Republicans Talk a Better Game on the Economy Than Democrats


Over the weekend Brad DeLong wrote a post about Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and how his disastrous tax cuts have decimated the state’s economy. It prompted several of the usual comments, and DeLong highlights this one in particular:

The process Brownback has put the state on isn’t something he regrets. And obviously over the next several years, Kansas will recover in that it won’t get worse and will have growth that more or less tracks national growth. And at that point the state will declare Brownback’s policies to be a “success.”

This reminds me of something I’ve meant to point out for a while: economies always recover eventually.1 Conservatives take advantage of this fact by loudly and clearly insisting that their proposed tax cuts will supercharge economic growth. They know that eventually there will be growth, and when it happens they can then loudly and clearly insist that their tax cuts were responsible. Since they’ve been loudly and clearly saying this all along, ordinary citizens conclude that they’re right.

Democrats don’t really do this. When Barack Obama put together his various economic initiatives in 2009, for example, he was pretty circumspect about what they’d accomplish. Ditto for Bill Clinton in 1993. When they ran for reelection, both of them touted their economic achievements, but only in fairly broad terms. Obama didn’t insist that his stimulus bill was a magic bullet and Clinton didn’t claim that tax hikes and deficit reductions were always and everywhere the key to economic growth. Because of this, ordinary citizens never strongly associated the policies of either man with economic growth.2

Why is this? Stimulus programs and deficit reductions have about as much to do with economic growth as tax cuts: some, but not a lot. And none of them can truthfully claim to be the secret sauce for all economic woes at all times.

But that doesn’t bother Republicans. They’ve been focused like a laser beam on tax cuts as economic miracle workers for more than 30 years now. The fact that virtually no evidence supports this claim doesn’t matter. Democrats, conversely, can’t quite bring themselves to make the same unequivocal claim. Are they too embarrassed to just flatly lie about it? Too disorganized to agree on any one thing? Too muddled to make their points loudly and clearly? It is a mystery.

1Except maybe for Greece. We’ll see.

2Until much later, that is. Bill Clinton is now generally associated with the strong economy of the 90s, but it took a decade of weak economic growth to make him look so good.