IN MATTERS economic, Democrats are supposed to be the party of big government, Republicans the faction of fiscal and regulatory restraint. That distinction is reflected by the parties' rhetoric and, in relative terms, by their legislative behavior. But when it comes to the executive branch, the sides seem to have reversed.
So argues Jeffrey Frankel in the March 2003 issue of the Milken Institute Review. "When it comes to White House economic policy, the Republican and Democratic parties have switched places since the 1960s," writes Frankel, a Harvard economist who served on the U.S. Council of Economic Advisers from 1997 to 1999. "By now the pattern is sufficiently well established that the generalization can no longer be denied: The Republicans have become the party of fiscal irresponsibility, trade restriction, big government, and failing-grade microeconomics." Democratic presidents, comparatively speaking, are "the agents of fiscal responsibility, free trade, competitive markets, and good textbook microeconomics."
Frankel supports this counterintuitive conclusion by comparing the actual economic policies of Carter, Clinton, Reagan, and the Bushes. "A simple look at the federal budget statistics shows an uncanny tendency for the deficit to rise precisely during Republican presidencies," Frankel notes, while "declining deficits and then record surpluses were achieved during the Clinton Administration."
Similarly, Carter and...