Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review April 20, 2004 / 30 Nissan 5764

Amity Shlaes

Amity Shlaes
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
David Limbaugh
Michelle Malkin
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
MUGGER
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

Kerry's ‘Misery Index’ is just sad


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | John Kerry is working hard to emulate the successful Democrats who preceded him. He utters so many Kennedy-esque imperatives that the listener half expects him to put forward a real one ("Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country"). Kerry has also developed a few presidential data points. His latest is a "misery index," an update of the one deployed by Jimmy Carter in his successful 1976 campaign against Gerald Ford. The Kerry version tracks seven factors to evaluate the quality of middle-class life: Healthcare costs, gas prices, college tuition, median wage, homeownership rate, bankruptcy rate and private-sector job growth. Up is good. Down is bad. Under Bill Clinton things were up spectacularly; George W. Bush's rating shows him erasing Clinton's gains.

It is worthwhile, however, to look back at that original index. It was devised by the late economist Arthur Okun, who added the inflation rate to the unemployment rate to arrive at his number. A high figure was bad (the opposite of the Kerry system). In 1975, this misery index hit 16, the highest rate in a quarter of a century. In 1980, it hit 20.

In fact, the 1970s and the early 1980s together were a purgatory. U.S. unemployment was in the 7% and 8% range, so far above Japan's and Germany's percentages that the difference looked permanent. Inflation combined with high taxes to scare the American innovator, so that many good ideas stayed on the shelf. Borrowing became a challenge, especially when Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker pushed interest rates up to record levels; retailers keeled over for want of credit. It no longer seemed certain that enterprise generally would be rewarded. Looking at the U.S., the world saw decline.

Against that backdrop, Kerry's decision to speak of misery seems a bit of a stretch. As the nonpartisan website fact check.org points out, today the original misery index stands at 7.4, less than half of what it was in Carter's last year in office. The measure is only a smidgen worse than where it stood during Clinton's second term. This despite a recession and 9/11. Citizens today may be dissatisfied, but the majority aren't miserable.

Donate to JWR



Kerry's index provides a big contrast with the classic misery measure. It shows Bush failing on six of seven counts. How does Kerry work that magic? He fiddles with the categories. Instead of using straightforward unemployment rates, for example, the Kerry index considers a much more amorphous notion, new job creation. (Face it: If unemployment is heading south, does the party affiliated with organized labor really care whether those are old jobs or new?) As for tuition increases, factcheck.org notes that Kerry uses only data from public universities because including increases from private colleges would yield a less drastic number. Regarding wages: Sure, they are down. But when we measure the wage level after taxes and include the Bush tax cuts, the slight decline Kerry finds erodes to the point of insignificance. It has been said before: If you torture numbers enough, they will confess to anything.

But there are two other problems with the Kerry index.

The first is that, for a multifactor economic index, it misses quite a bit. What about America's crazy rate of litigation? What about the heavy burden of the payroll tax? These factors are slowing growth. The reason Kerry doesn't take them up is that it would be politically inconvenient for him to do so. Democrats need trial lawyers to fund them; lightening the payroll-tax burden means leading the charge on Social Security reform, not something that seems to interest Kerry.

The last problem with the Kerry index is more subtle. The old 1970s index had only two components. They were, arguably, about freedom and individual responsibility: the freedom to work and to trade in a relatively stable currency. Gas prices, for example, were not included, even though they were the great shock of the decade. Kerry's seven-category index represents a proliferation of wants. It says, essentially, that it used to take two things to make me happy, but now it takes seven.

It also suggests that government should have a role in satisfying those wants. What's more, many of the items in the Kerry index are about affordability — the right to, say, cheap healthcare — which is not the same as an outright entitlement but is close to it.

In short, the new JFK is saying government owes the people more. "Ask not what your country can do for you," indeed.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.


JWR contributor Amity Shlaes is a columnist for Financial Times . Her latest book is The Greedy Hand: How Taxes Drive Americans Crazy and What to Do About It. Send your comments by clicking here.

