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Carter, Reagan, and Machiavelli

Roundup
tags: Jimmy Carter, Reagan



Rex Nutting has a very nice article about the reality of Jimmy Carter’s presidency, which has been distorted out of recognition by the myth of Saint Reagan. As he points out, Carter presided over faster average job growth and lower unemployment than Reagan; unfortunately for Carter, his timing was bad, with vigorous growth for most of his presidency but a recession at the end.

Or to be more specific: the Federal Reserve put the US economy through the wringer from 1979 to 1982 in order to bring inflation down. Carter presided over the first part of that double-dip recession, and got wrongly blamed for it; Reagan presided over the second part, and wrongly got credit for the later recovery.

What you see in all this is the remarkable political dominance of recent rates of change over even medium-term comparisons. The chart shows real median family income, which rose a lot through 1979, and was still far from having returned to that peak by the end of Reagan’s first term. Nonetheless, Carter was booted from office amid derision — “are you better off now than you were four years ago?” (actually yes), while Reagan won a landslide as a triumphant economic savior.

But Machiavelli knew all about this:

Hence it is to be remarked that, in seizing a state, the usurper ought to examine closely into all those injuries which it is necessary for him to inflict, and to do them all at one stroke so as not to have to repeat them daily.


Make sure that the bad stuff happens early in your rule; then you can claim credit when things get better, even if you leave the nation in a worse condition than it was when you arrived.

Read entire article at NYT


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