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Pi 2011 11 imprimis

  1. 1. A Publication of Hillsdale CollegeImprimis Over 2,100,000 Reader s Monthly November 2011 • Volume 40, Number 11Reaganomics and theAmerican CharacterPhil GrammFormer United States Senator Currently vice chairman of the investment bank division of UBS, Phil Gramm served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas’s sixth congressional district from 1979-1985, and as a U.S. Senator from Texas from 1985-2002. Prior to his career in public service, he taught economics at Texas A&M University from 1967-1978. Sen. Gramm earned both his B.A. and doctorate degrees in economics from the University of Georgia.The following is adapted from a speech delivered at Hillsdale Also Inside >College on October 3, 2011, during a four day conference “REAGAN’Son “Reagan: A Centenary Retrospective,” sponsored by the MORAL COURAGE”College’s Center for Constructive Alternatives. ANDREW ROBERTSWhat was the American economy like in the decadeprior to the Reagan presidency? The 1970s, for a myriad ofreasons, were not a happy time. They featured a combination ofstagnation and inflation, which came to be called “stagflation.” The inflation ratepeaked at just over 13 percent, and prime interest rates rose as high as 21-and-a-halfpercent. Although President Jimmy Carter did not use the exact words, a malaise hadcertainly set in among Americans. Many wondered whether our nation’s time hadpassed. A Time magazine headline read, “Is the Joyride Over?” Did we really need, asJimmy Carter told us, to learn to live on less? Ronald Reagan did not believe America was in decline, but he did believe it had beensuffering under wrongheaded economic policies. In response, he offered his own plan,a program for creating economic freedom that came to be known as Reaganomics. Ofcourse, most of Reaganomics was nothing new. Mostly it was the revival of an olderunderstanding that unlimited government will eventually destroy freedom and thatdecisions regarding the allocation of scarce resources are best left to the private sector.Reagan explained these old ideas well, and in terms people could understand. But there was also a new element to Reaganomics, and looking back, it was a pow-erful element and new to the economic debate. It was the idea that tax rates affect a hill sdale.edu
  2. 2. Hillsdale College: Pursuing Truth • Defending Libert y since 1844 person’s incentive to work, save and defense, his program succeeded. I don’t invest. To put it simply: lower tax rates want to bore you with statistics, but I will create more economic energy, which have to present some to make my case. generates more economic activity, which Most importantly, I hope I will succeed produces a greater flow of revenue to the in demonstrating what a difference good government. This idea—which came to policies make to the average citizen. be known as the Laffer Curve—was met The evidence is, I think, overwhelming: with media and public skepticism. But in the Reagan program, when fully imple- the end, it passed the critical test for any mented in 1983, ushered in a 25-year eco- public policy. It worked. nomic golden age. America experienced To be sure, there were a couple of very rapid economic growth and only major impediments to the economic two minor recessions in those 25 years, success of Reagan’s program. First, the whereas there were four recessions in the Federal Reserve Bank clamped down on previous 12 years, two of them big ones. the money supply in 1981 and 1982, in an What exactly did Reagan do? For start- effort to break the back of inflation, and ers, he cut the top tax rate from 70 percent subsequently the economy slipped into to 28 percent. And yes, high income earn- the steepest recession of the post-World ers benefitted from these cuts. But as I War II period. Second, Soviet commu- used to say in Congress, no one poorer nism was on the march, the U.S. was in than I am ever hired me in my life. And retreat around the world, and President despite lower rates, the rich ended up pay- Reagan was determined to rebuild our ing a greater share: In 1979, the top one national defense as part of a program of percent of income earners in America peace through strength. All of these fac- paid 18.3 percent of the total tax bill. By tors worked strongly 2006, the last year for against Reagan in the −´ which we have reliable Imprimis (im-pri-mis), battle to revive the [Latin]: in the first place numbers, they were American economy. paying 39.1 percent of Editor Nor was it a forgone Douglas A. Jeffrey the total tax bill. The conclusion that his Deputy Editor top ten percent of earn- program would get Timothy W. Caspar ers in 1979 were paying Copy Editors through Congress. We Emily Sarver 48.1 percent of all taxes. shouldn’t forget that it Monica VanDerWeide By 2006, they were pay- Art Director was a tough program. Angela Lashaway ing 72.8 percent. The For example, it elimi- Marketing Director top 40 percent of all nated three Social Fred Hadra earners in 1979 were Production