Up

04/15/04: John Kerry's ‘tax the rich’ mantra won't get the jobs done
04/02/04: Faithful following at the White House
02/25/04: It's back to the Dark Ages on trade
02/20/04: Trust the U.S. or trust Al Qaeda
02/12/04: A Political Year of Yalies: Boola Boola for Meritocracy
02/04/04: Here's what America doesn't need: Another New Deal
01/15/04: Forget Mars, U.S. economy looking like the final frontier
12/30/03: Bob Bartley put morality's place in the market economy
12/18/03: Mission accomplished: 1991's, that is
12/11/03: Shrugging off outdated data: Inside America's economic machine
11/13/03: Leaving a little something for the kids? Good luck
11/05/03: Never, Never will we Desist
09/30/03: Tax, lies and a few supply-side parables 10/09/03: Free markets are the key to rebuilding Iraq

09/25/03: Don't be sentimental, Mr. Bush
08/12/02: Howard Dean, Robin Hood
05/29/02: Berlin Diarist: To believe that by self-improvement and restraint, we can end tyranny
03/27/02: The curse of oil
11/12/02: Political Correctness at the Fed (No joke!)
10/31/02: Local enforcer who has changed national laws
10/12/02: No Mirror for Europe; US is a picture of unity
08/14/02: Keeping your financial eggs at home
07/24/02: New Democrats' unaffordable luxury
06/26/02: The evolution of eminent domain is the story of the lasting power of Supreme Court decisions to alter the American cultural fabric
06/20/02: The distinction between known risk and uncertainty: What was lost in the Martha Stewart flap
06/11/02: Europe, long waiting for a chance to assert itself as independent from the US on the world stage, is clueless to terror's threat
06/04/02: A Cold Warrior's lessons for the Middle East
05/21/02: Geography does matter when it comes to development, but aid must nonetheless be linked to good governance
05/14/02: The increasing number of new claims is hurting innocent companies and making a mockery of the Common Law system
05/09/02: Aid, development and guilt in our times of terror
04/30/02: Wine lovers may at last be able to stray across state borders. The Internet is coming to the aide of free trade
04/23/02: Taxation by way of Madison Avenue
04/17/02: Special relationships and free trade do not mix
04/08/02: Is terror the flip side of globalization?
03/20/02 Bush gives aid but seeks results
03/13/02 The Danger in policy by numbers
02/26/02: States' smokescreen for tax hypocrisy
02/20/02: Echoes of leadership against a global threat
02/13/02: Jackson Vanik May be a Useful Analogy When Thinking About the Middle East
02/07/02: Budgeting for victory: Requiem for a peace dividend
02/05/02: The detectives of 1930s pulp fiction had a nose for clients bearing gifts. Sadly, those consulted by Enron did not
01/22/02: Allow all American children a decent chance
01/15/02: Do not disturb the profit-sharing revolution
01/09/02: It is dangerous to elevate a currency as a political emblem if the need for other economic reforms is obscured
01/03/02: There is only one way for a free thinker to bring up children
12/20/01: Why America's economy always bounces back
12/18/01: When it comes to taxes, Washington lawmakers can learn a thing or two from The Honeymooners
12/13/01: Bush opens a new era
12/12/01: A flamboyant reversal for the Democratic party
12/06/01: Threat of an oil embargo on the U.S. is a bluff
11/29/01: Which is more important--the war or diplomatic comity?
11/20/01: Unbalanced by a wealth of oil and diamonds
10/17/01: Afghanistan Needs a General MacArthur
09/27/01: The US has gained an understanding of the costs of war for which its European allies have hitherto wished in vain
09/13/01: War against terrorism will rise from the ashes
08/15/01: Geography is no excuse for the state's economic stagnation. Its policymakers should take a leaf from Ireland's book
08/07/01: Teamsters may pay a heavy price for winning its batle in Congress
07/25/01: Towards a patent-free nirvana?
07/17/01: History proves the lasting value of tax cuts
07/10/01: Stem cell research has awakened a bitter debate in Washington but voters care more about other electoral issues
07/03/01: America foots the bill for Europe's largesse
06/26/01: America the litigious, land of the lawyer's fee
