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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS







ALSO BY HERBERT STEIN
Economic Planning and the Improvement of Economic Policy
The Fiscal Revolution in America
On the Brink (with Benjamin Stein)
Moneypower: How to Make Inflation Make You Rich (with
Benjamin Stein)
Government Price Policy in the United States During the World
War
The Economic System in an Age of Discontinuity (with Wassily
Leontief)
Agenda for the Study of Macroeconomics
Washington Bedtime Stories: The Politics of Money and Jobs




P r e sid e n t ia l
THE MAKING OF ECONOMIC POLICY FROM

Second Revised Edition




E conomics
ROOSEVELT TO REAGAN AND BEYOND




Herbert Stein
American Enterprise Institute
for Public Policy Research
Washington, D .C .

Distributed by arrangement with
National Book Network, Inc.

4720 Boston Way
Lanham, Md. 20706
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

1916

Stein, Herbert,
—
Presidential economics : the making of economic policy from
Roosevelt to Reagan and beyond / Herbert Stein. — nd rev. ed.
p.
cm. — (AEI studies :
)
Bibliography: p.
Includes index.
ISBN (p b k .: alk. paper)
. United States— Economic policy. . United States— Politics and
government—
. . United States— Politics and government
—
. Presidents— United States— History— th century. I.
Title. II. Series.
HC
.S
.
— dc

2

473

1

0 8447 3656-2

1945

1933 1945 3
4

2

20

106 79 1988
338 973
19
88-3498

ISB N 0-8447-3656-2
A EI Studies 473
© 1988 by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research,
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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

This book is largely the result of fifty years in Washington observ­
ing, commenting on, and for a time, participating in the making of
national economic policy. Much of my debt is to the people who
made this experience possible. First among these is President Rich­
ard M. Nixon, who gave me an opportunity as member and chair­
man of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers to see policy
making from the inside. By appointing me a member of his Eco­
nomic Policy Advisory Board, President Ronald Reagan permitted
some insights, if not so intimate, into his administration. For earlier
periods I am indebted to the founders of the Committee for Eco­
nomic Development— Paul Hoffman, Ralph Flanders, and others—
who provided me a vantage point for twenty-two years of analysis of
a wide variety of economic policy issues. In the past ten years I have
benefited from the support of the American Enterprise Institute for
Public Policy Research under four presidents, William Baroody,
Sr., William Baroody, Jr., Paul W. McCracken, and Christopher
DeMuth. The Afterword of the present volume consists of two
essays first published in the AE1 Economist.
I have received valuable secretarial and research assistance from
Ilona Boina, Gretchen Chellson, Cathy Cromer, Glenn Follette,
Richard Goldstone, Catherine Hill, Patricia Lewis, Marshall Tracht,
Alan Viarda and Linda Wilson.
My son Benjamin has advised me about this book and about
books in general. My daughter, Rachel Epstein, has been a steady
source of good judgment. My deepest thanks go to my wife,
Mildred, who read several drafts conscientiously, gave me wise
counsel, and encouraged me to think it was worthwhile to add one
more book to a world already full of books.







For my wife, Mildred




Board of Trustees
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F K. W eyerhaeuser Scholar

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Visiting Fellow
*On leave for governm ent service.




CONTENTS
1
2
3
4
5

Introduction: A Turn to the Right

15

Hoover and Roosevelt: The Depression Origins of
Liberal Economics

27

Truman and Eisenhower: Postwar Consolidation

65

89
Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas
133
6 Ford and Carter: The Uncertain Transition
209
7 The Reagan Campaign: The Economics of Joy 235
8 The Reagan Presidency: Encounter with Reality
263
9 Toward a New Consensus 307
Afterword
377
Appendix
413
Notes
424
Index
434
Kennedy and Johnson: Activism Exhausted







1

Introduction:
A Turn to the Right

in 1980 signified the end of
an era in economic policy that had begun almost fifty years ear­
lier. The old order, the Rooseveltian order, did not die in its
prime. It had, in fact, been losing ground for almost fifteen
years— almost from the moment of its greatest glory. But the
coming of Ronald Reagan meant a decisive and total change—
or so it seemed.
The new order which had been emerging and now leaped to
the center of the stage was “conservative.” We shall discuss later
just what that means. Other terms were applied— “monetarist,”
“supply-side,” “free market.” But “conservative” is most usable
just because it is least specific and therefore most easily includes
the elements of thinking and policy which were coming to the
fore.
The ideas that came together in conservative economics were
negative. They were a call for less— less government spending,
less taxation, less deficit, less monetary expansion, less govern­
ment regulation.
Popular support for the conservative economic movement was

T

h e e l e c t io n o f




R

onald

R

eagan

15

i6

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

negative in its origins. It was a response to the observation that
things were not going well. People felt cheated by inflation. They
hadn’t attained the living standards they thought their incomes
entitled them to, and they blamed the inflation for that. They
were worried about what inflation would do to them next. The
economy seemed always to be on the verge of recession, when it
wasn’t in one. Even in good times unemployment was higher
than we were used to.
The most effective point candidate Reagan made about the
economy during the 1980 campaign was what he said to the
American people: “I think that when you make that decision
[about voting] it might be well if you ask yourself, are you bet­
ter off today than you were four years ago?”1 This was taken to
be a rhetorical question, to which the answer was obviously no—
although statistics would have made the answer arguable.2 Also
this answer was assumed to have obvious policy and political
implications. It meant that the policy of the past four years—
and possibly the past forty years— had been mistaken if it had
led to these conditions. And it meant that the corrective change
called for was the change in the negative direction. This also was
arguable. Indeed, only a few years earlier, in 1974, 1975 and
1976, there had been interest in changes in the other direction—
toward more “planning.” The inflation, recession and shortages
of those years were claimed by some to show the failures of the
free market system. But this was exclusively an “intellectual”
position, with little public support and attractive only to a few
politicians.
So dissatisfaction with the performance of the economy led to
a turn of economic policy in a conservative, negative direction.
A t the same time dissatisfaction with other aspects of the Ameri­
can condition was rising, and this pointed to a conservative turn
in other, noneconomic, aspects of policy. There was dissatisfac­
tion with what seemed to be America’s weakness in the world,
signified by the growing military power of the Soviet Union, by
the futility of the American response to the invasion of Afghan­
istan, and most of all by the humiliation of the year-long holding
of American hostages in Iran. The resulting rise of nationalism,




Introduction: A Turn to the Right

17

support for a large military buildup and demand for a more
assertive posture in world affairs were the acceptance of a posi­
tion that had, in the previous decade but not always, been a con­
servative position.
A third strand of conservatism which was raised to prom­
inence, if not dominance, by the Reagan victory related to social
or private life in America. There had been rising dissatisfaction
with what were commonly regarded as liberal ways of living.
Many Americans were revolted by what seemed to be a wave of
sexual freedom, homosexuality, pornography, abortion, divorce,
drug use, indifference to religion and general slovenliness and
indolence. They wanted a restoration of conventional values and
sought leadership, including government leadership, to bring it
about.
To these three strands of conservatism— economic, national­
ist, social— must be added a fourth. This was a traditionalist
strand, mainly represented by a group of intellectual philoso­
phers, sociologists, historians— who had been writing conserva­
tive doctrine since the end of World War II and who had been
joined, or been taken over by, a more recent group who called
themselves neo-conservatives. Their ideas were elitist and tradi­
tionalist, importations from Europe to a country which had no
elites and little tradition. They tried to create an elite, from the
American entrepreneur, and to base themselves on the JudeoChristian tradition— a broad enough base for any purpose. They
were conservative in the sense that they resisted change, but they
did not like things as they were. This conservatism was less a
program than an attitude, but those who shared the attitude felt
they also had a victory in the victory of Ronald Reagan.
There were undoubtedly some people who thought themselves
to be conservative in all of these four senses. But in many re­
spects conservative economics with which this book is concerned
was not comfortable in the company of these other conserva­
tisms. And conservative economics is itself a tent covering
diverse ideas. The conservatism of economists is basically de­
rived from the British liberal tradition, and is basically still what
Europeans would call liberal. In fact, many of the economists




