Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Counterfactual

We often hear that it doesn't really make that much difference who is President. Tyler Cowen made this kind of argument with respect to the economy back in February. In response, I wrote a post that argued that because of the closeness of the November 2000 election, it serves as a nice natural experiment that completely repudiates that argument:

So imagine that all else was the same but the butterfly ballot was properly designed, Gore won Florida and became President instead of Bush.

Here's the question, do you seriously believe that we would have pursued the same economic policies, that the value of the our national debt would be the same today as it would have been under Gore? Too me it strains credulity to think so. Gore likely would not have slashed tax rates at the top, entered the war in Iraq and signed a joke of a Prescription drug bill. Would Gore have reacted the same way to the prolonged jobless recovery? Certainly not. One might argue that the housing bubble and the credit crunch likely would have ensued under a Gore administration, maybe so, but Gore would not have had the same people in charge of the key banking and regulatory agencies that took pride in being completely hands off.

In fact, once you start to think about it more broadly the US and the world likely may very well have been on a completely different trajectory. Now this is admittedly much more speculative but 9/11 might not have even happened if there was a continuation of the predator program in Afghanistan or if the Gore Administration reacted the same way to the August 6th memo as Clinton did to the threat of a millenium attack.

It was nice to hear Gore address this himself last week:

Eight years ago, some said there was not much difference between the nominees of the two major parties and it didn’t really matter who became president. Our nation was enjoying peace and prosperity. Some assumed we would continue both, no matter the outcome. But here we all are in 2008, and I doubt anyone would argue now that election didn’t matter.

Take it from me, if it had ended differently, we would not be bogged down in Iraq, we would have pursued bin Laden until we captured him. We would not be facing a self-inflicted economic crisis; we would be fighting for middle- income families. We would not be showing contempt for the Constitution; we’d be protecting the rights of every American regardless of race, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation. And we would not be denying the climate crisis; we’d be solving it.

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