Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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July 22, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

DISCRETIONARY SPENDING WATCH....Has domestic discretionary spending really skyrocketed on George Bush's watch? John Cogan and Glenn Hubbard say yes, and they have a chart to prove it — but they measure spending in dollars, not percent of GDP, which is pretty plainly the only proper way to do it. Why? Cogan, a professor in the Public Policy Program at Stanford University, says he simply didn't have time to find the GDP-based figures*, a claim that Ross Douthat finds preposterous. Both Matt Yglesias and Brad DeLong agree, and then pile on with some charts and figures of their own which show pretty clearly just how hard Cogan and Hubbard are pushing the BS envelope here. Not only hasn't domestic discretionary spending skyrocketed under Bush, it's actually gone down.

But it's worth taking a closer look at the numbers to see what really happened. As the chart on the right (stolen from this CRS report) shows, during Bush's first term domestic discretionary spending did go up dramatically. If you add in the Medicare prescription bill it went up even more — and this caused more than a few small-government conservatives at the time to erupt in frustration. But this had a simple explanation: it was a bribe. After 2004, when Bush no longer had to worry about getting reelected, he suddenly decided to put the screws on the public. Compassion was no longer in style.

Basically, this gibes with Larry Bartels' finding that Republicans are way better than Democrats at manipulating economic and fiscal policies for maximum electoral benefit. They may not be very good at actually running the country, but they do know how to keep their eyes on the prize. Caveat emptor.

*Turns out it wasn't Cogan who didn't have time to find the figures. It was Peter Robinson.

Kevin Drum 4:41 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (23)

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Comments

The new secret cam footage of George W. Bush being his most oafish at TalkingPointsMemo is priceless. Doesn't give a shit about the housing crisis...glories in the cost of the manor house he and Laura will buy...etc.,etc., etc.

Posted by: Anon on July 22, 2008 at 4:52 PM | PERMALINK

"he suddenly decided to put the screws on the public"

Lovely framing, that. Where do you think the
government gets money from if not the public? Pots at the ends of rainbows?

Posted by: a on July 22, 2008 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

It isn't completely clear to me what the "dollars" are in regards to the graph from The Corner, but inflation-adjusted dollars is the proper measurement stick, not percent GDP, but I am a bit confused by the "homeland security adjustment".

Just because the economy grew a couple of percent over inflation doesn't mean that the Park Service, for example, needs a couple of percent over inflation, too. All of this seems an attempt to redefine what a "cut" in a budget is- now, even inflation-adjusted dollar increases counts as a cut.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on July 22, 2008 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

FYI, John Cogan is a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. We report, you decide.

Posted by: Etaoin Shrdlu on July 22, 2008 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I'll take a cheap gibe and point out that I think you wanted to say jibe.

Posted by: thersites the pedantic @$$#ole on July 22, 2008 at 5:12 PM | PERMALINK

So which category does the monies spent on the Iraq and Afghan wars fall into? I presume Defense?

Posted by: optical weenie on July 22, 2008 at 5:16 PM | PERMALINK
John Cogan and Glenn Hubbard say yes, and they have a chart to prove it — but they measure spending in dollars, not percent of GDP, which is pretty plainly the only proper way to do it.

Um, no.

If you are asking whether spending has gone up, dollars are the only proper way to do it, though most likely you should adjust for inflation.

If you asking whether public sector share of the economy has gone up, GDP share would be the right way to do it, but that's a different question.

Which question you should ask depends on why you are asking the question in the first place.

Posted by: cmdicely on July 22, 2008 at 5:19 PM | PERMALINK

The sound you hear is Thersites slinking into the woods, never to be heard from again (today, at least.) But if you just look at the primary meanings, I'm right.

Posted by: thersites the dry drunk on July 22, 2008 at 5:23 PM | PERMALINK

Just because the economy grew a couple of percent over inflation doesn't mean that the Park Service, for example, needs a couple of percent over inflation, too. Posted by: Yancey Ward

As a matter of fact, the NPS has such a tremendous maintenance backlog that it could use about a 10% over inflation budget increase for a decade.

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/connelly/318399_joel04.html

Posted by: Jeff II on July 22, 2008 at 5:26 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin: But this had a simple explanation: it was a bribe. After 2004, when Bush no longer had to worry about getting reelected, he suddenly decided to put the screws on the public. Compassion was no longer in style.

Watch out. Discretionary spending as a % of GDP fell between 1996 and 2000 also.

cmdicely: Which question you should ask depends on why you are asking the question in the first place.

We're asking whichever question makes Bush and the Republicans look the worst.

Posted by: Jack on July 22, 2008 at 5:41 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin: this had a simple explanation: it was a bribe

If this was true, wouldn't domestic spending have gone *up* in 2004 (an election year, as I recall) instead of down?

I think you have to find another explanation.

Posted by: Ralph Kramden on July 22, 2008 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

Compassion was never in style. The CheneyBush regime has a consistent history of handing over the taxpayers' dollars and the public's resources to their ultra-rich cronies and financial backers. The Medicare prescription bill was a giant giveaway of taxpayers' dollars to the pharmaceutical and insurance corporations that did little or nothing to actually benefit most seniors who rely on Medicare.