18

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

who are considered the apostles of conservative economics have
been careful to disassociate themselves from the label “conserva­
tive.” Friedrich Hayek, for example, wrote a famous essay enti­
tled “Why I Am Not a Conservative.”3 Henry Simons worried
about what to call himself, rejected the term “conservative” and
settled, not entirely happily, for “libertarian.”4 The unifying
theme was that society should be organized by free contract
among consenting private individuals. The outlook which re­
jected tradition or authority in managing economic affairs did
not readily accommodate them in managing social affairs. These
economic conservatives, by and large, did not accept any elite,
including the businessmen, and did not rely on their goodness or
responsibility, but were suspicious of them. They did not, in
principle, deny the responsibility of government for the national
defense, but they accepted the implications of that as an unfortu­
nate exception to their desire to minimize the role of govern­
ment. A t the extreme the Libertarian Party took a very narrow
view of the role of government even in national security affairs.
But not all of the attitudes that are considered economic con­
servatism conform to these views of economists. There is the
economic conservatism of the leaders of big business, which has
been more tolerant of government intervention when that suited
the perceived interest of business, which, of course, they identi­
fied with the national interest. A t various times this conservatism
has been, for example, protectionist, or supportive of govern­
ment efforts to restrain wages. There is also a small-town, smallbusiness, agrarian economic conservatism, which not only identi­
fies its special interests with the general welfare but also retains
respect for traditional symbols, like the balanced budget.5
Thus the term “conservative” has a variety of meanings in eco­
nomics, and different meanings in economics than it has in other
uses. Moreover, it is clear that a government which comes into
office representing all of these versions of conservatism is going
to be troubled by contradictions among them, as well as between
any and all of them and the “real world.”
A ll of that and many other problems were overlooked in the
general joy which was felt, and not only by people who consid-




Introduction: A Turn to the Right

19

ered themselves conservatives, when Reagan was elected. The
election of a new President is always an occasion for hope. It is
like the first day of school when we have sharp pencils and new
notebooks and teachers who do not yet know our deficiencies.
Everything seems possible. This feeling of confidence is, of
course, especially strong in the new President and his staff. They
think that the world is different because they are in office and
that problems that seemed difficult under the old regime will
yield easily to their presence and their wisdom.
This new birth of confidence was especially great with the
transition from Carter to Reagan because of the difference in
personality between the two men. By 1980, Carter was exuding
uncertainty, ineptitude and diffidence. We had come to think
that Carter was the national problem, or at least that he was the
bearer of our problems and would carry them off into the wilder­
ness with him when he left. Reagan, on the other hand, repre­
sented clarity and self-confidence.
Alas, Ronald Reagan did not turn out to be our fairy god­
mother; the little package of conservative economic ideas with
which he came into office did not solve our problems, as quickly
became evident. That did not mean that the era of conservative
economics ended a year or two after Reagan’s election. It meant
that the era had hardly begun. The package was only an ap­
proach, a point of view, and mainly, as already noted, a negative
attitude to policies associated with earlier economic frustrations.
The package was not a set of policies, programs and procedures
for solving the nation’s problems. The election of Reagan was
not a mandate to put into effect a specific program. It was a
mandate to develop a program, which would have certain gen­
eral characteristics but whose chief characteristic would be to
permit an affirmative answer to the question that had elected
him— are you better off today than you were four years ago?
Reagan likes to compare himself to Franklin Roosevelt, and
in some ways his position in 1980 was like that of FDR in 1932.
Roosevelt was elected with one mandate— to get the country out
of the depression. He was not elected because the country wanted
him to pursue some particular program. His policy pronounce­




20

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

ments during the campaign had been vague and contradictory.
He came into office still in the early stages of developing a pro­
gram. Much of what he did in the famous first hundred days, or
in the first two years, was constructive and lasting, but much of
it worsened the depression and some of it was declared uncon­
stitutional. The test of the Roosevelt presidency was not the pro­
gram of his 1932 campaign or the program of his first hundred
days but his ability to develop and adapt actions to the existing
and emerging conditions. Whether he should be given high
marks on that score is still an open question.
Just so, the test of the Reagan presidency, which will also for
some time be the test of conservative economics, will not be the
validity of the program with which he came into office. One may
take it as an axiom that the programs with which a President
comes into office will be impractical, unrealistic and inadequate.
The test for Reagan will be whether he succeeds in developing,
within the framework of a general conservative philosophy, a
program which makes significant progress against the nation’s
problems.
The economic package with which Ronald Reagan entered
office was like the packages with which all Presidents enter office
in one critical respect. That is, it promised benefits to everyone
and costs to no one— or to almost no one. It would elevate
growth, stability and freedom in the scale of national priorities—
and demote government redistribution of income and govern­
ment control over the allocation of output. But deemphasizing
government’s efforts to redistribute income would not injure the
poor who were the presumed beneficiaries of those efforts. The
stimulus to economic growth which would result from the eco­
nomic package would help the poor, along with everyone else,
and more than compensate them for the loss of government pro­
grams. In a phrase which the Reaganites loved to borrow from
J. F. Kennedy, the rising tide would lift all the boats. Removing
or relaxing government regulations ostensibly aimed at environ­
mental purity and occupational safety would not make the air or
water dirtier or the workplace more hazardous. These regula-




Introduction: A Turn to the Right

21

tions were unnecessary anyway and only satisfied the ambitions
of meddlesome bureaucrats.
The main engine of the Reagan economic program was to be
a large cut of income tax rates. This would not, however, reduce
the revenue or increase the budget deficit. Instead, the tax cut
would stimulate the growth of output and productivity so much
that the revenue would increase and the budget deficit would be
eliminated. There was to be a large reduction of government
nondefense expenditures, but no one was to suffer from that ex­
cept the bureaucrats who administered the programs, because
they were assumed to be the main beneficiaries.
The growth of the money supply was to be reduced and sta­
bilized in order to restore reasonable price stability. But contrary
to “Keynesian” notions, which were explicitly rejected, the tran­
sition to price stability would not entail a recession and increased
unemployment; the Reagan program would so reduce costs and
improve expectations as to make those pains unnecessary.
Of course, the world did not turn out to be so kind. The big
tax cut was enacted, but it soon became obvious that it would
greatly reduce, not increase, the revenues. The country was left
facing enormous budget deficits which threatened the economic
growth that was one of the program’s main objectives. The infla­
tion did come down, but not without the most serious recession
since the 1930s. The amount by which government expenditures
could be cut without pain to important elements of the Ameri­
can population— including essential parts of Mr. Reagan’s con­
stituency— was disappointingly small. The search for regula­
tions that could be removed without controversy and cost turned
out to be less successful than had been expected.
By 1983 the economy was recovering from the recession. Out­
put was rising, unemployment was falling, and the inflation rate
was low compared to the experience of previous years. There
was a tendency to declare victory for the New Economics of
Ronald Reagan. But we had been through such idyllic moments
before. The American economy fluctuates, and in its cyclical
movement it passes through a period, early in the recovery, when




