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In this corner we have…

Caricature of SteveI love controversy because it allows people to express contrasting views. The benefit often is the birth of a new perspective–a fusion of conflicting opinions.

For weeks one running debate has been MLK vs LBJ as portrayed in the motion picture “Selma.” I’ve discussed that already in an earlier blog in which I essentially dismissed the furor by insisting that the film is a fictional account of the historic civil rights march of 1965.

If you want the truth you have to consult various sources. “Selma” is only one and thus inevitably suffers from the creator’s bias. Other artists and scholars have their own. If we’re interested in the truth, we will take the time to peruse them, too.

Now comes another case of “He says; he says.” This time it’s a war of words between two economists—liberal Paul Krugman of The New York Times and conservative Robert Samuelson of The Washington Post.

At issue is the historical truth about the reduction of inflation during the Ronald Reagan presidency of the 1980s. Who deserves credit—Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volker appointed by President Jimmy Carter or Reagan who backed Volker’s draconian tight-money policy?

Not surprisingly Prof. Krugman says President Reagan deserves no credit at all. And Mr. Samuelson who says that Volker and Reagan are equally responsible for the subsequent economic rebound.

I don’t know who is right and who is wrong. I’m no economist. And I’m always skeptical of numbers to buttress one’s argument. As Mark Twain and others have stated, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

But any fight between practitioners of “the dismal science” is always entertaining spectator sport.

America’s economy appears to be improving. As a result liberal and conservative lawmakers, pundits, presidential wannabes—and economists are readying explanations and ascribing credit in anticipation of the presidential race 2016.

Is the economic revival the result of President Obama’s policies, what role has the independent Federal Reserve played, or is the White House simply the beneficiary of the inevitable ebb and flow of America’s economic tide?

The record shows that both the length and duration of economic recession and recovery are almost equal. Translation: It seems to matter little who is living in the White House in terms of economic expansion or retraction. More important is whether the occupant moves in during good times or bad.

The next president, if the current trend continues, will take up residence as the economy is improving. But he or she most likely be leaving during the next downturn.

Policy is important but also are luck and timing. We can debate who deserves credit or blame. But we are naïve to discount inevitable cycles that defy the best efforts of politicians and technocrats.

That is a historical fact.


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