That what readers of his column calling President Obama a "distributionalist" and Governor Romney an "expansionist" must have concluded. Samuelson tells readers:
"By 'distributionalist,' I mean that Obama sees government as an instrument to promote economic and social justice by redistributing the bounty of a wealthy society. Economic growth is not ignored but tends to be taken for granted or treated as a less important priority. How else, for example, to explain Obama’s decision to push the Affordable Care Act (the ACA or 'Obamacare') — a huge new social program — in the midst of the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression?"
There are a couple of obvious answers to Samuelson's "how else" question. First, President Obama made a stimulus package the first priority of his administration. His big mistake was that he listened to what the mainstream of the economics profession was saying at the time, and therefore believed that this would not be "the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression."
For those unable to remember back to 2009, many Republicans argued that the economy did not need any boost at all. This would include many of the people who Samuelson would no doubt call "expansionist."
The other obvious answer to Samuelson's question is that the key provisions in the ACA do not kick in until 2014, when most projections in 2009 showed the economy to have largely recovered from the downturn. This means that, insofar as the bill has negative impacts on the economy (it's certainly not obvious why it would) the expectation at the time is that these would not be felt until the economy had pretty much recovered from the downturn. It is also worth noting that the ACA includes cost control provisions (Samuelson probably was unable to find a copy of the bill) that would, if effective, limit the extent to which health care costs pose a drain on the economy in the long-term.
Samuelson's main reason for calling Romney an expansionist is that he wants to give more tax breaks to rich people. There is no evidence that this will lead to more rapid economic growth, although it will undoubtedly make rich people richer.
Romney also wants to get rid of regulations that limit the ability of too big to fail banks from getting even more profit from their implicit government subsidies. While this will also put more money in the pockets of the very wealthy, it has no obvious connection to economic growth. In fact, by diverting resources from productive sectors of the economy to the financial sector, Romney's path would likely slow growth.
The evidence would suggest that Romney can best be characterized as a "distributionalist" in Samuelson's terms, although his plan to is to redistribute upward.
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