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July 03, 2003

BUSHONOMICS....Not for the first time, Brad DeLong is puzzled by the fact that the Bush administration is manifestly pursuing economic policies that won't help the economy much, despite the fact that a good economy would be a considerable benefit to their reelection hopes. (Oh, and good for the country, too!)

I figure there are five possibilities here:

  1. Despite abundant evidence to the contrary, they really do believe that their policies will provide a strong short-term stimulus to the economy. After all, they believe in creationism, so why not this?

  2. They are so ideologically wedded to lowering taxes on capital that they'd rather cut taxes than stimulate the economy, even at the possible risk of losing the election.

  3. They take the principled view that the president doesn't actually have any effect on the economy at all, so why not just do what they want anyway and hope for the best?

  4. On a related theme, they figure their reelection depends only on whether people think they've tried hard. As long as the public sees plenty of activity, they will forgive a lack of results.

  5. Karl Rove believes that Bush's reelection primarily depends on fundraising. Cutting taxes on the rich brings in lots of campaign cash, and that's all that really matters.

I'm sure there are other possibilities too, but that's all I can come up with off the top of my head. The part I can't figure out is, which of these possibilities is the scariest?

Posted by Kevin Drum at July 3, 2003 02:46 PM | TrackBack


Comments

6. Rove has decided that the election will be won or lost on national security. Bush is going to run on the war and on his (undeserved) image as a tough guy. The economy will be attributed to terrorist attacks and Clinton. Since their strategy does not depend in any substantial way on the economy improving, they're ramming through their tax cuts while they can.

Posted by: Realish at July 3, 2003 02:52 PM | PERMALINK

7. They know that computerized voting will give them the election no matter how people vote so why worry?

Posted by: P. Clodius at July 3, 2003 02:55 PM | PERMALINK

8. They're hoping to build a reverse image of FDR's longterm domination of the system, built around corporatism versus govt.

http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2003/0307.confessore.html

Posted by: Joshua at July 3, 2003 03:03 PM | PERMALINK

1. Ideologically deluded. "Idiotological"

Posted by: squiddy at July 3, 2003 03:05 PM | PERMALINK

8. No one who knows any better is listened to in this administration.

PS: My favorite part of Brad's comments have to do with the fact that Mankiw is now acknowledging that maybe we aren't going to create 5.5M jobs by 12/04. Amazingly, they didn't realize this until after they pretended that the second tax cut would create 1.4M of those jobs. What a dishonest bunch!

If you want to keep score at home, take a look at Dr. Max's comments here:

http://maxspeak.org/gm/archives/00001286.html

Posted by: howard at July 3, 2003 03:06 PM | PERMALINK

"Greg Mankiw. Your office is calling"

Posted by: squiddy at July 3, 2003 03:14 PM | PERMALINK

I choose 4. May I pimp Demosthenes here? He says, on the Iraq war,
"Bush is discovering that just because something is good politics doesn't negate it being bad policy, and that bad policy can only be spun so far before problems start cropping up.... [big snip] Sooner or later, bad foreign policy becomes bad domestic politics." Change "foreign" to "economic," and I think this is dead on.

I think Bush's Admin views things in terms of political victories--sticking it in the Democrats' eye. They rammed through the Iraq war by saying it was about WMD and Al Qaeda, and they've rammed through tax cuts by saying they're about jobs. The thing is, they weren't, and people are beginning to notice the facts on the ground--no WMD, a messy occupation, no jobs.

Posted by: Matt Weiner at July 3, 2003 03:25 PM | PERMALINK

4.5 They realize that much of the federal government's ability to 'jumpstart' the economy is a myth, so if they look like they are doing something they will get to take credit when the economy bounces back on its own.

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw at July 3, 2003 03:57 PM | PERMALINK

I think all 5 are true to some extent, but I love number 1 "They believe in creationism, so why not this?"

I think that's just about perfect.

Posted by: craigie at July 3, 2003 04:00 PM | PERMALINK

1 and 3 just don't seem plausible. 4, 5, and Realish's 6 probably enter into Rove's calculations.

I'd propose a different take on 2. A lot has been written about GWB "learning from his father's mistakes," and always in the context of avoiding defeat for re-election. But GHWB's huge post-1992 loss of status among his peers came only in part from losing the White House. He was also held in low esteem for doing so little with the Presidency while he had it. William Domhoff's "Who Rules America?" (1998 edition) includes a fascinating account of GHWB's subtle but unmistakable humiliation at the 1993 Bohemian Club festivities, which treatment caused him to leave the famous Grove in anger and ahead of schedule.

GWB doesn't intend to lose in '04. But lose and be seen as a do-nothing, like his father? Unthinkable.

