Uncomfortable Truths about the Politics of Economics in America

The U.S. is currently engaged in a landmark debate over what role government should play in confronting our economic crisis and in shaping the future. Too much of the discourse by politicians and pundits seem woefully ill-informed about the historical record and is tragically misguided about Democratic and Republican policies. The charts below contrast the economic policies of Republican and Democratic Presidents since World War II. These tables yield a clear consistent and graphic picture of the effects party leaders have had on many of the most important indicators of economic well-being.

I hope the charts and brief commentaries can be valuable to citizens and political elites. Taken together the graphics tell a surprising story about the relationship between equity and economic well-being. The evidence and conclusions presented presuppose a democratic government, a market economy, and the continuation of both. Hopefully this information will provide new insights into those policies which best address current challenges, and can promote discussions that can undo the price we pay when leaders and citizens rely on time-worn slogans that have little relation to actual facts.

As a scholar, my primary interests concern the philosophy, psychology and politics as they relate to morality and justice. I am not an economist, but for 30 years have tracked government data on how well we as a nation are doing, both materially and (by extension) morally. The data here does not employ complicated economic models. It is a straightforward historical presentation organized around the Presidential election cycle and the party identity of the President. Surprisingly clear patterns emerge and manifest with surprising consistency.

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Joseph Wagner is a professor of political science at Colgate University.  His written works include studies of mass media’s impact on elections; the role of moral values on political tolerance; conceptual treatments on the relationship between justice and affirmative action; critical essays about multiculturalism, feminism, moral and scientific relativism, the nature of objectivity and subjectivity, and the ideals of a liberal arts education.  His publications have appeared in journals including The American Journal of Political SciencePolitical Behavior, Political Psychology, Polity, Soundings, Interchange, and Philosophy in the Contemporary World.