat during each president's tenure, paying less attention to their first year or two because conditions don't change overnight. (I also paid attention to the year following their exit). I rated each president as good, mixed or bad:

Rating on the economy

Bush II mixed
Clinton good
Bush I mixed
Reagan good
Carter bad
Ford good
Nixon mixed
Johnson good
Kennedy good
Eisenhower mixed
Truman mixed

Like any good conservative, I would assume that the economy would perform better under a Republican administration. But it doesn't seem clear to me at all. Three out of the five good presidents were Democrats (and I'm tempted to throw out Ford since his tenure was so short). In fact, it's not clear that Reagan was better than Clinton. Four out of five of the so-so presidents have been Republicans. Carter is the only Democrat stinker.

To be honest, economics and foreign policy are not my top priorities. Centrist elites control foreign policy, and to be honest I don't see black and white differences in results on economic issues. I get worked up most about other issues like immigration. Am I wrong?


  1. L. Simpson5:15 PM

    You're not wrong at all.

    Let's face it. Foreign policy today is basically Risk for adults, and economic policy and concerns are Monopoly for adults. That is to say, our elites are just playing the grown up versions of board games they played when they were kids.

    And they are having one of hell of a time playing.

  2. Wouldn’t it make more sense to compare the performance of the economy as a function of who controls Congress?

  3. On second thought, it would make more sense to have a matrix:

    Democratic Congress with a Democratic President.

    Democratic Congress with a Republican President.

    Republican Congress with a Democratic President.

    Republican Congress with a Republican President.

  4. The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has the time series related to periods of growth and recession:


  5. Anonymous1:51 AM

    The reason why Republicans do not as well as Democrats economic-wise is that they cut taxes without cutting budgets and programs. Therefore, they are often guilty of deficits.

    Democrats raise taxes and budgets, so they often have lower than imagined.

    Some Republican economic policies are contraproductive. The enormous support for military spending on one hand and their unwillingness to support health care also create worse results than necessary.

    PS Nixon might have been an icon of the right, but economics-wise he was as Keynesian as anyone. You should compare presidents with free-trade/Friedmanite policies and their results.


  6. Check out income growth under Dems vs. Republicans. It's WAY WAY WAY better under Dems. It's either a hell of a coincidence, or the Republicans are wrong on economics. You know my opinion.

  7. There's a longer time lag than you're supposing.

    To use the example in the post, how long did it take for Ted Kennedy's immigration reforms and the 86 amnesty to play out. The next year or over the next 20-30 years?

    Or how long did it take the govt (e.g., CAFE) + unions (e.g., work restrictions) to kill the US car industry?

    Sometimes, there's an immediate reaction, but sometimes the effects take decades to play out.

  8. Interesting. Another way to gauge economic performance is to look at DJIA performance (or S&P 500, which is theoretically much more precise a measure, although the two proxy strongly for one another) by who controls the White House. Democratic Presidents have a better record. They also do better based in the House. Republicans, however, do better in the Senate.


Which ethnic groups think astrology is scientific?

It is important for America that we have people who understand and value science.  The General Social Survey asked people residing in the US...