06/20/01: Five reasons for gloom about global growth 06/18/01: Show pity for Alice in Tax Wonderland
06/13/01: America must take a French lesson in trade
06/11/01: Time to dream the impossible dream for Iraq
06/07/01: Whatever happened to simple?
06/04/01: When the relationship between companies becomes as close as a marriage, the eventual break-up is often very painful
06/01/01: Loving and hating the Bush tax bill
05/30/01: Will Grisham soon be unemployed? In America's courts these days, there's no room left over for legal fiction
05/22/01: Republicans sample the rhetoric of confidence
05/16/01: Boeing has been promised $60m to site its headquarters in Illinois. The deal looks a poor one for taxpayers
05/14/01: Adam Smith in love
05/09/01: Those rotten Russian capitalists
05/07/01: Why tax havens provide shelter for everyone
05/04/01: Middle classes pay for get-the-rich folly
05/01/01: Money can't buy happiness? Think again.
04/26/01: Calling America's rogues and entrepreneurs
04/19/01: High earners right to feel lonely at the top
04/11/01: The right must learn the comfort of strangers
04/04/01: When domestic law arrives by the back door
03/30/01: A Lexus tax cut suits the jalopy driver
03/27/01: The unchallenged dominance of King Dollar
03/20/01: Natural selection of an intellectual aristocracy
03/16/01: The hidden danger of a regulatory recession
03/14/01: Is the American condition that boring? Why so many Oscar nominated movies aren't set in America
03/07/01: Trampling on the theory of path dependence
03/05/01: Fighting the good fight
03/01/01: It is time for Fannie and Freddie to grow up
02/27/01: IT's important
02/22/01: The guilty conscience of America's millionaires
02/14/01: The benefits of helping the 'rich'
02/09/01: The Danger and Promise of the Bush Schools Plan
02/05/01: Crack and Compassion
01/31/01: Debt is good
01/29/01: Clueless
01/24/01: A gloomy end for a half-hearted undertaking
01/17/01: The challenge of an ally with its own mind
01/15/01: An unexpected American family portrait
01/10/01: A fitting legacy for America's beloved dictator
01/08/01: The trick of tax 'convenience'
01/03/01: Time to stop blaming Greenspan over taxes
12/11/00: So smart they're dumb
12/06/00: How economic bad news came good for Bush
12/04/00: The Boies factor
11/30/00: "The inevitable demands for recounts erupted like acne…"
11/28/00: Fair play and the rules of the electoral game
11/23/00: The shining prospect beyond a cloudy election
11/21/00: Try the Cleveland model
11/16/00: A surprising winner emerges in the US election
11/09/00: Those powerful expats
11/07/00: What's right for America versus what works
11/02/00: Time to turn off big government's autopilot
10/30/00: Canada beating America in financial sensibility
10/26/00: When progressiveness leads to backwardness
10/24/00: The most accurate poll
10/19/00: The Middle East tells us the hawks were right
10/17/00: The split personalities of America's super rich
10/10/00: 'Equity Rights' or Wake up and Smell the Starbucks
10/04/00: Trapped in the basement of global capitalism
09/21/00: The final act of a grand presidential tragedy
09/21/00: Europeans strike back at the fuel tax monster. Should Americans follow?
09/18/00: First steps to success
09/13/00: America rejects the human rights transplant
09/07/00: Minimum wage, maximum cost
09/05/00: Prudent Al Gore plans some serious spending
08/31/00: A revolution fails to bring power to the people
08/28/00: A reali$tic poll
08/21/00: "I Goofed"
08/16/00: Part of the union, but not part of the party
08/09/00: Silicon Alley Secrets
08/02/00: Radical Republicans warm up for Philadelphia
07/31/00: I'll Cry if I Want To
07/27/00: Cold warrior of the new world
07/25/00: The Estate Tax will drop dead
07/18/00: Shooting down the anti-missile defence myths
07/14/00: A convenient punchbag for America's leaders
07/07/00: How to destroy the pharmaceutical industry
07/05/00: Patriots and bleeding hearts
06/30/00: Candidates beware: New Washington consensus on robust growth stands the old wisdom on its head
06/28/00: White America's flight to educational quality
06/26/00: How Hillary inspired the feminist infobabes

© 2003, Financial Times