22

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

inflation is low and output is growing.* That does not mean that
basic problems had been solved. What monetary policy would be
most likely to keep the economy on a path of real growth with­
out reviving inflation was highly uncertain. The consequences of
the prospective deficits were commonly considered to be ex­
tremely serious, but no one expected them to be significantly
reduced. The disagreement in the country about national pri­
orities— about the division of the national output among defense,
social programs, private consumption and investment— was
sharper than ever before.
Despite the inadequacy of the ideas with which Mr. Reagan
came into office— an inadequacy which was clear to many when
he was elected and to many more within two years— they con­
tained basic elements of validity. We did need to put more em­
phasis on economic growth and price stability. We did need to
reduce those taxes that bore most heavily on growth and those
expenditures and regulations that were least productive. The
private economy needed more breathing room, and more assur­
ance of stability in government policy.
These attitudes need to be converted into a program utilizing
feasible and effective measures and balancing competing goals.
That is an intellectually and politically difficult task. It is intel­
lectually difficult because the experience of the past two years
and of the past twenty years shows how little we know about
what makes the economy tick. It is politically difficult because
the program will involve sacrifice— for some people and perhaps
temporarily for many people. This must be explained and people
must be persuaded to accept such sacrifices in the interest of a
larger and more lasting national objective. The future of con­
servative economics will depend on the ability of its champions
to contribute to the performance of these tasks.
This book seeks to explain the current state of economic pol­
icy. The initial approach is historical. Today’s direction of eco­
nomics is a conservative response to a tendency of policy which
began about fifty years ago. It is best understood if we first un­
derstand what that tendency was. Moreover, the political and




Introduction: A Turn to the Right

23

intellectual requirements for a change of policy are clarified by
an exposition of the processes by which the previous tendency
developed.
This previous tendency, which we call liberalism, did not pro­
ceed at a constant rate from the inauguration of Franklin Roose­
velt to the inauguration of Ronald Reagan. For our purposes,
four periods need to be distinguished in those forty-eight years.
There was a period of great activism in the Roosevelt years up
to the beginning of World War II. After the war, in the adminis­
trations of Truman and, especially, Eisenhower, we went through
a phase in which the experimental ideas of the Roosevelt period
were moderated and accepted. Another period of activism came
with the administrations of Kennedy and Johnson. This gave way
to twelve years— the Nixon, Ford, Carter years— of conflict and
ambiguity.
Having brought the story up to the election of Ronald Rea­
gan, who promised a new and more radical brand of economic
conservatism, eschewing such adjectives as “moderate” or “mod­
ernism,” we describe the intellectual foundations of his policy
and appraise its performance in operation in the first years of
his presidency. The book will close with a discussion of the main
economic issues now confronting the country and with sugges­
tions for the direction that policy should take.
This book is a story of Presidents coping with economic prob­
lems. There is implicit in the book a certain view of the nature
of the American economy, of what its main problems are and
are not, and of what are the most constructive ways to deal with
these problems. This view will probably be apparent to readers
as they proceed through the book, but it may be helpful to sum­
marize it here:
The great traumas of American economic history in the past
half century or so have been associated with unemployment and
inflation. They were the depression of the 1930s and lesser re­
cessions, including the one through which we have been passing,
and the inflation that began in the mid-1960s. These problems
have been mainly caused by instability in the total demand for
output or by excessive growth in the demand for output. Be­




24

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

tween 1929 and 1933, total demand, as measured by GNP in
current dollars, fell by almost 50 percent. There would have
been no Great Depression if that had not happened. Between the
second quarter of 1981 and the fourth quarter of 1982, total
demand rose at an annual rate of about 2.5 percent, after eight
years in which it had averaged 10 percent annual increases.
There would have been no serious recession if that slowdown
had not occurred. Between 1965 and 1980, total demand rose
at an annual rate of 9.3 percent. The consumer price index
would not have risen by an annual rate of 6.6 percent during
that period, soaring to 10.8 percent in 1977 to 1980, if the rise
of demand had not been so great. In a nutshell, we get inflation
because demand rises too fast and we get unemployment because
it rises too unsteadily.
The magnitude of these excesses and fluctuations has been
largely due to the behavior of the money supply. Between 1929
and 1933 the narrowly defined money supply fell by 26 percent.
Between the end of 1980 and the middle of 1982 the money sup­
ply rose at an annual rate of 5.8 percent, compared to 7.5 per­
cent in the previous four years. That decline contributed to the
1982 recession. Between 1965 and 1980 the money supply rose
by 6.1 percent a year, compared to 3.1 percent in the previous
six years. That rise was the main factor in the acceleration of the
inflation.
Much of the history of presidential economics is the history
of trying to cope with the unemployment and inflation problems
without recognizing or being able to manage these relationships.
This failure has led to many serious mistakes and aberrations of
policy, from Roosevelt’s NRA to Nixon’s price and wage con­
trols.
The strong performance of the American economy, despite
serious deficiencies of government policy for managing aggregate
demand, is evidence of the effectiveness of the underlying private
economic system. Between 1929 and 1982, total output rose at
an annual rate of 3 percent. The American standard of living
increased dramatically. The proportion of the population in
poverty fell to an extremely low level. One can expect that the




Introduction: A Turn to the Right

25

private system will work even better if the government manages
monetary policy better.
.
Nevertheless, there are other economic decisions to be made 1
through government. In numerous ways the government affects
the division of the national output among alternative uses— and
should. It decides how much should be devoted to national de­
fense, how much to providing assistance for the poor or other
classes of the population and how much to take from various
income classes in taxation. Through its decisions about the size
of its budget surplus or deficit it affects how much of the national
output will go into private investment.
1
These decisions constitute the budget problems. Essentially
they are questions of what the national priorities are. Economists
cannot tell the American people what their priorities should be,
but economists should be able to advise about what the conse­
quences of these decisions are, where these consequences are not
obvious. These decisions have probably not given sufficient
weight to long-run and indirect effects, and as a result there has
probably been a tendency toward excessive budget deficits and
excessively high marginal rates of taxation. There has, over the
years, been much extreme and exaggerated talk about the evils
of deficits and taxes, which now makes it difficult to get sensible
consideration of the real consequences, but such consideration is
necessary. This is a very rich country. It can afford to defend
itself, to look after its poor and to meet other high-priority goals,
even if the consequence is to slow down economic growth some­
what. The problem is to avoid impairing the growth of the econ­
omy for unworthy purposes.
Periodically through the period covered in this book there
have been demands to impose upon the American economy a
system of “planning,” meaning comprehensive and detailed con­
trol or selective influence by government over investment, pro­
duction, pricing, wage-setting and other decisions in the private
economy. The current version of this demand is the call for “in­
dustrial policy.” The American people have properly shown little
interest in such proposals in peacetime, except for Roosevelt’s
NRA and Nixon’s price controls. Planning has nothing to offef




26

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

for the solution of America’s real economic problems. It would
interfere with the part of the economic system that works best— .
the private market— and divert attention from the need to im­
prove what has not worked so well— government’s conduct of
its monetary and fiscal function.
I believe that the evidence confirms this view of the American
economy and its problems, and that stated so broadly it would
command a great deal of acceptance among economists. Some of
the history told in this book supports this view, but I do not
claim that this book demonstrates the validity of my viewpoint.
I only aim to tell the story of Columbus* voyage to the Americas
from the standpoint of one who believes that the earth is round;
I do not aim to prove that the earth is round. I hope that readers
will find my point of view congenial and persuasive. And I hope
that others will in any case find my recounting of the history
informative.
A portfolio of charts depicting key developments in the Amer­
ican economy from 1930 to 1980 is presented on pages 123 to
132. Statistical data for these same aspects of the American
economy are in the appendix.




