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Wednesday, June 09, 2004

"The Longest Expansion in History"

American prospector Nick Confessore writes [thanks for the link, Nick!],
I see via the blog Ragout that the New York Times obituary for Reagan incorrectly credits his tenure with the "longest economic expansion in history." According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, it was the third-longest since they began measuring, with the Clinton expansion first and the 1960s boom second. I really doubt this was intentional deception. More likely it was sloppy reporting. But the Times is the paper of record. They should issue a correction.

He raises a good point: just why did the NY Times exaggerate Reagan's economic record? I googled this claim and looked at the first 20 google hits, (plus two other links). Many correctly credited Clinton with the longest economic expansion in U.S. history. Among those that referred to Reagan, the pattern I found suggests that variations on the claim that Reagan's expansion was the longest have been a right-wing mantra for at least a decade.

The older references are careful to include the qualifier peacetime expansion, ruling out the 1960s expansion due to the Vietnam War. So, to my surprise, Rush Limbaugh, Haley Barbour, and Steven Moore were making true claims in the 1990s:
"The Longest Peacetime Expansion in History"
Rush Limbaugh, Writing in 1993.
Haley Barbour, RNC Chair & Governor of Mississippi, speaking in 1993.
William A. Niskanen and Stephen Moore, supply side economists, writing in October 1996. In a footnote, they acknowledge that Clinton's expansion may last longer.

The National Review falls into a category of craziness all its own, with John O'Sullivan writing as if the recession of 1990-91 never happened, "the longest peacetime expansion in history has now lasted, with only the briefest interruption, for 17 years," (October 25, 1999).

The most recent references find Republicans dropping the "peacetime" qualifier, and failing to notice that the Clinton economic expansion was more than two years longer than Reagan's. I guess "the second-longest peacetime expansion" doesn't sound so impressive.
"The Longest Expansion in History"
James Miller III, Reagan's Budget Director, writing in February 2004.
Reagan Legacy Project, headed by Republican operative Grover Norquist; no date, but apparently quite recent.

So should we excuse the NY Times, assuming that they couldn't avoid being taken in by right-wing propaganda? Maybe, but even the conservative American Spectator wasn't fooled. They recently described the Reagan expansion accurately as "at that time the second-longest expansion in history," (Brian S. Wesbury, 3/30/2004).

In 1993, Haley Barbour complained, "We do talk about Reagan's record, but the media won't report it." Well, the media still isn't reporting Reagan's record, but I bet Barbour has stopped complaining.

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