So you’re at the gym and you run into the local former Naval intelligence analyst–you know, the guy who never fails to remind you that he was an intelligence analyst because it makes it him sound both intelligent and capable of thoughtful analysis. In the course of the conversation, you mention that you recently read an article explaining that since 1900 unemployment has been much worse, on average, during Republican administrations than Democratic ones; and that more recessions have started under Republicans than Democrats.
This causes the intelligence analyst to go silent for a few seconds, eyes blinking, until he utters his favorite one-word response when confronted with facts for which he has no counter. “Bullshit,” he says, expecting (hoping) that this will put an end to the conversation and you will go away.
Ah, but this time you pull out your iPad and point out the interesting passages from the article (highlighted in bold below), which is based on research conducted by Dr. James Gilligan in the course of writing his book, Why Some Politicians Are More Dangerous Than Others. His book shows that the rate of lethal violence rises under Republican presidents and falls just as consistently under Democrats. What might explain this correlation? “According to Gilligan, criminologists and public health experts have long been aware of another striking set of data that reliably parallels increases in murder and suicide when traced over the past hundred years: the rate of unemployment.”
Noting the apparent congruence between unemployment, economic inequality and recession across one dimension, and lethal violence across another, Gilligan put together his own statistical picture of economic conditions under American presidents since 1900, using data compiled by both the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Bureau of Economic Research. He saw what other academics and journalists have remarked upon from time to time (including me, in a 2003 book titled Big Lies) — namely that unemployment rates have gone up during every Republican administration and gone down during every Democratic administration, without exception. Every time a Republican president left the White House, unemployment was higher than when he came in, while the opposite was true whenever a Democratic president completed his term. Rates of unemployment stayed higher for longer periods under Republicans too.
Then he did some simple addition: “If we count up the net sum of all the increases that occurred during Republican administrations from 1900 through 2008, we find that the Republicans brought about a cumulative increase of 27.8 percent in the unemployment rate, and the Democrats an almost exactly equal decrease of 26.5 percent.” The net cumulative difference in the partisan effects was a staggering 53.8 percent. He also calculated the cumulative difference in duration of unemployment among the jobless during Republican and Democratic administrations, and again the numbers are enormous. From 1948 to 2003, Republicans oversaw a net cumulative increase of 24.6 weeks of unemployment, while Democrats oversaw a net decrease of 13.6 weeks — a difference of 38.2 weeks, or almost ten months.
Why is the unemployment record of the Republicans so awful? When Gilligan looked up the tabulations of expansion and recession tabulated by the National Bureau of Economic Research — an organization that was headed for many years, as he notes, by the conservative economist Martin Feldstein — he found a simple answer. The NBER numbers show that “from 1900 through October 2010, the country suffered approximately three times as many months of recession during the times Republicans were governing the country as during the times Democrats were: 246 months (more than 20 years) compared with 86 — a discrepancy that could not have happened by chance more than one time out of 10,000.” Moreover, recessions began 17 times during Republican presidencies and only six times during Democratic presidencies, and always lasted several months longer under Republicans as well.
Now, you explain to the intelligence analyst that you don’t actually subscribe to the notion that presidents have direct control over the economy, but the correlation, over the course of more than a century, seems greater than could be explained by chance. And besides, conservatives are always–always–yammering on about how Democrats are terrible for the economy and Republicans are great, so you found this information curious. The intelligence analyst blinks a few more times, mutters “Bullshit,” and walks away. Yup, the conversation is over.