Why is there superior economic performance under Democratic Presidents?

James Hamilton directs our attention to a useful new paper on this topic by Alan Blinder and Mark Watson (pdf).  Blinder and Watson conclude:

Democrats would no doubt like to attribute the large D-R growth gap to better macroeconomic policies, but the data do not support such a claim….It seems we must look instead to several variables that are mostly “good luck.” Specifically, Democratic presidents have experienced, on average, better oil shocks than Republicans, a better legacy of (utilization-adjusted) productivity shocks, and more optimistic consumer expectations (as measured by the Michigan ICE).

Perhaps one could attribute some of the “confidence gap” to policy differences, though the authors point out “…direct measures showing increasing optimism after Democrats are elected are hard to find.”  In any case this paper is a useful corrective to some common claims about superior economic performance under Democratic Presidents.  Invoking the partisan composition of Congress also does not seem to explain the observed patterns.

Since we are sometimes told that macroeconomic problems dwarf micro in importance (not a division of categories I would support, but you hear this often), well…draw your own conclusions.

Blinder and Watson also debunk a myth you commonly hear from conservatives:

In sum, with the exception of the Greenbook forecasts for the early part of the first Reagan administration, forecasts suggest little reason to believe that Democrats inherited more favorable initial conditions (in terms of likely future growth) from Republicans than Republicans did from Democrats.

This is interesting too:

There is, however, a slight tendency for both the nominal and real Federal funds rate to trend upward during Democratic presidencies and downward during Republican presidencies, suggesting that the Fed normally tightens under Democrats and eases under Republicans. Of course, such an empirical finding does not imply that the Fed is “playing politics” to favor Republicans. Rather, it is just what you would expect if the economy grows faster (with rising inflation) under Democrats and slower (with falling inflation) under Republicans—as it does.

In the UK, economic performance is overall better under the conservatives, although the difference is not statistically significant.


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