The CheneyBush administration has been the most blatantly, outrageously, criminally corrupt government in the history of this nation. They are nothing but thieves masquerading as "neoconservative" politicians in order to confuse and bamboozle the gullible marks (both conservatives and liberals) with bullshit. They have spent nearly eight years looting the treasury and robbing the taxpayers for the private financial gain of their owners, a.k.a. "the top one percent", a.k.a. "Bush's base", a.k.a. America's Ultra-Rich Ruling Class, Inc.

Meanwhile, so-called "small government" so-called "conservatives" who whine and wail over every penny the federal government spends on actual public interests, have mostly stood by and cheered on this monstrous theft.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on July 22, 2008 at 7:00 PM | PERMALINK

Yancey Ward right. I'm sick to death of this bullshit notion that everything should be measured as a percent of GDP. Horse hockey, I say. Its like saying I should measure my personal credit card bill against how much money my town makes in a year.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on July 22, 2008 at 9:04 PM | PERMALINK

Um -- why does domestic discretionary spend oscillate with an 8 year period? It seems to do that through Reagan, HW, Clinton and GW.

Posted by: Adam on July 22, 2008 at 9:50 PM | PERMALINK

Notice that Brad Delong has different statistics than Cogan and that piece of shit Glenn Hubbard. Why is that? It's because we are being fed a line of shit about how the American economy is doing by these conservative pukes and how far in the fucking toilet we are. I don't believe one goddamn statistic these fucking liars in the Bush Administration publish. Not one.

Here is how bad the American economy really is.

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on July 22, 2008 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

If you take for granted that people's willingness to pay taxes has not gone up or down in the last few decades, then measuring spending (or taxation) as a percentage of GDP is the only way to get history to match our experience. Measuring by inflation adjusted dollars makes it look like actual tax receipts increase each year, while measuring by %GDP shows a fairly constant take for nigh on 70 years. Since Congress has not kept tax levels within the 15-20% of GDP range by design, it stands to reason that there is an underlying psychological factor limiting the Federal government's taxing abilities that, itself, is unconsciously measured as a percent of GDP, or something very similar.

In other words, if GDP growth outpaces inflation by a decent amount for a long enough period, and Federal spending matches the former, no one would notice, even though measuring by the latter would show vastly increased spending. If the feds kept pace only with inflation, on the other hand, people would perceive that the government was cutting back. It may not be the right way to measure in theory, but it's the most useful in practice.

Posted by: Mario on July 22, 2008 at 11:43 PM | PERMALINK

The Iraq war and Afghan nation building must be counted as not only discretionary spending, but waste. Make no mistake, Bush is verily the King of Spenders.

GDP isn't valid anymore as a measure of wealth, given the exploding population and final drawdown of natural resources. You have to figure spending as a percentage of remaining wealth to determine its impact.

Posted by: Luther on July 23, 2008 at 2:42 AM | PERMALINK

"Gibe" means to insult or ridicule; "jibe" means to show agreement.

Posted by: sammler on July 23, 2008 at 3:37 AM | PERMALINK

Republicans are desperate to blame the increasingly-scary Bush budget deficits on spending for domestic programs, rather than on Bush's huge tax cuts, the true culprit.

They will say anything to support this view. That's the only thing this is about.

Posted by: Nancy Irving on July 23, 2008 at 6:06 AM | PERMALINK

Click here for our retarded president explaining that “Wall Street got drunk”, to explain the current financial woes. Good God, this man is an embarrassment!

Posted by: The Conservative Deflator on July 23, 2008 at 6:31 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I went to the link you referenced and saw "zero comments" - and none actually showed. I can't believe no one commented on that post of May 9, 2005 titled "REPUBLICANS vs. DEMOCRATS ON THE ECONOMY....", so maybe there's a problem there.

BTW, that's a great post and a very good theory, but this I don't understand: Sure, Republicans can be imagined to try harder in election years, but why do the Democrats do worse than their usual in election years? Are they being sabotaged? And that brings up the interesting Machiavellian scheme question, who is hanging around talking about how to make these sorts of things happen? It can't be easy enough to just come naturally, people have to talk together about it.

Posted by: ♪ ♪ ♪ on July 23, 2008 at 12:10 PM | PERMALINK
Kevin, I went to the link you referenced and saw "zero comments" - and none actually showed. I can't believe no one commented on that post of May 9, 2005 titled "REPUBLICANS vs. DEMOCRATS ON THE ECONOMY....", so maybe there's a problem there.

Comments on old threads go away after some period of time (from the thread origination, not the specific comment post).

Posted by: cmdicely on July 23, 2008 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

When you lie the country into a war of choice, then a big fat chunk of "defense" spending has to be considered discretionary.

In fact, the whole language of 'defense' vs. 'discretionary' is designed to treat military spending as sacrosanct.

Posted by: Nell on July 24, 2008 at 10:16 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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