Manager Security benefits in Lucinda Grimm paying 85.1 percent one day: the adult Circulation Manager of all taxes. By 2006, student benefit, the Wanda Oxenger they were paying 98.7 minimum benefit, Staff Assistants Robin Curtis percent. The bottom 40 and the death benefit. Kim Ellsworth percent of earners in Kathy Smith Reagan’s program Mary Jo Von Ewegen 1979 paid 4.1 percent of represented a dra- all taxes. By 2006, they matic change in pub- Copyright © 2011 Hillsdale College were receiving 3.3 per- The opinions expressed in Imprimis are not lic policy. necessarily the views of Hillsdale College. cent in direct payments With his great Permission to reprint in whole or in part is from the U.S. Treasury. hereby granted, provided the following credit skill in communicat- line is used: “Reprinted by permission from In the 12 years prior ing ideas, Reagan got Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College.” to the Reagan program, Subscription free upon request. his program through economic growth ISSN 0277-8432 Congress. And Imprimis trademark registered in U.S. averaged 2.5 percent. despite Fed policies Patent and Trademark Office #1563325. For the following 25 and large expendi- years, it averaged 3.3 tures for national percent. What about2
  3. 3. November 2011 • Volume 40, Number 11 hillsdale.eduper capita income? In the 12 years prior 1982 recession, which was roughly theto the Reagan program, per capita GDP, same size in terms of unemployment, therein real terms, grew by 1.5 percent. For would be 16.3 million more Americansthe 25 years after the Reagan program at work today—in other words, all thosewas implemented, real per capita income who say they are unemployed plus almostgrew by 2.2 percent. By 2006, the average 60 percent of “discouraged workers” whoAmerican was making $7,400 more than have dropped out of the labor force. Ifhe would have made if growth rates had real per capita income had grown in thisremained at the same level as they were recovery at the same rate it grew during theduring the 12 years prior to the Reagan Reagan recovery, real per capita incomeprogram. A family of four was making would be $5,139 higher today. Both the$29,602 more. During the 12 years prior to Reagan program and the Obama programReagan, America created 1.3 million jobs instituted dramatic changes. One programper year. That number is pretty impressive worked. The other is failing.compared to today’s stagnant economy. In the end, government policy mat-But during the Reagan years, America ters. The truth is, Americans are prettyadded two million jobs per year. That ordinary people. What is unique aboutmeans as of 2007 there were 17.5 million America is an understanding of freedommore Americans at work than would have and limited government that lets ordinarybeen working had the growth rates of the people achieve extraordinary things. Wepre-Reagan era continued. have been getting away from that view Inflation, which had been 7.6 per- recently, but if we can get back to thatcent for the previous 12 years, fell to 3.1 understanding, which was Reagan’s, ourpercent. Interest rates plummeted. The nation will be fine.average homeowner in America had a Let me conclude by saying that the argu-monthly mortgage payment of $1,000 less ment I am making is not just about moneyas a result of the success of the Reagan or GDP. It’s an argument about character.program. Poverty, which had grown If you want to see the effect of bad govern-throughout the 1970s despite massive ment policy on character, simply turn onincreases in anti-poverty programs, plum- the news and see how Greek civil servantsmeted despite cuts to these programs. The have been behaving recently. They arepoverty level fell from 15 percent to 11.3 victimizers behaving like victims. Greekpercent. These results are tangible evi- government policies have made them whatdence that government policy matters. they are. But what made Americans who This is not to say that no mistakes we are is a historically unprecedented levelwere made. In order to secure lower tax of freedom and responsibility. The realrates, it became good politics to raise danger today is not merely a loss of pros-the number and amount of income tax perity, but a loss of the kind of characterdeductions, thereby removing about 50 on which prosperity is based.percent of Americans from the tax rolls. I occasionally hire a man to do bull-In my opinion, that was a mistake, and I dozer work on my ranch. He doesn’t knowthink we are suffering for it today. I believe a lot about foreign policy, but he knows aeveryone should pay some income taxes. lot about the economics of the bulldozingNevertheless, the net result of the Reagan business. In his freedom to pursue thatprogram was good for all Americans. business and to be the best he can be at it, So how does the Reagan recovery com- he’s the equal of any man. He’s proud, he’spare to the recovery going on today? In independent, and he knows his trade assum, this is the most disappointing recov- well as anybody else in America knowsery of the post-World War II period by a theirs. That’s what America is about. Forlarge margin. I don’t think people under- me, today’s battle, as it was in 1980, is notstand what an outlier this recovery period just about prosperity or goods and services.is. If the economy had recovered from this It’s about freedom, and it’s about the kindrecession at the rate it recovered from the of character that only freedom creates. ■ 3
