Why elections matter, in one graph
By Ezra Klein
I’ve been trying to figure out how to link to Timothy Noah’s series on inequality, which falls under the rubric of “things you should read that I have nothing to say about.” One thing I can say is that Noah, Catherine Mulbrandon and Slate have put an enormous amount of work into creating visuals to accompany the articles, and the results are really impressive. This graph, for instance, is the best visualization I’ve seen of Larry Bartels’s striking data showing how different income groups do under Republican and Democratic presidents:
Much more here.
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This reminded me of two other issues.
First, the deficit has increased with every recent Republican president and decreased with Clinton. Is that an accident that all economic brackets improve under Democrat leadership which is precisely when the deficit has also decreased? I really don’t know what the connection would be, but it definitely undermines the Republican argument that they are the party of ‘fiscal responsibility’ (see: National Debt, Starve the Beast, & Wealth Disparity).
I heard a discussion on the radio the other day. It was about Clinton’s surplus. Gore and Bush had two polar campaign pledges. Gore said he’d put the surplus into a lockbox to save for a rainy day and to put towards social security. Gore’s plan makes sense considering that the surplus was created partly through Clinton’s emphasizing saving over spending. Bush, on the other hand, said he’d give the surplus away with tax cuts. After Bush was elected, 9/11 happened. He could’ve adapted to changing circumstances and saved the surplus, but he didn’t. He created the tax cuts and on top of that he started two wars. That is the complete opposite of ‘fiscal responsibility’. This makes me think of Reagan doing tax cuts while building the military which was the very thing that created our permanent deficit in the first place.
Of course, Bush’s wasting the surplus turned out to be a horrible idea. It would’ve been nice if the surplus had been saved for the rainy day that did come after Bush wasted all the surplus plus some. Yeah, government is the problem… when a Republican is president.
Now, the second piece of data I’m reminded of is related to economic inequality. Of course, as the deficit grew under all these Republicans, the wealth disparity grew which translates into the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer. But that wasn’t directly what I was thinking about. It’s not just that the rich benefit because, according to the data from The Spirit Level (which I mention in my post ‘Capitalist’ US vs ‘Socialist’ Germany), the rich don’t benefit in all ways. Even the rich in a society with high wealth disparity are worse off in terms of social problems.
For example, take obesity which is a major health problem in the modern world and is related to many health problems from diabetes to heart disease. In high wealth disparity societies, there are higher rates of obesity and even the rich are more obese in these societies. One possible explanation is that societies with many social problems create more stress in the lives of people living there. The human body when growing in stressful conditions responds by increasing fat production as a survival measure.
My point is that Americans do better financially under Democratic administrations and I don’t think it’s an accident that Democrats value egalitarianism. I also don’t think it’s an accident that most strongly Republican states have high economic inequality and high rates of social problems… and. when Republicans are in power, Americans overall do worse financially. Correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, but this sure is a whole lot of correlation. If there is another explanation, I’d love to see what it might be.