Hoover and Roosevelt:
The Depression Origins of
Liberal Economics
h e c o n s e r v a t i v e e c o n o m i c m o v e m e n t of the 1980s is largely
a reaction to the liberal movement which preceded it— to the
excesses and failures of that movement and probably also to its
successes and to boredom with it. The liberal movement in its
turn was a reaction to the failures of a previous regime of policy
which we can loosely call conservative, failures which became
manifest in the depression of the 1930s. The liberal movement
reached its finest hour— in terms of self-confidence and popular
acceptance, as well as of achievement— in 1965. Thereafter, al­
though it continued for many years to dominate policy, both its
results and its intellectual foundations were increasingly ques­
tioned. Thinking and policy gradually edged away from it until
by 1980 it was no longer dominant but clearly on the defensive.
To understand what the new conservative economics is, one
must first understand what the liberal economics was. In fact,
for some people the conclusive argument for the new conserva­
tive economics is that it is not the old liberal economics. That is
not a good argument. There are many possible alternatives to
liberal economics. Failure of the liberal economics does not

T




27

28

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

point clearly to any particular substitute. Conservative econom­
ics is not the opposite of liberal economics, whatever being the
opposite would mean. Conservative economics is a deviation
from the preceding trend of policy, and although the general
direction of the deviation is known, the specific forms and de­
grees of deviation are still the objects of search. Therefore we
cannot describe conservative economics simply by describing
liberal economics and imagining the opposite. But still it is
essential to the understanding of the conservative movement to
know what was the previous policy that is being modified or at
least under newly critical scrutiny.
The beginning of the liberal wave in economic policy is usu­
ally placed at the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt in 1933.
That is, however, an oversimplification, just as it would be an
oversimplification to date the conservative wave from the inau­
guration of Ronald Reagan— if, indeed, there is a conservative
wave and not just a ripple. What came with Franklin Roosevelt
was the acceleration of a trend that did not, however, begin on
March 4, 1933.
When Ronald Reagan took office he hung the portrait of
Calvin Coolidge in the Cabinet Room as a symbol of the restora­
tion of conservative economics. But if we use as a test of con­
servatism the degree of government intervention in the economy,
the Coolidge administration was not conservative compared to
its predecessors. Coolidge presided over a New Era, and the era
was new not only in the height of the stock market; it was also
new in the economic role of government, and part of the confi­
dence in the future of the American economy which was so
strong in the Coolidge days was confidence in the cooperative
policy of government. When Coolidge said that the business of
America is business he did not mean that the business of govern­
ment is to leave business alone. He meant that it is the business
of government to help business. That was even more positively
the idea of his activist Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover.
Coolidge did not undo the interventionist measures of the Theo­
dore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson regimes. A t the end of his
term the federal budget was larger than in the time of, say,




Hoover and Roosevelt: Origins of Liberal Economics

29

William Howard Taft. He reduced income tax rates, but we still
had an income tax, which we hadn’t had fifteen years earlier.
Perhaps most important, his term was a period of increasing
acceptance of the responsibility of the Federal Reserve to help
stabilize the economy.
Economic policy moved further in an interventionist direction
during the unhappy presidency of Herbert Hoover. This was
partly the reflection of the President himself. Hoover was a mod­
ern man, and the true-blue conservatives of the Republican
Party had resisted his appointment to the Cabinet in 1921 on
the grounds that he was too liberal. He was probably more upto-date on the thinking of professional economists of his time
than any other President of this century, and that thinking in­
cluded a considerable role for the government to stabilize the
economy by the management of its budget. The main force driv­
ing the government to take more responsibility for the perfor­
mance of the economy was, of course, not the personality of
Mr. Hoover but the fact of the depression which began early in
his term.
It is impossible to overestimate the importance of the depres­
sion as an influence on thinking and policy in the United States
over the whole half century from 1930 to 1980. A generation of
politicians, economists and general citizens was obsessed by it.
The recent change of economic policy away from the course on
which we embarked fifty years ago is due in part to the fading
of the memories of the depression and to the emergence into
power of a new generation that has no memories of the depres­
sion. The ending of the obsession— the escape from the over­
hanging notion of depression as the normal or probable state of
the economy— is a move toward realism. But to forget the de­
pression, to think that it didn’t happen and couldn’t happen,
would be a mistake. The ideas of the new conservative econom­
ics must be tested for their recognition of the fact that there was
a depression and that policy must be prepared to prevent its
recurrence.
Words and statistics cannot convey to people who did not live
through it and do not remember it anything like an adequate




30

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

picture of the depression. In fact, most of the statistics with
which we now measure the performance of the economy did not
exist in the 1930s, but everyone present could see without the
statistics that the condition was tragic. We now know, which we
didn’t at the time, that in 1932 25 percent of the labor force was
unemployed.1 The highest unemployment rate for any year in
the postwar period (up to the time of writing) was 9.7 percent
in 1982. But the difference between the two conditions is not
conveyed by the ratio of 25 to 9.7. When 25 percent of the labor
force is unemployed, that will almost certainly include largely
people who are heads of families. They will have been unem­
ployed for a long time, and they will have lost confidence in
their ability to find work soon. The difference between being
one of 25 percent who are unemployed and one of 9.7 percent
is the difference between tragedy and trouble. Moreover, when
25 percent are unemployed almost everyone is in or close to a
family in which someone is unemployed. In the depression we
all felt, or at least saw, the misery personally. We saw the un­
employed, the breadlines, the foreclosed houses and the aban­
doned farms directly, and not through statistics or television
film. When 25 percent were unemployed in 1932 there was no
national unemployment compensation and few families with em­
ployed second workers.
This was a condition that demanded action by the federal
government. One can imagine circumstances in which that
would not have been the reaction— in which there was sufficient
stoicism, or ignorance, or, some would say, wisdom so that the
public would have accepted this condition without demanding
federal action. But those were not the circumstances of the
193 os. The Republican administrations had enjoyed credit for
the prosperity of the 1920s. They could not avoid responsibility
for the troubles of the 1930s. That was unmistakable when the
Democrats won control of the Congress in 1930.
Looking back from the 1980s one might ask why this demand
for action by the federal government led to more positive mea­
sures— more intervention by the government in the management
of the economy— rather than more negative measures— what we




Hoover and Roosevelt; Origins of Liberal Economics

31

later came to call getting government off our backs. That was
the remedy prescribed when we ran into economic difficulties in
the 1970s. And by the 1980s the view had developed, although
it was probably still a minority view, that even in the 1930s the
problem was too much government. There were some who
thought that the depression was due to too much effort of the
government to manage the money supply rather than follow
some neutral rule of constant monetary growth. There was also
a theory that the depression had been caused by an increase in
federal taxes, specifically by the Smoot-Hawley tariff, which had
been going through the Congress when the stock market crash
occurred in 1929.2 Why didn’t the demand for action by the
government take the form of a demand for the government to
stop manipulating the money supply and to stabilize its rate of
growth? Why didn’t Andrew Mellon, the Secretary of the Trea­
sury, whose earlier tax cuts were then and later credited with the
prosperity of the 1920s, propose more of the same medicine in
the 1930s?
While these are questions one might ask in the 1980s, they
were not realistic questions in the 1930s. For one thing, there
was not then in the country enough sophistication— or soph­
istry— to generate such questions. The money-supply or tax-cut
approaches to the problem of depression make sense only in the
context of a comprehensive economic system where action in one
corner can percolate throughout and have effects far from the
site of the original action. Even among economists, understand­
ing of such a system was quite limited at the outset of the depres­
sion, although the country was to get some education on this
subject during the course of it. The prevailing attitude was that
if people are unemployed the remedy must be to give those peo­
ple jobs, and if houses are being foreclosed the remedy must be
to stop those foreclosures. The indirect approach via aggregate
demand was not widely understood or appreciated.
This point may be made in a more general way. There was
not then (and may not be now) any general appreciation of the
way a free economy is supposed to operate, including the re­
sponsibilities, positive and negative, of the government in such a




