What Voters Really Care, and Don't Care, About

Thursday, 18 November 2010 09:47 By Paul Krugman, Krugman & Co. | Op-Ed | name.

What Voters Really Care, and Don
(Photo: TalkMediaNews; Edited: Lance Page / t r u t h o u t)

I stopped watching the Nov. 3 postelection press conference after President Obama declared that Americans rejected Democrats at the polls in part because “we were in such a hurry to get things done that we didn’t change how things got done.”

Nobody cares about this stuff — voters only care about results. Nobody really cares about earmarks, which is just political code for spending less (less on somebody else).

They don’t care about civility and bipartisanship, which in practice are code for Democrats’ giving in to Republican demands.

Nobody cares about congressional maneuvers — some pundits may argue about the role health-care reform played in the midterm elections, but I bet not one American voter in 50 knows or cares that it was passed using a filibuster-preventing reconciliation measure. So were the sacred 2003 tax cuts approved during President George W. Bush’s administration that we are told must, absolutely must, be retained. If Mr. Obama had used some fancy footwork and held 2 a.m. sessions in order to pass a big public-works program in the United States, and this program had brought unemployment rates down, Republicans would be screaming about the process, but Democrats would have comfortably held control of Congress.

And nobody cares about the national deficit, either. People sometimes say they do, but it almost always turns out that they really mean something else. Look at all the fiscal hawks who suddenly lose all interest in balancing the budget when tax cuts are on the line.

One clear result of the elections is that there won’t be a further round of stimulus spending.

And this, in turn, means that the narrative of the Very Serious People will now be: that sort of fiscal policy was tried, it failed, and that’s that.

But the facts don’t at all support the conventional wisdom.

You often hear the United States’s experience compared to that of Germany, for example. According to the widely accepted narrative, the United States went for Keynesian policies, while Germany chose austerity — and Germany did better.

Germany has not, in fact, done better in terms of gross domestic product. Just look at the chart. It is true that Germany did do better on employment, but this is due to policies that American conservatives surely don’t support, including employment subsidies, strong unions and rules making it difficult to fire workers.

Real Gross Domestic Product, United States and Germany

This may be even more surprising: Look at the chart that shows actual government purchases of goods and services, as opposed to transfer payments (many of them just transfer payments from the federal government to states).

Last modified on Thursday, 18 November 2010 11:56