  4. 4. Hillsdale College: Pursuing Truth • Defending Libert y since 1844 Reagan’s Moral Courage Andrew Roberts Historian Andrew Roberts received his Ph.D. at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where he is also an honorary senior scholar. He has written or edited 12 books, including A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, Masters and Commanders: How Four Titans Won the War in the West, 1941-1945, and The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War. The following are excerpts from a speech delivered at Hillsdale College on October 7, 2011, at the dedication of a statue of Ronald Reagan by Hillsdale College Associate Professor of Art Anthony Frudakis. The defining feature of Ronald Reagan was his moral courage. It takes tremendous moral courage to resist the overwhelming tide of received opinion and so-called expert wisdom and to say and do exactly the opposite. It could not have been pleasant for Reagan to be denounced as an ignorant cowboy, an extremist, a warmonger, a fascist, or worse by people who thought themselves intellectually superior to him. Yet Reagan responded to those brickbats with the cheery resolve that characterized not only the man, but his entire career. What is more, he proceeded during his two terms as president to prove his critics completely wrong . . . . During Reagan’s presidency, America spying on their parents, the Berlin Wall, enjoyed its longest period of sustained a gagged media, a shackled populace, a economic growth in the 20th century. privileged nomenklatura, prisons pos- Meanwhile, in the realm of foreign policy, ing as psychiatric hospitals, puppet trade the Reagan Doctrine led to the defeat of unions, a subservient academy, and above the worst totalitarian scourge to blight all, what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn dubbed the globe since the defeat of the Nazis in a “gulag archipelago” of concentration World War II. By the time he left office, camps. In sum, the entire apparatus that the faith of Americans in the greatness of Reagan characterized so truthfully in a their country had been restored. In ret- March 1983 speech as an “evil empire.” Yet rospect, Reagan’s was a great American he was immediately accused—not just in success story. Born in rented rooms above Russia, but also here in the West—of being a bank in Tampico, Illinois, he ended mad, bad, and dangerous. He was written his days as the single most important off as stupid, provocative, and oafish by American conservative figure of the last huge swaths of the Western commentariat. century. Not bad for an ignorant cowboy. Today, thanks to his published correspon- From his own reading and observa- dence, we know that he was anything but. tion of life, Reagan understood that the Indeed, he was very widely read and a doctrines of Marxism and Leninism were thoughtful man, but it suited his purposes fundamentally opposed to the deepest and to be underestimated by his opponents. best impulses of human nature. Enforcing The cultural condescension of those such doctrines would require vicious experts and intellectuals who denounced oppression, including propaganda, secret his evil empire speech as unacceptably police such as the KGB, a debased and cor- simplistic—even simple-minded—might rupt judicial system, huge standing armies have been despicable, but it worked to stationed across Eastern Europe, children Reagan’s advantage. Although history4
  5. 5. November 2011 • Volume 40, Number 11 hillsdale.eduwas to prove him right in every particularabout the true nature of the U.S.S.R., none An audio version of Imprimisof his critics have ever admitted as much, is available online atat least publicly, let alone apologized. hillsdale.edu/imprimis What helped to make Reagan great wasthat he couldn’t care less what his criticsthought of him. He knew the image of the United States “shall pay any price, bearswaggering cowboy was very far removed any burden, meet any hardship, supportfrom reality, but if his opponents chose to any friend, and oppose any foe, in orderbe mesmerized by it, all the better for him. to assure the survival and success of lib-It was he, not they, who in 1987 would erty.” Believing in American exceptional-stand at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin ism, Reagan deployed an extensive politi-and demand: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down cal, economic, military, and psychologicalthis wall!” The Left’s strategy of détente arsenal to confront the Soviet Union. Andhad been tried for 40 years, and it had he did so mostly through proxies: Exceptled to ever wider