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In politics as in development, success is fleetingly fleeting

This blog has frequently pointed out that economic growth successes don’t last — rapid growth is fleeting.

After last night’s election, we are reminded that political success doesn’t last either. An action in one direction is followed by an equal and opposite reaction in the other.

The situation of one party having both the Presidency and a majority in the House has been rare in the postwar era, and when it happens, it doesn’t last very long.

We often point out that analysis of rapid growth “miracles” is faulty because it fails to notice that the miracles will likely disappear very soon.

Likewise, would behavior of political actors be different — such as giving moderates in each party much more say — if both sides fully realized that an electoral “mandate” is a very frail and short-lived creature?

Postscript: this hereby ends the Aid Watch obsession with the elections, we will resume our reguarly scheduled programming tomorrow.

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10 Comments

  1. quciksilversurfer wrote:

    It is very unclear why in the graph Republican and Democratic presidencies should overlap. Am I missing something?

    Posted November 3, 2010 at 8:02 am | Permalink
  2. William Easterly wrote:

    quicksilversurfer: There is no overlap, just incompetent graphics by yours truly, will fix soon.

    Posted November 3, 2010 at 8:36 am | Permalink
  3. Matt wrote:

    “economic growth successes don’t last — rapid growth is fleeting.”

    http://www.wolframalpha.com/input/?i=china+gdp+growth&a=*C.china-_*Country-

    China has had, on average, real GDP growth between 5 and 10% for the past 30 years. I consider that rapid. Even if it converges to the OECD average in the long run, I fail to see how you would describe 30 years of rapid growth as fleeting?

    Posted November 3, 2010 at 8:45 am | Permalink
  4. thm wrote:

    As quciksilversurfer mentions, this graph has serious problems. The overlap in presidencies, and also the areas with both red and blue balance of power sections.

    The reason, I suspect, is that whomever made the graph simply used year-by-year data for balance of power and then selected a type of graph that simply draws lines between the data points, which isn’t the right thing to do here. Such a graph only makes sense when the values of whatever is being plotted can be reasonably approximated by the interpolation between the actual data points, as is the case with a continuous function with sufficiently close together data points.

    But House balance of power and presidency are discontinuous: because the Democrats had 0 presidents after the 2006 election and 1 president after the 2008 election does not mean that they had 0.5 presidents after the 2007 election, which is what this way of presenting the data suggests. There should be no sloped lines here, and whomever made the graph ought to have chosen a different graph type.

    Posted November 3, 2010 at 8:47 am | Permalink
  5. William Easterly wrote:

    Thanks for all the graphics criticism. Aid Watch prides itself on responding to concerns of critics so here’s a revised graph — is this better?

    Posted November 3, 2010 at 9:34 am | Permalink
  6. William Easterly wrote:

    Matt, sorry one counter-example is not enough to disprove an empirical assertion. The latter is about average patterns and never fits every single last datapoint. China gets so much attention precisely because it is a rare exception to the “rapid growth is fleeting” pattern. And based on past historical patterns, I would expect even China to exit rapid growth before it reaches OECD levels.

    Posted November 3, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink
  7. Tim Maly wrote:

    I took a stab at making the graph more legible. Feel free to use it if you find it helpful.

    Presidency/House Control Graph update.

    Posted November 3, 2010 at 11:27 am | Permalink
  8. I believe Brazil’s agro success could also be achieved in many poor countries without a huge investment of funds. AidWatch needs to study what is being accomplished in Brazil and recommend some of their ideas in my opinion. Sample ideas from Brazil (see http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/16/AR2010101604144.html ).

    “Agricultural research center, called Embrapa, where scientists make Brazil’s poor soils fertile while developing crop varieties that will thrive there, such as wheat.” The Brazilian scientists focus on innovation, outreach programs, competitiveness for agro-business, and less on producing academic papers and policy studies.

    “In the Planaltina labs, scientists have also developed dozens of varieties of soybeans, corn, cotton and other crops while finding methods to contain plagues. Bovine experts have been working on how to fatten up cattle and hogs faster and more efficiently while improving the quality of the meat. Such work can be found at 45 Embrapa labs nationwide, each of which is entrusted with improving the crops common to Brazil’s far-flung regions, like the palm oil produced in the Amazon.” The Brazilian scientists focus on creating new and better arid and tropical agriculture concepts. The AidWatch staff focuses mostly on agricultural economic policy which I believe is a major mistake if you want to change food security for BOP personnel.

    Posted November 3, 2010 at 11:32 am | Permalink
  9. mozza wrote:

    It may not be on purpose, but the Republicans look like the negatives a the bottom. This graph should be vertical rather than horizontal.

    Posted November 3, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Permalink
  10. Joe wrote:

    Republicans are negatives my friend.

    Posted November 4, 2010 at 6:09 pm | Permalink

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by William Easterly, Kalsoom Lakhani, Philip Auerswald, kmcgahan, Jessie Armstrong and others. Jessie Armstrong said: RT @bill_easterly: Sorry Republicans: in politics as in development, success is fleeting & we have graph to prove it http://bit.ly/ch7lLr […]

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    The Aid Watch blog is a project of New York University's Development Research Institute (DRI). This blog is principally written by William Easterly, author of "The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics" and "The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good," and Professor of Economics at NYU. It is co-written by Laura Freschi and by occasional guest bloggers. Our work is based on the idea that more aid will reach the poor the more people are watching aid.

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