Barack Obama and The “Curley Effect”

James Michael Curley (1874-1958) was mayor of Boston during four non-succesive 4-year terms from 1914 to 1950. Before his first term as mayor of Boston he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1911 to 1914. Between his 3rd and 4th term as mayor of Boston he was the governor of Massachusetts from 1935 to 1937. Curley’s entrance into politics was in 1904 when he was elected as an alderman of Boston while serving a prison term for a fraud conviction. He went to Federal prison again in 1947 for mail fraud. Harry Truman pardoned Curley in 1950 for both his 1904 and 1947 convictions, leaving a permanent stain on Truman’s legacy. Of course, that was nothing like the pardon party that Bill Clinton threw at the end of his term in 2000.

Curley is remembered today for giving rise to a political phenomenon called the “Curley Effect.”

The Curley Effect is a notorious political phenomenon that rivals the “Brothers Bulger” affair in Massachusetts politics. The latter refers to Billy Bulger’s term as president of the Massachusetts Senate, arguably the most powerful political post in the state, while his brother Whitey Bulger was the leader of the Winter Hill gang of the Irish Mafia in Boston. Whitey was later honored with a 10-year stint on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list.

The short definition of the Curley Effect is that it is a way for elected political leaders to solidify and increase their political power, especially their assurance of being re-elected time after time. It is a political strategy of “increasing the relative size of one’s political base through distortionary, wealth-reducing policies.”

You may be thinking, “How in the hell can that work?” Aren’t politicans more likey to be thrown out of office when their policies screw up the economy, reducing the wealth of their constituencies? No, not always. First of all, the implemetation of policies that strangle economic growth may not be blamed on politicians by people who are woefully ignorant of politics. Obama has suckered much of his voter base into blaming George W. Bush or other Republicans for every untoward economic event in their lives in the last 7 years. Obama voters are notorious for griping about the way things are but never connecting any of it to Obama and his policies.

The most surprising thing is that those who suffer the most from the Curley Effect often become the most dedicated to the very party and politicians that created their suffering. It’s counterintuitive, but making a city poorer can lead to political success for the very ones who masterminded and planned that impoverishment.

For a detailed explanation of the just how the Curly Effect works its magic for crooked politicians, i.e., Democrats, see Obama’s Wealth Destroying Goal: Taking the Curley Effect Nationwide.

Also, The Curley Effect: The Economics of Shaping the Electorate by Edward L. Glaeser and Andrei Shleifer of Harvard University and the National Burea of Economic Research (NBER)

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