Posted by: penalcolony at July 3, 2003 04:04 PM | PERMALINK

Sebastian,

Shouldn't your reason be 3.5, since it is halfway between Kevin's number 3 and number 4?

Posted by: Daryl McCullough at July 3, 2003 04:11 PM | PERMALINK

Joshua's point 8 seems to be on to something. At times the Bush administration seems to have a long term agenda and only snap back to near focus for tactical needs.

Kevin's point 4 seems relevant as well. The appearance of tactical action is important since people are impatient, often unwilling to wait for strategic results, and prone to hijack by demagogues promising instant gratification.

Posted by: back40 at July 3, 2003 04:16 PM | PERMALINK

"On a related theme, they figure their reelection depends only on whether people think they've tried hard. As long as the public sees plenty of activity, they will forgive a lack of results."

Hey, it worked for FDR.

Since the economy will probably bounce back by 2004, stimulus or no stiumulus, they might as well go with policies that they think will help growth long term. Permanent tax cuts fit in with that plan. (So would permanent spending cuts, significant deregulation, and lowered trade barriers, but those have been sadly neglected). Dress them up as "stimulus" to placate all the folks that think we need one, and they're good to go.

"Karl Rove believes that Bush's reelection primarily depends on fundraising. Cutting taxes on the rich brings in lots of campaign cash, and that's all that really matters."

The Republicans get more of their money from small-time donors than the Democrats do. Cutting taxes on "the rich" isn't going to bring hordes of $2000 donations from the middle classes, unless (a) the middle classes are getting a cut, or (b) the middle classes expect to benefit some other way. In this case, (a) and (b) are both contributing factors.

Posted by: Ken at July 3, 2003 04:18 PM | PERMALINK

It is #5.
Isn't that totally obvious? Hello??

Posted by: MattB at July 3, 2003 04:25 PM | PERMALINK

Ken-

"The Republicans get more of their money from small-time donors than the Democrats do. "

Show me numbers, because I don't think I believe this.

"Cutting taxes on "the rich" isn't going to bring hordes of $2000 donations from the middle classes"

No, but it WILL bring them in from the rich. One $2000 check from each of the richest 100,000 people in America, and holy hell, there's George's $200 million we've all been hearing so much about. (blah blah, I know, everyone with that kind of money isn't going to give. You get the point though.)

Posted by: The Mighty Reason Man at July 3, 2003 04:29 PM | PERMALINK

"The Republicans get more of their money from small-time donors than the Democrats do."

I can't source that, but I believe it's true. Weird. All those Red states.

Posted by: squiddy at July 3, 2003 04:51 PM | PERMALINK

Remember that Bush's "God Squad Blue Club" or whatever the hell it's called is composed of corporate donors who, through some not-so-subtle encouragement, get the 1000s of people who work for them to donate $2000 apiece.

Rich people can do more to affect an election than just write their little check. They can influence the little people.

Posted by: Realish at July 3, 2003 05:19 PM | PERMALINK

I would lean toward the historian Barbara Tuchman's theory, expounded in "The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam," where she describes a historical phenomena that she calls "woodenheadedness" in describing the abject stupidity of decision-makers' actions despite substantial evidence in place that such actions would create an undesirable result.
The book is here:
http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg/detail/-/0345308239/qid=1057283311/sr=1-7/ref=sr_1_7/002-5067151-2386456?v=glance&s=books

My two cents…….

Posted by: Hadleyman at July 3, 2003 06:52 PM | PERMALINK

What about this options [or is it encapsulated in others]?

- "Tax cuts for everyone" [it's your money; you deserve it not the gov't] is good PR period. Whether or not it actually helps anyone.

Posted by: ibyx35 at July 3, 2003 07:05 PM | PERMALINK

N+1. Groupthink. The Bush administration has started to believe it's own propaganda. It happened with Iraq, why not this?

Posted by: taktile at July 3, 2003 07:42 PM | PERMALINK

the economy will probably bounce back by 2004

That's one elastic economy, bouncing back that far that fast. Or do you just mean that we'll gain back some of the millions of jobs we've lost since Bush came into office? Hm, 16 months until November 2004 * 100k jobs / month = 1.6 mil. That would only be about a third of the jobs that have disappeared since Bush came into the office, with no power to affect the short-term economy, as you seem to imply. Think it will happen spontaneously, as a natural force of nature? Or just because the private sector is in such good shape, and ready to start taking on workers?

I think you are saying that Bush can affect the long-term with his many tax cuts, though; I hope that distinction between long and short doesn't get blurry and confuse me. By the way, how many years down the road are the tax cuts going to start helping us?

Dress them up as "stimulus" to placate all the folks that think we need one

Excellent! Deceive the stooges in the electorate who can't understand the subtle distinction between the short and long terms. The salt-of-the-earth types, simple-minded common folk, seem to have taken our bait, and our plan is working just as we predicted. Soon, the economy will get better all on its own, and we shall reap the glory due such skillful deceivers!