32

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

system. What the public did understand was success. In the
1920s the policy of the government was understood to be a
policy of very limited intervention in the economy, although, as
I have said, the role of government was greater than before
World War I. The doctrine preached by government was the
doctrine of limited intervention. The people who were regarded
as the nation’s leading authorities on economic policy, heads o f
large corporations, preached the same doctrine. All of this was
accepted as gospel while it succeeded, and while its preachers
were seen to be succeeding. But then in the depression this policy
failed. Many of its outstanding advocates failed quite literally—
i.e., became personally bankrupt. There was not sufficient under­
standing of the system to lead people to ask what it was within
the system that had failed or to seek solutions within the system.
The depression discredited the old policies and left the door
open for new ones. Even if there had been no preference for
governmentally managed solutions, a random selection among
the available options would have turned policy in that direction.
There wasn’t much room for moving toward less government
intervention, except in the very special sense that commitment
to a monetary rule can be considered such a move, whereas there
were large and varied possibilities for moving in the other direc­
tion.
There was no single ready-made alternative to take the place
of the old one for managing the economy when the old one
failed. Hoover, as I have said, did have modern notions of the
proper role of government in dealing with a recession. That
mainly called for increased government expenditures on public
works and acceptance of a deficit. It also permitted him to re­
duce taxes at the onset of the recession despite the possible
deficit. But when these measures failed to stem the decline of the
economy, he was left with no theory of how to deal with a
deeper and longer-lasting depression than the stabilization liter­
ature of that period contemplated. His position was not that he
rejected possible options simply because they involved too much
government action. He rejected options because he did not think
they would work.




Hoover and Roosevelt: Origins of Liberal Economics

33

In the later days of his administration, Hoover took two main
steps against the depression. He established a government cor­
poration, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, to make
loans to state and local governments and to businesses that were
in difficulty. That is an action so at odds with the cliche image
of Hoover that most people forget it was Hoover who did it. In
the late 1970s and early 1980s there were “liberals” who pro­
posed the reestablishment of the RFC and they were embar­
rassed to be reminded that it was originally a Hoover creation.
The second major step he took remains in the history books,
however, as a symbol of pure Hooverism— which is to say, tradi­
tionalism and know-nothingism. That was the proposal of a
large tax increase in 1932. By the standards of latter-day Keynes­
ianism, to raise tax rates at the depth of a depression was the
height of folly. Even Reagan took this position during the reces­
sion in 1983. Of course, the people who had been saying that for
a generation were similarly shocked by the proposal for a radical
cut of tax rates in 1981 in the midst of a great inflation. But even
the people who most enthusiastically supported the 1981 tax cuts
thought that the 1932 tax increase had been a disaster. They
were looking at the world through a different set of glasses than
the Keynesians used, but they arrived at the same conclusion
about the 1932 tax increase.3
In 1932, however, the decision to raise tax rates did not look
like mere traditionalism or masochism. An argument could be
made for it on sophisticated economic grounds, as necessary to
get interest rates down, to inspire investor confidence, to induce
the Federal Reserve to augment the money supply and to check
the drain of gold out of the country. The decision was almost
certainly a mistake, but it was the mistake of a President trying
energetically to apply what was known of economics to the great
problem of his time, not the mistake of a President engaging in
an antediluvian reflex.4
Although beginnings of the movement to a more activist, in­
terventionist economic policy can be seen in the Hoover admin­
istration, that movement became enormously more vigorous
after the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt. This shift of a




34

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

trend of policy into higher gear when a new President takes office
is a natural development, and occurred, for example, when
Ronald Reagan succeeded Jimmy Carter. Policy was already
turning under Carter, but the turn became much more radical
with Reagan. This need not reflect any difference of ideology o r
personality between the old President and the new one. The new
President is less inhibited by commitments to former policies
and former officials, and he feels supported by a new mandate
from the electorate.
Franklin Roosevelt surely came into office with a mandate to
do somehing about the depression. But he did not have a man­
date to do any particular thing. He received not a mandate to
follow a particular policy but a free hand to do what he wanted.
And he came into office without any clear idea of what he
wanted. Some of his advisers had specific plans, but his different
advisers had different plans. Some wanted to print money, some
to set floors under prices, some to inaugurate big spending pro­
grams.
What survived in, say, 1946 as Rooseveltian, or New Deal, or
liberal economic policy was not a blueprint that Roosevelt had
in mind on inauguration day in 1933. What survived was the
residue of a long list of varied measures and approaches that had
been tried during the depression. The process cannot be called
trial and error, for that would suggest that the test of survival
had been success or failure, and that was surely not the exclusive
determinant of survival. By 1946 there was little objective and
convincing evidence of which among the New Deal measures
had worked. Some had fallen by the way because they were un­
constitutional, or politically unpopular, or out of step with the
intellectual fashion. Some survived simply because they were
there and there was no clear proof that they had failed.
I do not intend here to recount the history of economic ex­
perimentation during the New Deal.5 It is worthwhile, however,
to note some of the approaches that were discarded, or never
followed up. They serve as a reminder of the tendency of gov­
ernments to adopt, with much fanfare and great promises, poli­
cies having little rationale, and to abandon them when something




Hoover and Roosevelt: Origins of Liberal Economics

35

else looks more attractive. They are part of the history that ex­
plains the great skepticism in the country about any of the new
turns of economic policy which the government proclaims so
frequently.
1. Roosevelt, like many other Presidents before and since, be­
lieved that the successful performance of the economy depended
heavily on confidence and that he could inspire confidence by
manipulation of words and symbols. That was presumably the
basis of the most famous line in his first inaugural, “We have
nothing to fear but fear itself.” He said other things of similar
intent later. The flags and parades that accompanied the Na­
tional Recovery Program also had a mood-elevating purpose,
and the President’s own well-publicized “jauntiness” was prob­
ably calculated to serve the same end. All of this seems to have
done something to make the country feel better, and that is not
to be belittled. But it did not do much to bring about economic
recovery. The confidence required for that was the confidence of
investors and the business community. Roosevelt’s symbolism
could not obtain that, and he was unable, except in rare spasms,
to do what was apparently necessary to gain their confidence.
2. During his 1932 campaign, Roosevelt attacked Hoover for
failure to balance the budget and promised that he would do so.
In the early days of his term he embarked upon a program of
economy in government, but that was soon overwhelmed by the
new spending programs he initiated. He continued to maintain
his intention to balance the budget even while large deficits per­
sisted. In 1937 when the partial recovery the economy had been
enjoying gave way to a steep recession, Roosevelt flirted with the
idea that this time he should really try to bring about revival by
balancing the budget, and he sent his Secretary of the Treasury,
Morgenthau, to reassure the business community on that point.
But he quickly abandoned this idea when he got no favorable
response. Thereafter deficits were accepted and rationalized by
new economic theories. Until then, and possibly even later,
Roosevelt believed that a balanced budget was a good thing,
and he believed that the public thought so also, which was prob­
ably more important to him. His policy was somewhat influenced




