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The Economic Sweepstakes Quiz

October 15, 2000|Arthur I. Blaustein | Arthur Blaustein, former chairman of President Jimmy Carter's National Advisory Council on Economic Opportunity, teaches social and economic policy at UC Berkeley

BERKELEY — Texas Gov. George W. Bush rails against Democrats, calling them the "big government" party. Vice President Al Gore says that Bush is a supply-side elitist and the GOP is the party of the rich and powerful. The candidates' economic game plans reflect their fundamental differences. Gore maintains that the government has the responsibility to initiate actions to keep the economy on the right track. Bush believes the free market can solve most of the country's social problems and wants to privatize parts of Social Security and Medicare.

A businessman I know, who voted for George Bush eight years ago and Bill Clinton in 1996, put it this way: "Gore sounds really impressive, and I have to admit that his social programs seem good. But I'm worried the Democrats can't manage the country as well, and they'll get into my wallet." Many voters agree. Many polls echo the businessman's views. But are Republicans better managers of the economy?

Don't count on this question being examined and answered in a full, open and honest debate. Twenty years ago, we entered a new phase of presidential politics. The focus now is on who can package the best campaign image, rather than who can demonstrate the most capacity to govern. The country's political, economic and social life has been reduced to a battle of 15-second sound bites and 30-second commercials, with results reported like a football score.

But we don't have to depend on whomever spends the most advertising bucks. We can look to the record.

So here's the Economic Sweepstakes Quiz. The rules are simple: Guess which president since World War II did best on these eight generally accepted measures of good management of the nation's economy. You can choose among five Republicans (Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George Bush) and five Democrats (Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton).

Which president produced:

1. The largest growth in the gross domestic product?

2. The largest growth in jobs?

3. The biggest increase in personal disposable income after taxes?

4. The largest growth in industrial production?

5. The biggest rise in hourly wages?

6. The lowest Misery Index (inflation plus unemployment)?

7. The lowest inflation?

8. The largest reduction in the deficit?

The answers are:

1. Truman

2. Carter

3. Johnson

4. Kennedy

5. Johnson

6. Truman

7. Truman

8. Clinton

In the Economic Sweepstakes, Democratic presidents trounce Republicans eight times out of eight! If this isn't enough to destroy the myth that the economy has performed better under Republicans, the stock market has also done better under Democrats. The Dow Jones industrial average during the 20th century has risen, on average, 7.3% a year under Republican presidents. Under Democrats, it rose 10.3%, which means investors gained a whopping 41% more.

That's the historical record.

While thinking about the record of who manages the economy better, it might be wise to keep in mind the admonition of the philosopher George Santayana, who said "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." *

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