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John Lott: Still Wrong After All These Years

By Jesse Taylor
Thursday, June 19, 2008 5:44 EDT

Via Plunderbund, John Lott (or as he’s known in superhero circle, the Drastically Unethical John Lott) is back to prove that all of our problems surrounding out of control gubmint spending stem back to…women.

Academics have for some time pondered why the government started growing precisely when it did. The federal government, aside from periods of wartime, consumed about 2 to 3 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) up until World War I. That was the first war in which government spending didn’t go all the way back down to its pre-war levels. Then in the 1920s, non-military federal spending began steadily climbing.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal — often viewed as the genesis of big government — really just continued an earlier trend. What changed before Roosevelt came to power that explains the growth of government? The answer is women’s suffrage.

A friend of mine was a professor at a university, and was on a panel interviewing candidates for a teaching opening. One of the candidates came in and presented meticulously assembled information on how the economic fortunes of a certain area of the world were inextricably tied to the charisma of the leaders, citing polling, news stories, reams of information. What he failed to notice, however, was that in lieu of the rough correlation between “charisma” and economic fortunes, there was an exact correlation between the price of oil (which was the basis of each country’s economy) and the economic fortunes of said countries.

This is like that, except without the intellectual rigor.

For decades, polls have shown that women as a group vote differently than men. Without the women’s vote, Republicans would have swept every presidential race but one between 1968 and 2004.

Meaning (once you get past that startling statistic) that instead of being in power for seven of the past ten terms, Republicans would have been in power for…nine. (The one left out is Clinton’s 1992 victory, in which he narrowly carried men.)

Lott goes on to argue what boils down to this: single women and women in bad marriages look for daddy government; women in safe, secure marriages are more comfortable voting for real presidents rather than socialist ratfucks. But what’s odd about the argument is that he’s arguing a series of inferences that never actually lead to a point. Women are, on average, more likely to support certain policies that require government spending. But for the past forty years, the convergence of the non-male preferred candidate and increased government spending as a result of GDP has happened exactly once, in 1976 with Carter’s only term.

So, either the one president that’s the convergence of Lott’s thesis (women’s interference saving us from lower government spending as a proportion of GDP) set government spending on such a rising spiral that the subsequent presidents were powerless to stop it…or the thesis is total crap.

You guess which one it is.

Lott then moves on to state government:

Per capita state government spending after accounting for inflation had been flat or falling during the 10 years before women began voting. But state governments started expanding the first year after women voted and continued growing until within 11 years real per capita spending had more than doubled. The increase in government spending and revenue started immediately after women started voting.

Yet, as suggestive as these facts are, we must still consider whether suffrage itself caused the growth in government, or did the government expand due to some political or social change that accompanied women’s right to vote?

Like, I don’t know, states now having to actually be responsive to double the number of voting citizens? The Progressive Era? The Great Depression’s effect on government spending?

Fortunately, there was a unique aspect of suffrage that allows us to answer this question: Of the 19 states that had not passed women’s suffrage before the approval of the 19th Amendment, nine approved the amendment, while the other 12 had suffrage imposed on them.

If some unknown factor caused both a desire for larger government and women’s suffrage, then government should have only grown in states that voluntarily adopted suffrage. This, however, is not the case: After approving women’s suffrage, a similar growth in government was seen in both groups of states.

Let’s ignore the fact that 21 states apparently make 19 for the time being. Lott is arguing that there’s a static position of small government that was somehow thrown off (how come white dudes are never tossed out?). He then notices a correlation between suffrage and increased government spending, assuming that the only reason the bad thing – and yes, the point of this is that women can’t handle the franchise responsibly – happened was because of the presence of women in the voting booths.

Now, I’m trying to think of reasons that government spending grew between 1920 and 2008. It certainly couldn’t be a rapidly industrializing society. Nor could it be the advent of the car forcing drastic and costly changes in the way our living spaces are constructed and maintained. It couldn’t be urban growth and suburban sprawl, any number of federal mandates also requiring state compliance, or our post-war population boom. Certainly not any actions during the Cold War or the War on Terror, either, because wars are free.

One of the basic lessons people who aren’t John Lott learn early on is that correlation doesn’t equal causation. There’s absolutely no reason to say that women’s suffrage is the only reason that government spending increased (or that if it did, it was due to some specific apparent defect or pathology in women, rather than the doubling of a country’s voting rolls), particularly in as sloppy and meandering a fashion as this.

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