36

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

by these notions, but they were not among the main determinants
of his policy.
3. When Roosevelt came into office there was a considerable
body of opinion that the trouble with the American economy
was that it was “unplanned.” There was no central authority to
see that the various branches of industry produced the right
amount of output and sold the output at the right prices, with
the result that production became unbalanced, gluts appeared,
and unemployment then developed. Some forms of this idea,
emphasizing the need for voluntary cooperation among the lead­
ers of industry, and deriving in part from experience during
World War I, were, naturally, especially popular among leaders
of industry.
The most spectacular of Roosevelt’s early approaches to the
depression, the National Recovery Act, was a reflection of this
idea of the need for planning. Industry committees would be set
up throughout the economy to assure that prices were set high
enough so that business could make a profit and would produce
and that workers would get wages high enough to buy the prod­
uct. Throughout the past forty-five years economists have re­
garded this as a particularly foolish idea, because it did not deal
with the fundamental problem of a deficiency of demand, al­
though the new supply-side economics may yet provide some
rationale for it. The program, although elaborately implemented,
showed no signs of bringing about a recovery. More important,
the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional, saving Roose­
velt the embarrassment of having to jettison it.
That particular form of planning did not reappear. The notion
of planning the American economy, but in a form more con­
genial to intellectuals than to businessmen, did, however, con­
tinue to fascinate some of the Roosevelt entourage. Between
1933 and 1939 Washington ran through a series of “planning”
agencies— the National Planning Board, the National Resources
Board, the National Resources Committee and the National R e­
sources Planning Board. But these were essentially research or­
ganizations, without much influence on operations, and their
main effect was to provide a target for the conservatives who b y




Hoover and Roosevelt: Origins of Liberal Economics

37

then were accusing Roosevelt of undermining the free, capitalist,
system.
4.
A strand of thinking in the Roosevelt circle that led to con­
clusions quite different from the planning strand was the em­
phasis on the need to promote competition. It was believed that
the American economy suffered from a split between the com­
petitive sectors and the monopolistic or oligopolistic sectors, with
the uncompetitive sectors having priced themselves beyond the
ability of the competitive sectors to buy their product, as a result
of which there was excess capacity and unemployment in the
uncompetitive sectors. The presumed remedy was to make the
less competitive sectors more competitive, and the instrument for
doing this was strict application of the antitrust laws. This turned
out in practice, however, to be mainly talk, and the pro-competi­
tion movement became diverted into a movement to protect
small business, which is quite a different thing.
Much hope was invested in these approaches to economic pol­
icy at various stages of the New Deal. But they all passed and
left no lasting mark. The durable elements of the New Deal,
which were the core of the liberal movement of the next genera­
tion, were the active use of fiscal policy to assure adequacy of
total demand, the beginnings of a major effort to redistribute
income toward the lower-income members of the population,
and the increasing regulation of selected sectors of the economy.

Macroeconomics and Keynes
As I have noted, the idea that the way to deal with unemploy­
ment was to increase government spending, especially for public
works, was well known and widely accepted when the depression
struck. Hoover, for example, understood it. From the beginning
of his administration, Roosevelt used this strategy, more vigor­
ously than Hoover had done but not on what we would now
regard as a massive scale. In his initial recourse to government
spending as an antidepression tool, Roosevelt was neither en­
cumbered nor assisted by any theories on the subject. That is, he




38

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

did not worry about the possibility that government borrowing
to pay for the increased expenditures would withdraw funds
from the private sector and so depress private employment while
public employment was being raised. Neither was he encour­
aged by the thought that if one person was put to work on the
public payroll his expenditures would create demand which
would put another person to work, and that his expenditures
would employ another, and so on. Apparently these secondary
effects did not occur to him. His approach was simpler. He saw
that people were out of work and deprived of income and the
most direct solution seemed to be to put them to work on the
government payroll and pay them an income out of the T rea­
sury. Calvin Coolidge had said that when people are out of w ork
there is unemployment. Roosevelt’s solution for unemployment
was to put people to work. So he started the FERA, WPA, C C C
and other employment-creating programs.
By 1936, Roosevelt had become aware of the positive sec­
ondary effects of government employment programs— that put­
ting some people to work directly would put other people to w ork
indirectly. During the 1936 campaign he explained this in the
words of a then-popular song: “The music goes round and round
and it comes out here.”
Roosevelt’s policy of increased government spending to re­
duce unemployment and get out of the depression has been
called “Keynesian,” in reference to the work of the famous
British economist John Maynard Keynes and especially to T h e
General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money* published
in January 1936. In fact, the term “Keynesian” has come to b e
used as an epithet by the conservatives of the 1980s (and
earlier) to describe all the things they don’t like about liberal
economic policies. But Roosevelt did not have to learn about
government spending from Keynes, and neither would Hoover
have had to do so. Keynes provided a sophisticated rationale fo r
what Roosevelt was doing anyway. He provided answers fo r
questions that Roosevelt had never asked, although others had.
How could so much unemployment persist for such a long time?
Why did government spending work; why didn’t it just crowd




Hoover and Roosevelt: Origins of Liberal Economics

39

out private spending? Why wouldn’t monetary expansion serve
as well as government spending to raise the economy and reduce
unemployment?
The answers that Keynes provided to these questions were not
necessary for Roosevelt’s efforts in the direction of expansionist
fiscal policy. But as these answers came to dominate the thinking
of economists, other intellectuals, and a new generation of politi­
cians, they helped to make expansionist fiscal policy the major
theme of liberal economic policy for about forty years after the
publication of the General Theory. Without Keynes, and espe­
cially without the interpretation of Keynes by his followers, ex­
pansionist fiscal policy might have remained an occasional emer­
gency measure and not become a way of life.
Keynes’ explanation of the depression was simple, plausible
and convincing. Demand was insufficient to buy the product that
would be produced at full employment, or, put another way,
people did not want to spend all of the income they would earn
when there was full employment. The idea that unemployment
and depression were due to a deficiency of demand was not in­
vented by Keynes. It was one of the oldest and superficially most
plausible of the explanations around. But sophisticated people
had difficulties with that idea then, in the 1930s, and there are
again, in the 1980s, sophisticated, or ultrasophisticated, people
who have trouble with it. In fact, rejecting the demand-deficiency
theory of unemployment was to become one of the tests of mem­
bership in a certain school of conservative economics in the
1980s.7 So Keynes’ explanation of the demand-deficiency theory
was important in the 1930s and has become important again.
In 1935, when I was a graduate student, a distinguished econ­
omist, Harold G. Moulton, then president of the Brookings In­
stitution, came to the University of Chicago to talk to us about
the causes of the depression. He had a demand-deficiency theory.
People were not spending all of their incomes and therefore the
product could not be sold and people were unemployed. He
could not, however, explain what happened to the income that
people didn’t spend, and so we regarded the explanation as un­
satisfactory. But Keynes came along with an entirely satisfactory




