The GOP v. Democrats, Round 1 – The National Debt

By Hugh Griffin-Banerjee

We Americans are often told that Republican administrations are better at cutting the deficit than Democratic administrations. For some unknown reason, the Democrats are inclined to bring a zucchini to a knife fight, but on the rare occasion some minor party factotum attempts to disagree.

The Near-Canada Gazette is a foster home for skeptics; we’re disinclined to believe anything we’re told by politicians or pundits or pedicurists or anybody else. If a significant assertion is controversial, then we try to make sense of it. If it’s testable, then we use simple, commonly accepted metrics to test it. (See Notes below.)

This is the first article of three that compares the relative economic performance of the three Republican administrations before the Trump Reign of Error against the last three pre-Biden Democratic administrations. Each article uses a single criterion––in this case the annual federal deficit, in sum the national debt.

For the purpose of this comparison, we (Miranda and I) researched the growth of the national debt during each presidential administration beginning in 1978, when Jimmy Carter approved his first federal budget. The comparison ends on September 30, 2018, which was the last day of the last fiscal budget approved by Barack Obama.

The incoming and outgoing national debts by administration over the forty-year period were as follows (in rounded billions):

President Party Years Entry Debt Exit Debt Increase Percent
J Carter Dem 1977-81 772 $1,142 $370 48%
R Reagan GOP 1981-89 $1,142 $3,233 $2,091 183%
GHW Bush GOP 1989-93 $3,233 $4,693 $1,459 45%
B Clinton Dem 1993-01 $4,693 $6,228 $1,535 33%
GW Bush GOP 2001-09 $6,228 $13,562 $7,333 118%
B Obama Dem 2009-17 $13,562 $21,735 $7,813 58%

Reading across the top line, the chart shows that President Carter inherited a national debt of $772 billion. The debt had reached $1.142 trillion (that’s trillions, with a “t”) by the end his last fiscal year, which was an increase of $370 billion, or 48% more than the debt he inherited.

In aggregate, the data tell us that the national debt increased by $10.9 trillion during the last three Republican administrations and by $9.7 trillion during the last three Democratic administrations. In other words, Republican presidents increased the national debt by $1.2 trillion more than Democratic presidents, or a paltry $60 billion per fiscal year!

If that’s insufficiently clear: The average Republican administration increased the national debt by 115%, and the average Democratic administration increased the national debt by 46%.

Unless the moon is indeed made of cheese, the Republicans will yell foul and produce their own “unbiased” analysis. That’s not to say that Democrats use agnostic, statistically valid data and Republicans get theirs from a twelve-year-old “statistician” who flunked math and who happens to be the daughter of an NRA lobbyist. Sadly, the pols in both parties are skilled in the dark art of data manipulation. If, however, you have qualms about the outcome, then change the dates, find a better barometer, and run your own numbers. The Republicans will be grateful––if perchance you can produce a different result.

It can also be argued that White House occupancy is a poor basis for comparison because Congress passes the budget, and the president merely approves it. In fact, the executive branch creates the budget at the president’s direction, he and Congress negotiate it, the president signs the final bill, and then he manages federal expenditures for the entirety of the fiscal year.

Update: The national debt increased by $7.8 trillion during Donald Trump’s Reign of Error, or about as much as it increased during the Obama years. Two small points of clarification. First, President Obama inherited the worst economy since the Great Depression; trillions in stimulus were required to save it. In contrast, The Donald inherited the longest bull run in history. Second, it took the Obama administration eight years to increase the debt by $7.8 trillion. In contrast, Trump et al managed to achieve the same result in a paltry four years. Well done!

Notes:

1) Higher national debts are bad, not good.

2) The forty-year period beginning with the Carter presidency in 1977 and ending with the Obama presidency was not chosen at random. Between 1977 and 2017, Republican presidents occupied the White House for twenty years and Democratic presidents occupied the White House for twenty years. In both cases, two presidents served two terms and one president served one. Apples to apples.

3) The sources for the budget deficits and other data are the US government and Statista. Nothing in this article came from Cambridge Analytica. (If you don’t recall the name, Google it.)

4) Neither party produced an annual budget surplus except for the last two fiscal years of the Clinton (D) administration. That’s 38 (now 42) years of deficits versus two years of surpluses.

5) This article was first written in 2018. I didn’t bother to redo the entire comparison for the obvious reason.

A Ban on AR-15’s – By the Numbers

By Hugh-Griffin Banerjee and Miranda Park

In the wake of so many heartbreaking massacres like the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children and six adults were murdered by a single deranged man, there’s been a lot of discourse in the nation’s capitol about limiting the sale—but not the ownership—of semiautomatic assault rifles like AR-15s to buyers 21 and over who can pass background checks. 

According to CBS News, there were 417 mass shootings in the US in 2019, more than one per day, so it’s impossible to argue against the objective, but we in Near Canada are skeptical of any solution, or in this case semi-solution, that gets bandied about in the halls of Congress. We’d rather examine its possible efficacy through the lens of the most reliable numbers extant.

According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, somewhere between five and 10 million AR-15 type firearms are owned by American citizens. We can’t speak for you, but our confidence doesn’t soar when the range of informed estimates is two to one. Regardless, let’s settle on the midpoint: 7.5 million rifles capable of being converted into semi-automatic weapons. The population of the US is around 330 million, which means that one in circa 40 of us owns an AR-15 or similar weapon.

Now that we’re equipped with the data, let’s revisit a few massacres where the killers were equipped with AR-15 type firearms:

  • The population of Sutherland Springs, Texas, where 26 worshippers were murdered and ten were wounded, is around 600. If the averages hold, then the town’s residents owned 15 AR-15 type semiautomatic rifles at the time of the massacre. Fifteen, in a town of only 600!
  • The population of Parkland, Florida, where 17 high-school students and teachers were murdered and 14 were wounded, is about 31,000. If the averages hold, then the city’s residents owned 750 AR-15s or equivalents at the time of the massacre.
  • The population of the Las Vegas metropolitan area, where 58 concert goers were murdered and 851 were wounded, is approximately 2,000,000. If the averages hold, then area residents owned 50,000 AR-15 type rifles at the time.

Unfortunately, the banning of just the sale of AR-15 or similar firearms to Americans under the age of 21, whether they can pass background checks or not, will have no effect whatsoever on the millions of guns already in circulation. Forbidding the manufacture and sale of ammunition for semiautomatic rifles would do eventually do the trick, but ammunition for still-legal weapons would also have to be forbidden. In other words, it’s a nonstarter politically speaking.

Notably, civilian ownership of AR-15 type semiautomatic rifles was prohibited in the US until 2004, when the ban was lifted by a Republican-controlled Congress. No surprise there, eh? By the numbers, though, it’s brutally clear that nothing less than reinstatement and enforcement of the ban will make a serious dent in the frequency of mass shootings—and the body count.

We’re well aware that a significant percentage of AR-15s would not be turned in if the 2004 ban was reinstated. Many would be locked away in gun safes, and many more would disappear into black markets. But, according to John Maynard Keynes, Milton Friedman and Miranda, price increases when supply is constrained, which means that all but well-healed mass murderers would be forced to brandish less lethal weapons. Baby steps, but progress nonetheless.

We at The Near-Canada Gazette have every hope that the grass-roots movement started by the students of Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School will cause material, life-saving change, but we’re not holding our breaths. Given the current political climate, we expect that there will many more massacres before a less stone-hearted Congress will have the courage to defy the NRA and deny their gun-crazed members the ownership of AR-15 type weapons.