Communist incursions, for the Caribbean island of Grenada,especially during the 1970s, into territories where American citizens were in danger,across Africa, Asia, and Latin America. he did not commit American troops toThe Reagan Doctrine, by contrast, marked the battle . . . .a turn away from the doctrine of contain-ment, adhered to by every president since ***Harry Truman. Reagan bravely declared In the 1980s, Americans felt confi-that communism’s global march would dent enough in their country’s future tonot merely be checked but reversed. spend, produce, and consume in a way For decades the Politburo in the they hadn’t under Jimmy Carter and don’tKremlin had been testing the West’s today. Reagan genuinely believed, as thedefenses, looking for weakness. Where it 1984 campaign slogan put it, that it wasencountered strength and willpower, as “Morning in America.” His confidenceduring the Berlin airlift and the Cuban in the country and its abilities spread tomissile crisis, it pulled back. Where, as the American people and to the markets.was all too often the case, it instead found After all, strong, confident leadershipvacillation and appeasement, it thrust is infectious. There can be a virtuousforward until whole countries fell under cycle in economics, just as there can be aits control. Under the Reagan Doctrine, vicious one. Reagan’s Economic Recoverynon-Communist governments would be Act and his Tax Reform Act were the twinsupported actively, and Communist gov- pillars of America’s renaissance in theernments, wherever they were not firmly 1980s. He reduced the highest marginalestablished, would be undermined and if tax rate to 28 percent and simplified thepossible overthrown. Reagan did not act tax code. He deregulated industry, tight-in the name of American imperialism, ened the money supply, and reduced theas his opponents predictably alleged, but growth of public expenditure. By 1983,rather in the name of human dignity. As America had completely recovered eco-he fought the Communists, he received nomically, and by 1988, inflation, whichgradually more and more support from the had been at 12.5 percent under Carter,American people. He supported anti-Com- was down to 4.4 percent. Furthermore,munist movements in Poland, El Salvador, unemployment came down to 5.5 percentand Guatemala, as well as open insurgen- as 18 million new jobs were created.cies in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Ethiopia, In one area, however, Reagan knewLaos, and Nicaragua. The Kremlin soon that he had to increase public spend-recognized that in Reagan it had a pow- ing dramatically, if the global threats toerful and committed ideological foe on America were to be neutered. The overlyits hands, one who took seriously JFK’s cautious, nerve-wracked, and humili-words in his Inaugural Address, that the ated America of 1979 and 1980—when 52 5
  6. 6. Hillsdale College: Pursuing Truth • Defending Libert y since 1844 Standing next to the statue of Ronald Reagan following its dedication are Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn, alumni Bill and Jan Brodbeck, who provided the statue to the College, and sculptor and Associate Professor of Art Anthony Frudakis. This statue joins previous statues of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Margaret Thatcher on the campus’s Liberty Walk. American diplomats were taken hostage its infancy, judicious leaking of suitably in Tehran for 444 days and were paraded, exaggerated test results further rattled hooded and blindfolded, in the streets— the Soviet leadership. As Vladimir Lukin, was about to give way to a virile and self- the Soviet foreign policy expert and later confident America. It was no accident ambassador to the U.S., admitted to the that, on the very day of Reagan’s inaugu- Carnegie Endowment for International ration, the Iranian regime released the Peace in 1992: “It is clear that SDI accel- hostages rather than face the fury of the erated our catastrophe by at least five incoming President. It was the last smart years.” Besides SDI, Reagan pursued rapid thing that regime ever did. deployment forces, the neutron bomb, the When Reagan entered office, defense MX Peacekeeper missile, Trident nuclear spending had fallen to less than five per- submarines, radar-evading stealth bomb- cent of GDP from over 13 percent in the ers, and new ways of looking at battlefield 1950s. His belief that the Soviet system strategies and tactics . . . . In response to would eventually crack under steady the deployment of these weapons, the Left Western pressure encouraged him to issued strident denunciations and orga- increase defense spending from $119 bil- nized massive anti-American demonstra- lion under Carter to $273 billion in 1986, tions all across Europe. These were faced a level that the U.S.S.R. simply could not down with characteristic moral courage begin to match. The Left criticized what by Ronald Reagan, ably supported by they believed to be wasteful spending, but Margaret Thatcher. “Reagan’s great vir- this expenditure led to