Democrats vs. Republicans: Contradictions in Spending

Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on spending. The age-old narrative says that Democrats seek to tax and spend more, Republicans, less. Both parties seem to believe this narrative about themselves and each other, and voters follow suit.

But in the last few years, many articles have challenged this conventional wisdom. Simply Google search “who spends more Democrats/Republicans?” to see what people are saying, or see the footnotes below for links to several articles.

These articles show that contrary to the conventional wisdom, Republicans spend more when they’re in the White House. This may come as a shock to some Republican readers. These articles also show that during their tenure in the White House, Democrats spent less and created more jobs and economic prosperity. I don’t know if these articles are true; I have not personally fact checked them. Let’s just take the claim as is and see what problems it may present.

If these facts are true, it should be fairly obvious how they hurt Republicans. This is a shameful revelation for anyone who pays lip service to free markets and private property. Republicans are exposed for not living up to their own claims, vitiating their principles, and failing their electorate. They contradict their economic philosophy with their actions. I applaud Democrats for using this data to challenge Republican hypocrisy.

But perhaps Democrats are unaware of how this data hurts their own philosophy. How exactly? Consider the following:

Democrats use this data to claim: 1) that they spend less than Republicans, and, 2) that they improve the economy. These two claims suggest that the Republican philosophy is correct: the less the government spends the more the economy improves. In an effort to humiliate Republicans, Democrats accidentally validate a central Republican talking point. Democrats have revealed a correlation between less government spending and economic growth. At this point, a person like myself would suggest that if less spending is good, even less is better. Since their own data suggests this, Democrats are forced to reevaluate their economic platform.

This is quite a dilemma for Democrats. After all, the Democrats have always said that public works improve the economy, and that the more they can tax and spend, the more jobs they can create. If the correlation is the opposite, they would have to reverse their economic platform. How might Democrats attempt to argue out of of this conclusion?

Democrats could argue that they spent less money than Republicans because they spent the money more wisely. Perhaps they spent the money creating jobs that were more productive or in higher demand. This is a decent argument. But it flies in the face of Keynesian orthodoxy, on which Democrats depend largely to validate their economic policies.

The Keynesian orthodoxy states that more spending creates more employment, period. Orthodox Keynesians are bold enough to assert that all public works improve the economy, including entirely unproductive war efforts. Liberal economists like Paul Krugman argue that spending is spending, and that more spending necessarily improves the economy.

In order to argue that they spent the money better, Democrats have to abandon their Keynesian roots and discuss spending and job creation in terms of free-market mechanics. They have to argue that government spending does not always increase employment, and they must create a distinction between relevant and irrelevant spending. The question then is, what is the measure of relevance? The only answer other than government decree is the supply and demand of the market. Again, in an attempt to criticize Republicans, Democrats vindicate the free-market principles that they have long opposed.

Thus, rather than destroy the credibility of the Republicans, these articles undermine the credibility of both parties. Republicans must struggle to convince voters that they stand for anything at all, and Democrats increase the evidence against their own economic philosophy.

For further reading:
This article makes the case that Democrats create more jobs.
Here and here are articles claiming Republicans spend more.
Here are debt increases since Reagan.
Another article claiming Republicans spend as much or more on social programs
Here’s one claiming that Clinton reduced government spending and increased economic freedom
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