Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Lies, Damn Lies, and Larry Kudlow's Statistics

Larry Kudlow has a post at NRO's The Corner touting President Bush's economic record based on the data in this chart:

Kudlow adds:

You know, for all this talk about recession, (with some pundits calling for a recession just about every year—Paul Krugman comes to mind), the reality is that economic growth has been steady and strong following the 2001-2002 recession.

Think lower marginal tax rates, implemented in 2003 to strengthen work incentives, and significantly increase after-tax investment rewards.

This is Goldilocks plus.

It is called free market, Milton Friedman capitalism—with a strong dose of supply-side guru Art Laffer.

Kudlow is tendentious at best and misleading at worst. Kudlow doesn't give a source for his data, so I looked up the numbers at, an online source for all sorts of economic data. They had slightly different numbers (since 2006 is an estimate, I used Kudlow's):

2001 0.2 0.8
2002 1.9 1.6
2003 3.7 2.5
2004 3.4 3.9
2005 3.2 3.2
2006 est. 3.3 3.3
Average2.62 2.55

As you can see, economagic's numbers are a tick lower than Kudlows. More importantly, Kudlow's graph only shows economic growth during the Bush presidency, giving no sense of how it stacks up against economic growth in previous years. Here's a chart showing economic growth going back to the Eisenhower presidency (data from

This broader perspective shows that economic growth under President Bush has been OK and certainly not in a recession, but nothing to write home about. As the following table shows, economic growth under Bush has lagged behind most other recent presidents, even if we give Bush a pass for 2001:

Bush 12.1
Bush 22.6
Bush 2 w/o 20012.9

Not only has the economy performed worse under Bush than it did under Bill Clinton, but the much-maligned Jimmy Carter managed to do better than Bush.


Jeremy Lupoli said...
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Jeremy Lupoli said...

Ah, "focusing on the dependent variable," a favorite for deception with statistics. In all fairness, Kudlow isn't making a point that the Bush years have been great, only that we're not in a recession. Which is true if you happen to know that on average we've had a 3.3% growth rate over the last 50 years; slightly more than Bush's average, even w/o 2001 and 2002.

jjv said...

Its going to be interesting to see what happens by the end of Bush's term. Clinton's numbers were partially built on a bubble. However, Clinton governed in a period when free trade kept expanding and was accepted by all elites. Now it is under more and more atack in Europe and now at home. I am genuinely curious as to what the full 8 years of each President will show. If you told me in 2000, however, that we would endure the collapse of the tech sector in a bubble, the horrible Sarbanes-Oxley "fix" and the most deadly attack on our soil in one hundred and fifty years in the heart of the financial center, and the economy would plug away at the rate it has since 9/11 I would have called you crazy. American economic strength when compared to the "social democracies" of Europe (who spend near zero on defense and whose finacial centers don't have a big hole in them) is stunning.

jjv said...

I'd be interested in Prof. Klinker's take on the figures shown at Powerline here:

Taylor said...

Anytime you frame the data so myopicly, it's bound to affect how viewers perceive it!