Buchanan spouts familiar myths in attack on Obama stimulus plan
Research ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF
In his column, MSNBC's Pat Buchanan cherry-picked unemployment figures to assert that the New Deal failed to reduce unemployment and that the program was a "bust," referring to unemployment figures that did not include government-relief employment created by New Deal programs. Buchanan also repeated the false claim that President-elect Barack Obama's proposed tax cuts will benefit "individuals who do not even pay taxes."
In his January 9 syndicated column, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan used incomplete unemployment statistics to claim that "economically, the New Deal was a bust." Buchanan also falsely claimed that President-elect Barack Obama's proposed tax cuts will benefit "individuals who do not even pay taxes."
In support of his claim that "economically, the New Deal was a bust," Buchanan wrote that "[b]efore 1940, not once did unemployment fall below 14 percent." But, by making the assertion, Buchanan ignored employment figures that included government jobs created by New Deal programs. Indeed, former Wall Street Journal writer Amity Shlaes -- whose 2007 book, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression (HarperCollins), has been frequently cited by conservative media figures to dismiss the effectiveness of the New Deal -- acknowledged that her unemployment figures excluded "make-work jobs," instead relying on data compiled for the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) by economist Stanley Lebergott. In a November 29, 2008, Wall Street Journal op-ed, Shlaes wrote, "To be sure, Michael Darby of UCLA has argued that make-work jobs should be counted. Even so, his chart shows that from 1931 to 1940, New Deal joblessness ranges as high as 16% (1934) but never gets below 9 percent" [emphasis in original]. After World War II, BLS ceased counting those in work-relief programs as unemployed, as noted by economist Gene Smiley in a 1983 Journal of Economic History article.
In his column, Buchanan also repeated the false claim, advanced by many in the media, that Obama's economic stimulus proposal includes tax cuts for people who "do not even pay taxes." Buchanan asserted that under the plan, "Hundreds of billions will go out in checks of $500 to $1,000 to wage-earners and individuals who do not even pay taxes." In fact, Obama has proposed giving the tax credit to "working families," which means they pay Social Security and Medicare taxes under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act. Additionally, The New York Times reported on January 4 that Obama's proposals "include about $300 billion in tax cuts for workers and businesses" [emphasis added].