Bachmann looks to our Northern neighbors

In general, conservative Republicans don’t consider Canada a model worth emulating. Our Northern neighbors are, in their minds, something of North American Europe, complete with socialized medicine, a heavy investment in domestic priorities, minimal right-wing activism in mainstream politics, etc.

But occasionally, just as the right wants to emulate Western Europe when it comes to austerity, conservatives find something to like about Canada, too. Take Republican presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann, who thinks we can learn valuable lessons from Canadians when it comes to responding to an economic downturn. The “lesson in economic recovery,” she said yesterday, is to follow Canada’s example — even without any “stimulus,” it has lower unemployment than the U.S.

While Canada’s unemployment rate is, in fact, lower than ours, Bachmann forgot to check the relevant facts before making stuff up. Canada, it turns out, approved a major stimulus, even under Conservative Party leadership.

[T]he absolute fact of the matter is that Canada undertook a thorough stimulus program under Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party — one that was relatively smaller than the one here, but given the apples and oranges situation of having different economic needs, it was still a very considerable one. […]

As Bloomberg reported in January 2009, this stimulus was CAN$40 billion, equal in then-current exchange rates to US$32.6 billion, over two years (a similar period as Obama’s US$787 billion stimulus). If we make further adjustments, using IMF data for each country from the year 2008 for purchasing-power parity, per-capita GDP, and the much larger population of the United States, this would work out as very roughly equal to a stimulus of over US$360 billion if it were done here.

So, when Bachmann boasts that Canada had “no stimulus” at all, she clearly doesn’t have the foggiest idea what she’s talking about.

Indeed, while Bachmann’s underlying claim is itself a demonstrable lie, the comparison itself is kind of silly. Canada and the United States have very different economies, with very different populations, and radically different financial systems. The effects of the Great Recession hit Americans much harder than it did Canadians, and the hole we’re climbing out of significantly deeper.

And why was Canada largely shielded from the worst of the global crisis? Because it has strict banking regulations that prevented reckless and irresponsible policies.

Indeed, Bachmann may have inadvertently stumbled upon the more salient point. If Canada’s unemployment rate, which nearly two full points lower than ours, establishes a model that the U.S. should emulate, it isn’t to avoid stimulus spending — since Canada actually approved one — it’s to create a regulatory framework that prevents crises in the first place.

Bachmann will, of course, pay no penalty for her ridiculous screw-up, in part because her followers don’t much care about reality, and in part because news coverage of the campaign tends to overlook this sort of ignorance.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.