Wednesday, April 14, 2004

The allure of the nanny state

This week, the Kerry campaign rolled out the “Middle Class Misery Index” – a dubious economic metric that was immediately ridiculed into political oblivion. This index used highly selective economic indicators including college tuition (public but not private schools), job growth (private sector but not public sector), the cost of gasoline, and bankruptcies (personal but not corporate). This risible calculation found that, according to the Kerry people, the economy was in better shape during the Carter administration than during the Reagan administration.

But then Dbunker took it too far with this post that claimed that even the traditional misery index – the inflation rate plus the unemployment rate – is higher under Bush than it was under Clinton. Using numbers pulled out of, well, somewhere, DBunker claims that the misery index under the current President is 8.3%. This was convincingly countered by Factcheck (with verified numbers!):

By that classic misery measure the country is faring better than average under Bush: the unemployment rate for March was 5.7% -- which is just 0.1% above the average for all months since 1948. And the inflation rate remains historically low – the Labor Department’s Consumer Price Index rose only 1.7% in the 12 months ending in February, the most recent month on record. So the classic “misery index” number is currently 7.4.

That's lower than it's been in all but 20 of the previous 56 years on record. It never got this low during any of the years under Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan or Bush's father.

And the classic "misery index" was higher in every one of Clinton's first four years than it has been in any of Bush's years. It was not until Clinton's second term that the long economic boom of the 1990's pulled the index down to below its current level.

But beyond this ham-handed attempt to convince voters that things are worse than they really are, there’s a troubling philosophical chasm here that separates Democrats and Republicans (and Libertarians). The message implied by Kerry’s new “Misery Index” is that there is no ill or inconvenience that cannot be solved by more government intervention. For example, how is the government somehow responsible for the rise of personal bankruptcies? Are the credit-happy consumers somehow blameless for their own financial malfeasance? What manner of price controls or regulation should the government impose to control commodities such as gasoline or college tuition? It’s the rise of the nanny-state with the liberating philosophy that nothing is your fault and the government can make it all better.

All you need to give up is your money and a little slice of your freedom.

[Cross-posted on Blogs for Bush]

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