Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Economy Through a Political Lens

In today's NY Times, David Leonhardt discusses the intersection of economics and politics. He starts as follows:

This Glass Is Half Full, Probably More

HERE is a political Rorschach test for this midterm election year. What's your reaction to the following:

These are the best of times in many ways. Americans are wealthier than previous generations, they are healthier and they enjoy a higher standard of living. The good old days simply weren't as good as the present day.

If that makes you a little squeamish, the odds are good that you generally vote Democratic. You see a lot of real problems — widening inequality, a big federal budget deficit, melting icecaps — and you have a hard time believing that the country has never been richer.

But the fact that by most broad measures — wages, average life span, crime, education levels, home ownership and racial and gender equality, to name a few — life in this country has clearly improved over the last generation.

And most Americans think about their lives in these terms. In polls, even low-income people generally say they are better off than their parents were, probably because most are.

Yet many Democratic politicians just don't seem comfortable talking about the ways that overall living standards have risen, focusing instead on the recent stagnation in wages for rank-and-file workers. "We do talk negative about the economy," Rep. Rahm Emanuel, an Illinois Democrat, told me yesterday, adding that it comes in part with being the opposition party.