a massive savings tue,” said his former Secretary of State once the U.S.S.R. no longer posed the George Shultz, “was that he did not accept global existential threat it once had. that extensive political opposition doomed America had achieved a huge tech- an attractive idea. He would fight reso- nological advantage by the 1980s, which lutely for an idea, believing that if it was allowed Reagan to embark on the contro- valid, he could persuade the American versial Strategic Defense Initiative, nick- people to support it.” named “Star Wars” by its opponents. The . . . In the words of Margaret system was based on the idea that incom- Thatcher, Reagan helped the world break ing ballistic missiles could be destroyed free of a monstrous creed. He understood over the Atlantic or even earlier. Though that, in addition to being morally bank- the technology was still very much in rupt—as it had been since the Bolshevik6
  7. 7. November 2011 • Volume 40, Number 11 hillsdale.eduRevolution—the Soviet system was also at least the Soviet Union was predictable,financially bankrupt. Numerous so-called and it was fearful of the consequences offive-year plans had not delivered, because mutually assured destruction. By contrast,human beings simply will not work hard President Ahmadinejad of Iran is build-for an all-powerful state that will not pay ing a nuclear bomb while publicly callingthem fairly for their labor. By contrast, for Israel to be wiped off the map. WeReagan believed that low taxes, a minimal know from the experience of 9/11 that Alstate, a reduction in bureaucratic regula- Qaeda and its affiliates would not hesitatetion, and a commitment to free market to explode a nuclear device in Americaeconomics would lead to a dramatic if they got the chance. As the IRA pro-expansion of the American economy. This nounced when it narrowly missed mur-would enable America to pay for a defense dering Margaret Thatcher in 1984: “Youbuild-up so large that the Soviets would have to be lucky every time, we only havehave to declare a surrender in the Cold to be lucky once.” Yet, when looking at theWar. That surrender began on September dangers facing civilization today, there12, 1989, when a non-Communist govern- is this one vital difference from 30 yearsment took office in Poland. Within two ago: I can see no leaders of the stamp ofmonths, on the night of November 9, the Ronald Reagan or Margaret Thatcherpeople of East and West Berlin tore down presently on hand to infuse us with thatthe wall that had separated them for over iron purpose and that sense of optimisma quarter of a century. This was the great- that we had in the 1980s. Indeed, someest of Reagan’s many fine legacies. of our present-day leaders only seem to The extension of freedom to Eastern make matters worse. This is why it is allEurope was not merely a political or the more important to erect splendidmilitary or economic phenomenon for statues like this one. “The longer you canReagan; it was a spiritual one, too. Reagan look back,” said Winston Churchill, “thebelieved that America had lost its sense further you can look forward.”of providential mission, and he meant to The point of raising a statue to Ronaldre-establish it. Beneath his folksy charm Reagan is not just to honor him, althoughand anecdotes was a steely will and a it rightly does do that. A statue inspiresdetermination to re-establish the moral and encourages the rest of us to try andsuperiority of democracy over totalitari- emulate his deeds, to live up to his ide-anism, of the individual over the state, als, to finish his work, and to “graspof freedom of speech over censorship, of and hold” his vision. Reagan wrote infaith over government-mandated athe- his farewell message to the Americanism, and of free enterprise over the com- people in November 1994 announcingmand economy. As the leader of the free his retirement from public life: “Whenworld, he saw it as his responsibility to the Lord calls me home, I will leave withdefend, extend, and above all proselytize the greatest love for this country of oursfor democracy and human dignity. and eternal optimism for its future. I Reagan understood leadership in a now begin the journey that will lead meway that I fear is sadly lacking in the West into the sunset of my life. I know that fortoday. “To grasp and hold a vision,” he America, there will always be a brightsaid in 1994, “that is the very essence of dawn ahead.” Though characteristicallysuccessful leadership. Not only on the upbeat, it will only remain true so long asmovie set where I America continueslearned it, but every- to produce lead-where.” Indeed, in ers with the moralsome ways the world courage and theis an even more peril- leadership abilities of Did you know?ous place than it was Imprimis readers can sign up for a free Ronald Reagan, onein Reagan’s day. For five-segment online “Introduction to the of America’s greatest Constitution” course taught by Hillsdaleall its undoubted evil, College President Larry Arnn on the presidents. ■ Hillsdale homepage at hillsdale.edu. 7