Thursday, April 25, 2013

Let's get some numbers straight

The W. Bush library is opening this week and Ezra Klein thought it would be a good idea to present the legacy of the Administration in 24 charts.    There is much to view in the charts - some of it is even useful.  Mind you I am not a big fan of our immediate former president.   For me "Compassionate Conservatism" was a phrase without much substance.   When Gore was not elected, American voters chose one kind of activist government over another.

The concern that I have about this exercise is the selectivity of the data.   The numbers presented in the graphs and charts are accurate although they may not give us an real understanding of the legacy that the most recent Bush gave to the US.

The charts delve into a lot of things.   They point out that Afghanistan and Iraq are not rated as democracies by Freedom House.   I think that is accurate, although I am not sure anyone realistically thought that either country would evolve that quickly.   And Klein concedes that there has been some slippage since Obama was elected.

A second chart catalogues the $4 trillion spent on our wars in the Middle East, and the numbers are close enough, although I would question whether $455 billion increase in homeland security costs can be attributed to the wars, unless of course you agree to the crackpot theories of some loons on the left and the right that the government was somehow involved in creating 9/11.     Were the policies efficacious in the long term?   I think it may be too early to tell.   Did the Obama administration improve the situation and lower costs(both immediate and long term)?  The answer to that one is probably no.

But where it gets interesting is in his charts on poverty.   The chart at the left is of poverty during the Bush administration.   Even before the economic problems in 2007-08 poverty as measured by the Census Bureau was rising.    But as the Huffington Post reminded us when the numbers came out last fall during this Administration poverty in the country is the highest it has ever been.   Under the current administration food stamp participation has ballooned.   Currently 15% of the US population receives food stamps.   Here is a chart on that.

A lot of economists are skeptical of the government definition of poverty.  The Census Bureau makes an estimate of cash income for a family of four.  It is a pretty crude measure which does not take into account regional variations (the $23,000 may go a bit farther in some places than in others) or in the intangibles of life.   So it is a pretty rough measure.   But the measure of food stamps is not.   If there has been a significant increase in the number of people receiving food stamps that is a pretty good measure of one of two things.   Either the economic situation of the population has declined or those in power believe it is better to have more people receiving benefits.    From my perspective neither is a good result.

Here is one other chart from the Census Bureau data.   This shows both the long term trend on number in poverty as well as the poverty rate.   When you look at the long term trend the rate has declined although there are periodic variations of the number of households classified as living in poverty.

I am not trying to make a case that the Bush administration was wonderful nor that the Obama administration has been a complete disaster.   But I do believe that Klein's claim that he can present the Bush record in 24 highly selected charts is pure partisan bunk.

One footnote to the post - as part of the celebration of the opening of his library the former president (W) thought Jeb Bush should run.   His mom, commented "We've had enough Bushes."

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