40

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

explanation of what happened to the income that wasn’t spent.
That income just never came into existence. The income earned
in production would always be equal to the income that people
spent to buy the production. If they didn’t want to buy the pro­
duction they wouldn’t earn the income. Income and expenditure
would always be equal at the level of expenditure. If when they
had incomes of $1,000 billion people only wanted to spend $900
billion, then incomes couldn’t be $1,000 billion but would be
something less— enough less so that people would want to spend
all of it. There wouldn’t be anything left over— any unspent
income.
Keynes also dealt with, or at least wrestled with, another as­
pect of the economics of his time that has been revived in the
conservative economics of the 1980s. That was Say’s Law, named
for a French economist, Jean Baptiste Say, of the early nine­
teenth century.8 Say was refuting the idea, already common in
his time, that there could be a general “glut” of production, what
we now call a deficiency of demand. He asserted that there could
be no glut, no overproduction, because “supply creates its own
demand.” This is better understood as saying that supply is its
own demand because the supply of something is an offer to pro­
vide it in exchange for something else and is therefore a demand
for the something else. If workers offer to supply labor it is
because they want to buy something with the wage. The supply
of labor is a demand for the something they want to buy. O f
course, this applied to goods in general. It did not mean that
workers wanted to buy the particular goods they were producing,
or that the demand for any particular good would be equal to
its supply. There could be gluts of particular things. But they
would not last for long. The price system would take care o f
that. If there was a glut of something its price would fall, less o f
it would be produced, and the labor engaged in producing it
would shift to producing the things that workers did want when
they offered their labor.
This did not necessarily mean that workers, or other earners
of income, would want to spend all of their earnings on con­
sumption. They would probably want to save some of it. B ut




Hoover and Roosevelt: Origins of Liberal Economics

41

that caused no basic difficulty. Saving some of the income cre­
ated a demand for capital goods, and for workers in the indus­
tries producing capital goods, just as spending some of the
income on automobiles created a demand for automobiles and
for workers in the automobile industry. The savers did not have
to buy the capital goods directly. They could buy stocks or
bonds, or put their money in banks or savings institutions which
would lend it to the people who wanted to invest in factories or
equipment or houses. Moreover, there couldn’t be too much
saving— at least not for long. The price system would take care
of that. In this case the relevant price was the interest rate. If
savers wanted to save more than investors wanted to invest at
the existing interest rates, the interest rates would fall until all of
the savings were invested.
There might seem to be a problem if workers and others who
supplied productive resources didn’t want to buy consumer goods
or capital goods, even indirectly, but simply wanted to hold more
money. Wouldn’t this leave us with a supply of labor and capital
for which there was no demand? Classical economists had an
answer for that one too. First you might suppose that the system
was using a commodity money, like gold. Then if people wanted
to work for money, rather than for “ordinary” goods, wages
would decline, because there wouldn’t be enough work for them
to do in ordinary production, but at lower wage rates it would be
profitable to hire more of them in the production of gold. The
supply of workers wanting to work for money would generate a
demand for workers to produce gold. In the more usual case of
a single country on the gold standard, an excess of supply of
workers wanting to work for money would depress wages and
prices in the country. That would stimulate exports, so that the
excess of workers would be absorbed in production for export,
which would bring a flow of gold into the country, and thus the
workers would be employed in the production of money, which
is what they wanted.
A problem arises when the money is managed by a govern­
ment agency and there is no automatic mechanism by which an
increased desire for money creates an increased supply of money.




42

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

In that case there might be unemployment, or a glut, if a certain
amount of labor was offered not because workers wanted to buy
goods and services but because they wanted to hold more
money. But even for that case classical economists had an an­
swer, or discovered an answer when the issue was raised in the
1930s. Again, if workers wanted to hoard their earnings in the
form of money, rather than spending it for goods and services,
prices and wages would fall. Although this would not increase
the quantity of money it would increase its purchasing power— .
that is, it would increase the real value of the existing stock of
money. Thus, the desire of workers and others to hold more
money would be satisfied, but at a lower price level, and there­
after they could go on working for the purchase of goods and
services.
Of course, economists before Keynes knew that the system did
not always operate at full employment. The economy fluctuated,
and from time to time there would be large unemployment. That
was what the study of business cycles was all about, and the
study of business cycles was a major part of economics. But this
study concentrated on departures from full employment which
were by their nature temporary, resulting from a delay of the
economy in adjusting to some disturbance, such as a shift in the
use of income from consumption to saving. The prevailing analy­
sis left room for a permanent, or more or less permanent, condi­
tion of unemployment if wages did not adjust downward in the
presence of unemployment and if the monetary system did not
supply enough money. But it was thought extremely unlikely
that wages would not adjust in time, even though they would not
do so instantly. And if the unemployment resulted from the
unwillingness of workers to accept wage reductions, should this
really be called unemployment? In any case, an adequate mone­
tary policy would be able to keep unemployment from persisting,
even though it could not be so precise as to prevent short-run
fluctuations.
In his General Theory, Keynes set out to explain why the
mechanisms which his predecessors relied upon to prevent longcontinued unemployment— declines of wage rates or increases




Hoover and Roosevelt: Origins of Liberal Economics

43

of the money supply— would not work in some circumstances.
In the first place, wages might not decline, despite unemploy­
ment, even in competitive labor markets without unions or gov­
ernment floors to wages. (Or they might not decline very
rapidly. This ambiguity between what would never happen and
what would happen only slowly has to be noted throughout the
discussion of Keynes. He talked as if describing a condition that
could go on indefinitely, and that was a large part of his claim to
originality, whereas the argument is more plausible as an ex­
planation for the slowness of adjustments.) Workers confronted
with unemployment would not immediately accept lower wages.
They would want to see how long the condition was going to last
and what opportunities they might find by looking around. In a
declining economy this process might never catch up enough to
reverse the rise of unemployment.
A more critical point, however, had to do with money. Even
if wages did fall, prices would presumably fall with them and the
only effect would be to increase the real value of the money
supply— that is, how much the existing quantity of money would
buy. The key question, therefore, was whether an increase in the
real value of the money supply, brought about by a decline of
wages or by action of the monetary authority, would restore full
employment. Keynes’ answer was that in certain conditions it
would not do so— or, at least, would do so only slowly. An in­
crease of the money supply, in his view, would operate on the
economy through its effect on interest rates. When people have
more money, they use some of it to invest in assets that yield
interest— like bonds— and that drives interest rates down. With
interest rates lower, investment expenditure becomes more profit­
able, and increases, and that is the way the increase of the money
supply increases total spending, and thus total production and
thus total employment. But at some point, and in some condi­
tions, Keynes argued, a further increase of the money supply
would not depress interest rates further and so would have no
effect in stimulating the economy. This would occur when in­
terest rates had fallen far below what people thought they would
be in the future and the risks of buying interest-yielding assets




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

were very great because of the possibility that a subsequent rise
of interest rates would depress their value.
Keynes provided an explanation for the persistence of a long
depression that did not tend to cure itself, or did so only with
intolerable slowness, and that could not be cured by monetary
expansion, or again only with intolerable slowness. The explana­
tion rested on several assumptions, mainly about how people
responded to an increase in their holdings of money and about
how interest rates were determined. Whether the particular as­
sumptions he made were true in the 1930s, or were ever likely
to be true, was not demonstrated then or since. This did not
diminish the appeal of the theory. Keynes had advanced a theory
which, if correct, would fill the logical holes in the most naive
view of what was causing the depression— namely that there was
too little demand— and the most naive view of what needed to
be done to correct that deficiency— namely for the government
to spend more money. It provided a rationalization for what the
government was doing and found easiest to do— namely to
spend more money. It had its attractions even for some conserva­
tives, for reasons that I shall explain later.9
Looked at from the standpoint of the 1980s, a natural question
is why there was not more interest in a “monetarist,” as distinct
from fiscalist, cure for the depression. In fact, the long list of
ideas that seemed eligible for consideration when Franklin Roo­
sevelt came into office included unorthodox expansion of the
money supply. Congress enacted, early in 1933, legislation au­
thorizing the President to issue unsecured currency— greenbacks
— up to the amount of $3 billion. This interest did not last long,
however. For one thing, a rapid expansion of the money supply
began without the need for any positive action to bring that
about. The increase in the price of gold, not initially conceived
as a way to increase the money supply, automatically increased
the reserves of the banking system. Thereafter a fairly steady
inflow of gold from abroad, partly due to political uncertainties
in Europe, generated a further large increase of bank reserves.
The increase in the reserves led to an increase in the money
stock. It also led to an increase in bank reserves in excess of the




