THE DEBT, THE ECONOMY, AND THE POLITICAL PARTIES

ABSTRACT: Since 1945, Democratic presidents have on average reduced the federal government’s debt as a percentage of GDP by about 3% while Republican presidents have on average increased it by about 3%. PresidentObama has increased the debt percentage more than any president in this period. However, this is largely due to his inheriting a large deficit and the worst recession since the Great Depression. Other than this, the six largest increases in the debt percentage have occurred in recent Republican presidents’ terms.

Multiple measures of economic performance are better under Democratic presidents than Republican ones. Since 1949, overall economic growth measured by median annual increase in GDP has been 4.2% under Democratic presidents and 2.6% under Republican presidents. Stock market performance since 1913 as measured by the median increase in Standard and Poor’s index of 500 stocks has increased 12.1% under Democratic presidents and 5.1% under Republican presidents. The annual increase in corporate earnings since 1936 has been 10.5% under Democrats and 8.9% under Republicans.

This data certainly shows that Republicans aren’t more fiscally responsible than Democrats; if anything it strongly suggests the opposite. The data also show that Republicans aren’t the party of economic prosperity more so than Democrats.

FULL POST: The historical record of the federal debt and the performance of the economy under Republican and Democratic presidents is interesting to examine.

First, the federal government’s total debt (the total of all the previous annual deficits and surpluses) as a percentage of the overall economy (i.e., the Gross Domestic Product or GDP) is probably the most meaningful statistic about the debt. Since 1945, Democratic presidents have on average reduced the debt’s percentage of GDP by about 3% while Republican presidents have on average increased it by about 3%.

President Obama has increased the debt percentage more than any president in this period. However, this is largely, if not totally, due to his inheriting a large deficit and the worst recession since the Great Depression. Other than this, the six largest increases in the debt percentage have occurred in recent Republican presidents’ terms: George W. Bush’s two terms (with 2005 – 2009 being the worst other than Obama), George H.W. Bush’s term, Ronald Reagan’s two terms, and Gerald Ford’s partial term. The only two terms under Democratic presidents where the debt percentage increased were Harry Truman’s and Bill Clinton’s first terms. Both of them reduced the debt percentage in their second terms significantly more than the increase in their first terms, so overall they both reduced the debt percentage. [1]

Multiple measures of economic performance are better under Democratic presidents than Republican ones. Since 1949, overall economic growth measured by median annual increase in GDP has been 4.2% under Democratic presidents and 2.6% under Republican presidents.

Stock market performance since 1913 as measured by the median increase in Standard and Poor’s index of 500 stocks has increased 12.1% under Democratic presidents and 5.1% under Republican presidents. The annual increase in corporate earnings since 1936 has been 10.5% under Democrats and 8.9% under Republicans. [2]

While a president’s actions have only indirect influences on these measures and a president inherits policies and the state of the economy from his predecessors, this data certainly shows that Republicans aren’t more fiscally responsible than Democrats; if anything it strongly suggests the opposite. The data also show that Republicans aren’t the party of economic prosperity more so than Democrats.


[1]       The Economist, 11/1/12, “The change in America’s debt by presidential term,” www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2012/11/daily-chart

[2]      Healy, B., 11/2/12, “Taking stock of past races,” The Boston Globe

Advertisements

6 comments

  1. Yes, it’s astounding that the Republicans claim to be fiscally responsible given Reagan and Bush are both guilty of running structural deficits to fund unsustainable tax cuts.

    1. And I find it astounding that the Democrats haven’t done a better job pointing out that Reagan and George W. Bush in particular were very fiscally irresponsible; furthermore, that the last three Republican Presidents are responsible for roughly 60% of the total federal debt.

      1. 60%? Yes, the Democrats have done a truly terrible job of making that known.

      2. Yes. Reagan rang up $1.9 trillion in debt, George HW Bush $1.55 T, and George W. Bush $6.1 T for a total of $9.55 trillion of the $16.1 T debt – 59.3%. And one could argue that much of the debt that Obama is runing up is due to the structural deficit that he inherited from Bush. The only federal budget supluses since 1970 were produced by President Clinton.

  2. Hazzard, Jane · · Reply

    I like this….not widely reported, to my knowledge.

    1. Jane, You’re right. I don’t think most Americans even know that Pres. Clinton turned over a significant federal budget surplus to Pres. Bush, who then turned it into a significant deficit.

Comments and discussion are encouraged

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: