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Nobbling the donkey -- in the home stretch

By Owen Paine on Monday September 25, 2006 12:28 PM

Every so often Father Smiff directs me to some heinous, festerful, number-blistered mare's nest, and suggests I make it intelligible for Stop Me. Here's the latest:

My report begins inside deepest academia, staring into a wizard's brew of statistical flapdoodle, full of confidence intervals and r-squares and all that, the work of a prolific Princeton poli sci cone-cap with the oddly folksy name of Larry Bartels. In its own very postivistical way, this paper makes a few very loud claims -- among which, one in particular caught my fancy: Bartels has struck a correlation that might imply a very very sinister Republican plot that fellow Princetonian prof Paul Krugman calls "very mysterious".

Seems there's a relationship between the performance of our national economy and the party in power come prez election time, and this relationship runs back to at least the Truman surprise of 48. And it's a very nasty bit of business too, as its consequences dramatically favor the electoral prospects of the repugs over the jack-assery. Bartels claims some intentional force or forces precisely gooses up any and all prez election year economies if the incumbent party in the White House is repuglickin', and snuffs out any growth if the incumbent party is the donkery. And this up or down swoop in the growth rate is worth a few possible key points up or down for the incumbent party in the vote totals. Bartels states a strong causal relationship "may well exist" between economic performance and voter party preference he even suggests an estimated "at the margin" value for this causal relationship, in the form so many extra vote points per point of higher economic growth rate.

Now I suspect what caught Father Smiff's attention in all this was another observation: in this very same paper Bartels shows that the donks are better at growth induction over all, and better by quite a bit for the little guy -- except in those accursed fourth years of Democratic White House terms, when the donkey suddenly, inexplicably, and inevitably founders. The go-go growth donks, after trotting so nicely for three years, always come up with glanders in the home stretch.

Brother Bartels skates past an important distinction here -- under the two New Dem regimes, Carter's one term and Clinton's first, the results were far less convincing. (Not until Clinton's second term, when he jammed through a huge tax cut for capital gains types (his donor class), I've always suspected he got, as a quid pro quo, Greenspan's braking the unemployment rate floor with three more years of loose credit. This loose credit kept the economy growing, unemployment rate dropping, wages rising, and the middle 60 compressing while also prospering, as they do in most rising economies.) What held for the old donkery of Harry through LBJ does not carry forward with any real demonstable signifigance to the New Dem, New South party era.

But this isn't really Bartels' main point. He's interested in the election-year trick.

Of course the really interesting question is the "how" of it, and this he doesn't address. It would be quite surprising, wouldn't it, if the dems were just not aware of the trick, or at least how to make it work for them too? After all they got Harvards and Stanfords and MIT types on their bench too. So probably it isn't ignorance -- maybe they just can't implement like the repugs can.

I will hazard this: if the pattern is there and is causal, there's one outfit that could surely pull this off: my own favorite White Whale, the Federal Reserve Bank, that independent bastion of the great American scroogery. They could do it, and do it every time.

Comments (7)

J. Alva Scruggs:

Political narratives exist independent of facts to a large enough extent that I smell something like a self-fulfilling prophecy. The narratives regarding the Dems tend to be the same kind as the stories of that boring old bastard at the bar -- the one who changed a tire for the mayor and saved the motorcade. The Dems are bad for Wall Street business, therefore it's time to get into a monetarist tizzy. Besides, they're the ones who let those hippies and minorities run wild. People enjoyed decency before the excesses of the sixties.

There's no such thing as an institutional memory for anything factual in the land of eternal solipsism, especially in the press and academia.

That tizzy gives the Dems a chance to slither a bit more towards the uptight right (it's for your own good, folks) and cement the market share of voters who want a socially liberal look and feel - i.e. someone who won't show up in a sheet and a hood at the fundraisers.

The whole Orthian affair looks more like a pavanne performed by decaying zombies than any purposeful evolution.

js paine:

hey j alva
i don't vouch here
i merely presenticate

if u want my full professional evaluation
u'll have to wait till my pay wall's finished

J. Alva Scruggs:

I did read it as a presentation. Economists, saving your grace :-), are prone to ignoring or misinterpreting elite culture.


J Alva. How can you say the Dems are bad for Wall Street? Didnt Robert Rubin set the whole agenda for the Clinton regime? Didnt Clinton produce the great high tech stock market bubble? Didnt I read here on this very site that Goldman Sachs is once again preparing a legion of whiz kids to populate government at the next political party change?

I like the idea of the Fed as the Prime (rate) Mover, but it doesnt explain the difference in the parties' fortunes: Greenspan was there through how many different administrations? Also, remember that Bush Sr. couldnt pull any economic strings to give him a second term.

Let's go back to our first hypothesis here: the Dems are just too stupid and compromised to win elections. The are genetically challenged.


I sicced JSP on this one, originally, because I didn't want there to be even as much difference between the parties as Bartels' analysis seemed to find (not that it's much, even so).

I don't doubt for a second that the gnomes of Wall Street, aided by the Fed or whoever, have the capacity to pull election-year stunts. The question that puzzled me was, why would they bother? As BobW says, it's not like the Democrats present a problem.

I'm not entirely sure that the question deserves too many sleepless nights, but it's an interesting intellectual puzzle. Maybe the answer lies in a sort of contrived theater of ideas: the shadow-play of party politics involves a perennially rigged fight between the muscular, jut-jawed Republicans and the Nancified, sissy Democrats. Every so often the Democrats get to "top" the Republican muscleboy, just to get everybody upset -- and then order is restored, whew, a bad moment there.

A happy ending is, you should pardon the expression, de rigueur. All this bleeding-heart stuff for the Middle 60, attractive as it occasionally sounds, must be shown not to work. Hence the utility of the election-year fizzle: the middle sixty got a few goodies, it takes a little of the heat off, but then the point needs to be driven home that life is real, life is earnest, and if Wall Street doesn't get everything it wants, bad things will happen.

js paine:

recall precisely what middle 60 means

this is the great jobholder class
neither party gets them as a donor class

if there's a diff here

its really about the bottom 20

and here i think the theatre father smiff
suggests comes into play
the undeserving poor
to repub babbit vs
professor welby's cult of the down trodden

its precisely that slug of the nation
the ground puck slug
the repugs wish to wedge agin the middle 60
best way cause a lift off of the upper 40
with the middle middle 20 muddlin
and the lower 40 feelin the drop back

the elite the the one in a hundred households
that donate to both party hives

have simply broken free of the traces entirely
since the great social contract shred in the 70's

carter's regime is a lovely divide
the dems had total power like bush in 01

but carter really held his nose
for the usual dem old medicine
it was the old dem o'neill congress
that really forced the jobs programs
on carter
in year one
ie old dem congress new dem white house

carter himself inflicted the fed poison in 79

by the time of clinton

there was no jobs program
thanks to
new dem all the way

my full take on the data base is

way too small for the stat methods here

we're talking about results that really would need

say 100 old dem regimes and 100 repub regimes and 100 new dem regimes

to have any chance to escape
the drain into zipski
we call the null hypothesis


"the shadow-play of party politics involves a perennially rigged fight between the muscular, jut-jawed Republicans and the Nancified, sissy Democrats. Every so often the Democrats get to "top" the Republican muscleboy, just to get everybody upset --"

Is there a sexual metaphor here, suggesting the Democrats' natural position is on the bottom -- getting screwed?

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