Daniel J. Mitchell:
I don’t know if this is a good personality trait or a character flaw, but it always brings a big smile to my face when a leftist tries to argue for bigger government but inadvertently makes an argument in favor of smaller government. Sort of like scoring a goal against your own team in soccer.
It seems to happens quite a bit at the New York Times.
ANew York Times columnist, for instance, pushed for a tax-hiking fiscal agreement back in 2011 based on a chart showing that the only successful budget deal was the one that cut taxes.
The following year, another New York Timescolumnist accidentally demonstrated that politicians are trying to curtail tax competition because they want to increase overall tax burdens.
In a major story on the pension system in the Netherlands this year, theNew York Times inadvertently acknowledged that genuine private savings is the best route to obtain a secure retirement.
But it’s not just people who write for the New York Times.
The International Monetary Fund accidentally confirmed that the value-added tax is a revenue machine to finance bigger government and heavier tax burdens.
A statist in Illinois tried to argue that higher taxes don’t enable higher spending, but his argument was based on the fact that politicians raised taxes so they wouldn’t have to cut spending.
We now have another example of a leftist inadvertently making an argument in favor of limited government (h/t: Coyote Blog via Cafe Hayek).
Kevin Drum of Mother Jones recently published an article that includes a chart showing that private-sector job creation has been much stronger under Obama’s recovery than during Bush’s recovery.
So how do we interpret this data?
I think one interpretation, as I argued both in 2012 and in 2013, is that gridlock is good for the economy. As you can see from Drum’s chart, job creation in the private sector jumped significantly toward the end of 2010, just as the GOP took control of the House of Representatives.
It’s quite reasonable to think, after all, that the private sector greeted the development with a sigh of relief since it meant Obama would be stymied if he tried to impose any major new fiscal or regulatory burdens through the legislative process.
Drum, however, accidentally gives us another reason why private-sector job creation has been at least somewhat impressive. Writing last year, he showed that the overall burden of government spending has been on a downward trajectory.
Here’s a chart from that article. He looks at inflation-adjusted per-capita total government spending, including outlays at the state and local level. If you look at the red line, which measures what’s been happening since the summer of 2009, you can see that we’re actually making some progress in reducing the burden of government spending.
Drum, needless to say, wants people to believe the downward trend in overall spending is somehow bad for the economy.
…as the chart above shows. After every other recent recession,government spending has continued rising steadily throughout the recovery, providing a backstop that prevented the economy from sliding backward. …But this time, even though the 2008 recession was deeper than any of those previous ones, it didn’t. …total government spending peaked in the second quarter of 2010and then started falling, falling, and falling some more. Today, government spending at all levels—state, local, and federal combined—has declined 7 percent
I haven’t fact-checked Drum’s specific calculations, but I assume his math is correct. After all, I showed earlier this month that federal government spending has been flat for the past five years, and I was looking at nominal data rather than inflation-adjusted or population-adjusted numbers.
Likewise, I shared a chart last month showing that state and local government spending also has been flat since about 2010.
But the quality of the numbers isn’t my main point. Let’s focus instead on the accidental message of Drum’s two charts. If you put them together, as was done by Warren Meyer of Coyote Blog, then you see a clear correlation. Under Bush, government spending increased during the recovery and private-sector job creation was nonexistent. But under Obama, there’s been a decline in government spending and private-sector job creation has been far more impressive.