The GOP v. Democrats, Round 2 – The Stock Market

By Hugh Griffin-Banerjee and Miranda Park

This is the second article in a series of three which examines the relative economic performance of Republican and Democratic administrations in the 40 years from 1977 through 2017. If you haven’t already done so, start with the first article, which compares management of the federal debt—a contest the underdog Democrats won, and not by a small margin.

In this article, we determine which party has been the better steward of economic growth during the same four decades. There are a lot of ways to gauge economic growth, but most are arguable or complicated or both. (See our Notes below.) For the purpose of this comparison, we’ve chosen yet another simple, agnostic, and numeric yardstick: relative stock market performance during each party’s administrations.

The three major American market indices are the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the Standard and Poor 500 Index, and the Russell 2000 Index. The markets tend to move together, thus any one would be a fair measure, but, to misquote Goldilocks, “The Dow is too small, and the Russell 2000 is too big, but the S&P 500 is just right.”

Forthwith, the incoming and outgoing S&P 500 indices by Republican and Democratic administration were as follows:

President Party In Office  S&P Open S&P Close Change
Jimmy  Carter Dem 1977-81  101.00  128.40 27.1%
Ronald Reagan GOP 1981-89  128.40  294.00 129.0%
George HW Bush GOP 1989-93  294.00  441.70 50.2%
Bill  Clinton Dem 1993-01  441.70  1,305.75 195.6%
George W Bush GOP 2001-09  1,305.75  805.22 -61.7%
Barrack  Obama Dem 2009-17  805.22  2,329.91 189.4%

On average, the S&P 500 index increased by 32.9% during the last three Republican administrations. In comparison, the average S&P 500 index increased by 137.4% during the last three Democratic administrations.

Using the S&P 500 as a benchmark, the last three Democratic administrations beat the last three Republican administrations––by a factor of more than four!

The next time someone tells you that the Republicans are better stewards of the economy than the Democrats, ask, “By what measure?” Better yet, simply respond, “Bollocks!” Then walk away.

Update, March, 2021: From February 1, 2017 to February 1, 2021, the S&P 500 Index increased from 2329.91 to 3,714.24, or 54.9%, which raised the Republican average to 43.1%. Not awful, but still paltry compared to average stock-market performance during the last four Democratic administrations.

Notes:

1) The comparison begins on February 1, 1977, twelve days after Jimmy Carter was inaugurated, and continues through February 1, 2017, twelve days after Barack Obama left office.

2) Common metrics we might have chosen but didn’t were per capita income and gross domestic product (GDP) growth. Since 1977, per capita income has increased every year except 1991, 2002, and 2009, but the majority of that growth favored the wealthy––which may make it the Republican party’s favorite benchmark, but it’s certainly not ours.  The other candidate was GDP growth, but this measure has a long policy tail. There’s no reasonable way to approximate the beginning of each administration’s influence, and the length of the tails will vary.

3) For simplicity’s sake, we ignored the length of each administration, which, excepting the update from the Trump administration, was equal in total for both parties. Once again, apples to apples.

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.