Posted by: Demetrios at July 3, 2003 09:19 PM | PERMALINK

As I've already been pimped, I guess I'll jump in.

I vote "5.5", which is that Rove has realized that it's about fundraising, and about defining reality. (Not spin... it goes further than that) He's realized the postmodern/poststructural lesson that people relate to the world through stories and narratives, and has long since figured out that they don't necessarily have to correspond with reality... they just have to be plausible.

Actually, his job isn't hard. You just work the media to ensure that they define issues, people, and the conventional wisdom the way you want. Best way to do that is to function as their chief source of information, create/exploit spin factories indistiguishable from "real" news (Faux News, anyone), have allies charge that any attempt to portray an interpretation aside from your own is "bias" so that the "objective" position is closer to yours, and feed them the personalized stories they so desperately crave. As long as it's all internally consistent and the money spigots don't dry up, you're gold.

Problem is, you've got to ensure it doesn't wander too far away from reality, and ideology has a way of making that happen. If that happens to Bush, he's screwed.

(Un?)fortunately, that just might be exactly what's happening..

Posted by: Demosthenes at July 3, 2003 09:33 PM | PERMALINK

By the way, thanks Matt. (And for those who are at all curious, I've been harping about that "defining truth" thing for the last little while, most notably here).

(And yes, Kevin, I'll let you blatantly hijack one of my own comments sections too, if you want equal time.)

Posted by: Demosthenes at July 3, 2003 09:40 PM | PERMALINK

Partially #5, but principally none of the above. Bush and Rove admire the Haitian economy, with its small but all-powerful rentier class and its ready supply of servants. They hope to recreate it here.

Posted by: Andrew Lazarus at July 3, 2003 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

9. The MBA approach:
The country's going under, so let's loot its assets before it does.

Posted by: Jon Meltzer at July 4, 2003 06:39 AM | PERMALINK

And if it's not going under, it will be after the looting.

Posted by: Barry at July 4, 2003 09:16 AM | PERMALINK

This administration's economic policies are based solely on the lessons of recent GOP presidential history as perceived by Bush, Rove, and Cheney.

1) Reagan cut taxes and was re-elected. Bush Sr. raised them and lost re-election. Reagan pleased his base. Bush Sr. angered his and they deserted him at re-election time. His son will never allow that to happen to himself. Lesson learned: Cut taxes on the top brackets no matter what.

2) Both Reagan and Bush Sr. created huge deficits, but the electorate didn't care. The centerpiece of Mondale's 1984 campaign was that he would raise taxes to eliminate Reagan's deficits. Mondale was crushed in one of the biggest landslides of all time. Deficits were eventually eliminated later by Clinton who raised taxes which helped the GOP retake Congress in 1994. Lessons learned: deficits don't matter to re-election, raising taxes is death, and if necessary someone else can fix the long-term problem by raising taxes after we're gone.

3) Reagan had a recession very early in his term and a recovery was apparent by re-election time. Bush Sr. had a late-term recession and recovery came too late to help with his re-election. A recession began soon after Bush Jr. took office so ergo the economy should bounce back in time to improve his chances in 2004. Lesson learned: Early recessions mean the business cycle will take care of the problem and we can do whatever we want.

4) Greenspan's refusal to lower interest rates during Bush Sr.'s term to allow a (timely) recovery helped cost Bush Sr. re-election. In Bush Jr.'s term, Greenspan has consistently lowered interest rates which should allow for a timely economic boost. Lesson learned: If Greenspan's on board, we're fine.

5) Bush Jr.'s economic policies not only please the base, but have the additional benefits of rewarding his donors and creating good sound bites for the 2004 campaign. Lesson learned: We'll have so much money to buy so many commercials touting our tax cuts while painting the Dems as "tax and spend" liberals that we can't lose.

Posted by: Robert Rosen at July 4, 2003 02:48 PM | PERMALINK

Geez Kevin, your reasoning skill would have Brad DeLong pulling out his hair.

On number 5. Karl Rove believes that Bush's reelection primarily depends on fundraising. Cutting taxes on the rich brings in lots of campaign cash, and that's all that really matters.

Except for those un-bid contracts that give away the reason why Bush gets those high dollar funds...Companies are buying government decision that's why.

Americans can see this too.

Posted by: Cheryl at July 4, 2003 03:43 PM | PERMALINK

And also you and Brad already know why Bush is doing what he is doing. It's because Bush is responding to his campaign contributors wishes NOT the American citizens. It's what Bush's campaign contributors want and paid for and YOU KNOW THAT.

Posted by: Cheryl at July 4, 2003 03:49 PM | PERMALINK

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