Who’s the biggest budget-cutter of them all?
Brad DeLong rises to the bait and blasts the AEI report I linked to in my last post — not for inaccuracies, but for sins of omission: [T]here are some numbers that the American Enterprise Institute is very careful not to mention, and that Cowen and Drezner ought to make sure to tell their readers. ...
Brad DeLong rises to the bait and blasts the AEI report I linked to in my last post -- not for inaccuracies, but for sins of omission:
Brad DeLong rises to the bait and blasts the AEI report I linked to in my last post — not for inaccuracies, but for sins of omission:
[T]here are some numbers that the American Enterprise Institute is very careful not to mention, and that Cowen and Drezner ought to make sure to tell their readers. They are:
Federal Spending as a Share of GDP: 21.6%: Last Carter budget (FY 1981) 20.7%: Last Reagan budget (FY 1989)
-0.9%: Change over Reagan terms
21.0%: Last Bush I budget (FY 1993) 18.3%: Last Clinton budget (FY 2001)
-2.7%: Change over Clinton terms
20.4%: Forecast FY 2005 budget
+2.1%: Change over Bush term*
Why doesn’t the AEI report these numbers? Because it doesn’t want you thinking. It doesn’t want you thinking that the axe Reagan took to the discretionary domestic side was largely offset by increases in defense spending that had relatively little effect on the strategic balance vis-a-vis the tottering Soviet Union (more submarines, anyone?) and by the explosion of interest payments on the debt produced by the Reagan deficits. It doesn’t want you thinking that Clinton-era reductions in the size of the government were three times as big as Reagan-era reductions. And it doesn’t want you to really focus on exactly how profligate the Bush budgets have been.
If I were Brad, I’d bring out these numbers as well — and I think he has half a point. In examining a president’s record of fiscal probity, it’s not enough to look at whether department budgets were cut — the magnitude of the cuts matter as well. However, the point of the AEI report was to examine the efforts by presidents to cut government spending, not government spending as a percentage of GDP. A big reason Clinton does so well in Brad’s figures is not because of Clinton’s containment of government growth (the numerator) but because of the economic boom of the 90’s (the denominator). Clearly, Clinton had some role to play in the latter as well — but to go back to Pearlstein’s WaPo article:
In this country, presidents don’t “preside over” economies, and they certainly don’t control them. They can implement a limited range of economic policies that affect the economic cycle at the margin.
For example, if you go to Brad’s post on the Cinton administration’s fiscal legacy, his “rough numbers” for how America’s fiscal situation improved during the nineties give about 64% of the credit to events beyond Clinton’s control (the end of the Cold War, Bush I’s 1990 budget deal, the information age boom). The Clinton team gets credit for most of the rest of the improvement — which sounds about right to me. [You just put that last WaPo quote in there to see if Brad goes medieval on Pearlstein, didn’t you?–ed. I have no idea what you’re talking about.] UPDATE: Be sure to read Tyler Cowen’s response to DeLong as well. Cowen makes a point that covers this blog as well: “is writing, and there is linking. A link does not itself constitute a specifically inferable opinion on what is being linked to.”
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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