Are Republicans or Democrats Better for the Economy?

By Chuck Spinney

This is my last post and I want to thank Jim and Justin [Miller, of the Atlantic web team] for the wonderful opportunity to be a guest blogger.  It has been a fun gig, but quite frankly I am running out of steam.  But life is an interplay of chance and necessity, and serendipity has just offered up a chance for a final blast.

For several years now, I have been in a analytical battle with an official in the Department of Defense over the question of whether Republicans or Democrats are better for the economy.

Newk A. Mineshaftgap is the pseudonym of a senior career official in the Pentagon, with a civilian rank comparable to that of a general in the military. He must remain anonymous for policy reasons -- to borrow from the insightful reasoning used by President Merkin Muffley in Dr. Strangelove,  Minesthaftgap cannot get into a policy fight, because he works in the "the war room."

I can tell you this: Newk has a PhD in physics, but he is not a geek.  In fact, he is a bit of polymath, with wide ranging interests, including nuclear weapons, ballistic missile defense, battleship and tank design, global warming and carbon default swaps, economics, and the development of metrics for measuring the quality of medical doctors.   I have known Newk for about 20 years and consider him to be a good and most interesting friend with solid if somewhat eccentric instincts.  Politically, I would categorize Newk as an independent with libertarian biases.

So, as my last blast, let me offer the following link [PDF]  to Newk's latest report on whether Republicans or Democrats are better for the economy.  For a knuckle dragger from the Pentagon, his conclusions might surprise you.
[JF note: Here's one sample from the paper, a chart on overall economic performance during post-World War II presidencies. Click for larger and more legible version. The percentage figures -- eg, "Clinton (62.5%)" -- are weighted calculations of how much control Democrats had of government policy during a given Administration. One hundred percent means that the Democrats controlled the White House and both Houses of Congress through the entirety of an Administration, as was the case for both John Kennedy and Jimmy Carter. Zero percent (which did not occur in this period) would mean complete Republican control of the White House, the Senate, and the House. A party gets 50% for holding the White House, and 25% for control of each House of Congress, pro-rated for years of control. For further details, check the paper, where you'll see many other explanations of how economic well-being should be assessed. Very interesting conclusions indeed.

Later today I'll expand on my thanks to Chuck Spinney and his guest colleagues this week, and I'll introduce the next week's guest crew.]


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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.


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