Hoover and Roosevelt: Origins of Liberal Economics

45

legal requirements. Also, interest rates were low, relative to the
rates experienced in the 1920s. In these circumstances it was
natural to believe that efforts to accelerate the recovery by ex­
panding the money supply would be futile. If more reserves were
provided to the banking system, they would only increase the
“excess,” or if the banks did manage to find assets to buy, the
public would only hold the additional money and would not
spend or invest it. The low level of interest rates was taken to
demonstrate that interest rates could not be pushed down further
by monetary expansion and that, in any case, investment was not
responsive to a decline of interest rates.
This belief in the ineffectiveness of monetary expansion to
promote recovery was supported by Keynes’ argument, but it
had become commonplace before he published the General
Theory. It was assumed to be a directly observable lesson of the
experience of the first years of the depression. The view that
monetary expansion would be futile— “pushing on a string”—
was at least as dominant in the Federal Reserve as anywhere
else. This conforms to a long self-protective tradition of the Fed­
eral Reserve, which never found itself responsible for the nation’s
economic troubles, whether depression in the 1930s or inflation
in the 1970s.
Not only did the Federal Reserve not follow an actively ex­
pansionist policy during the New Deal, but its main worry most
of the time was that the gold inflow was adding too much to the
reserves of the banking system. A number of important steps
were taken by the government, however, which paved the way
for more positive management of the money supply, including
inflationary policy in the postwar period. United States citizens
were prohibited from holding gold, which insulated the monetary
system against the possibility that U.S. citizens would limit
money creation by asking for gold in exchange for paper money.
The establishment of federal insurance of bank deposits greatly
reduced the possibility that the course of the money supply
would be disrupted by an effort of depositors to get out of bank
deposits into currency. Reorganization of the Federal Reserve
System increased the power of its board of governors in Wash­




46

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

ington in relation to the twelve regional banks and probably
made the system more sensitive to political influences than it had
previously been. It was these institutional changes, rather than
any novelties of doctrine, that were the main legacies of the New
Deal to future monetary policy.
Although Keynes was considered by the conservatives of the
1980s to be the leading spirit of the liberal economics they de­
tested, in fact his position in the liberal-conservative spectrum
is unclear. This is partly because the spectrum itself is unclear.
I will take as the main dimension along which liberalism or
conservatism is to be measured the degree and kind of govern­
ment intervention in the economy that is contemplated. It is by
that standard that the Keynesian doctrine is difficult to appraise.
Several views of Keynesianism may be distinguished:
1.
Keynes was regarded by some as saying that the economic
ills we were obviously suffering in the 1930s did not indicate a
failure of the free market system. He did not propose any change
in, or intervention in, the heart of that system, which is the
market process for determining relative prices, outputs and in­
comes. He attributed our difficulties to the failure of government
to discharge properly its essential function of managing mone­
tary policy so as to assure an adequate and stable level of aggre­
gate demand. His contribution, even then not novel but argued
with new persuasiveness, was to say that in some circumstances
this monetary policy could not be executed by conventional cen­
tral banking measures. The government budget, its spending,
taxing and borrowing, would have to be utilized. But this did
not involve giving any additional powers to government. Only
new rules for exercising the traditional and inescapable powers
of government were required.
One must remember that in the 1930s the free market system
was under intense attack. Radical alternatives to this system—
communism and fascism— were being eyed with respect by some
people. Even short of such extremes, there was widespread inter­
est in structural “reform” of the system— involving planning, re­
distribution, regulation of prices and wages. In this environment,




Hoover and Roosevelt: Origins of Liberal Economics

47

Keynes looked to many like a defender of free markets. He said
that structural reform was not needed to cure the major ills. All
that was needed was to get the government’s fiscal and monetary
policies right. Radical reformers of the time scorned this aspect
of Keynes. Many of my teachers at the University of Chicago
who considered themselves conservatives in the old-fashioned,
free market sense and did not accept his long-run theories agreed
with him about the remedies for the depression. In fact, one of
their main complaints was that he was getting a lot of credit for
saying what they had been saying all along.
One can say, and it has been said, that Keynes and his phi­
losophy gave free market capitalism a generation of unparalleled
success, after a decade of failure which had threatened its sur­
vival.
2.
Some conservatives even in the 1930s could not accept
this bare-bones and sympathetic view of Keynes. This was true
of many businessmen and some economists. The fact was that they
were not satisfied with this purely macroeconomic or aggregative
solution— the fiscal and monetary solution— to the economic
problem. They wanted some “structural” reforms. They believed,
for one thing, that unemployment was high because wage rates
were too high. They had the support of classical economics in this
belief. And they used this belief to support opposition to what
they called Roosevelt’s pro-labor policy, especially his promotion
of labor organization through the National Labor Relations Act.
Moreover, they relied heavily on the argument that government
policy was anti-investment and as a consequence impeded recov­
ery. They called for reforms that would reduce the taxation of
corporations and a variety of business regulation.
Keynes was interpreted as saying that these anti-labor and
pro-business reforms were unnecessary. His theory said that
wage-rate reductions were not needed in order to restore full
employment and might not even be helpful. Moreover, the
stickiness of wages was not due to the power and greed of labor
organizations but resulted from the natural response of workers
in competitive markets. As far as investment was concerned, the
government could supply that needed ingredient of total demand




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

with its own expenditures. And if the government provided the
necessary level of demand the private investment would be forth­
coming anyway. So no special consideration of business was re­
quired.
It was not only the policy implications of Keynes’ argument
that businessmen resented. They also resented their removal
from the central role in the performance of the economy. O f
course, the depression itself had begun this process. The captains
of industry had accepted credit for the New Era of the 1920s.
They could not escape responsibility for the depression of the
193 os. In Keynes’ system, businessmen were a passive element,
sometimes erratic and unpredictable, but not responsible. They
were like cows which might or might not give milk, and were
valuable if they did, but they had no particular moral qualities.
Responsibility and leadership went to the makers of government
policy.
3.
Although the Keynesian macroeconomic system, as it cam e
to be expounded in textbooks, did not call for expansion of gov­
ernment functions beyond its traditional and inescapable ones
with respect to money and the budget, it left room for such an
expansion of the government role. That is, it tended to refute the
argument that government intervention would impair business
confidence or otherwise injure business investment and conse­
quently prolong the depression. Keynesian argument said that
the government not only didn’t have to do what the businessmen
and conservatives wanted the government to do but it could, if it
wished, intervene in pursuit of all kinds of goals— such as in­
come redistribution— without worrying about possible adverse
consequences for employment. People who were unimpressed
with the virtues of the free private economy were given assur­
ance that any adverse consequences of government actions as far
as employment was concerned could be offset by suitable fiscal
policy— i.e., big enough deficits.
Keynes understood the power of the free enterprise system as
an engine for economic— i.e., material— efficiency and growth.
But lie did not value that very highly. He imagined that in a
foreseeable period— not over a hundred years— the economic




Hoover and Roosevelt: Origins of Liberal Economics

49

problem would be solved, in the sense that everyone would have
enough of the product of the economy for a good life, if the
government played its part in managing the unemployment prob­
lem. He did not regard the unending expansion of material out­
put as the way to a good life. Keynes’ membership in the
Bloomsbury set reflected an important part of his philosophy.
This was a group mainly of writers and artists with whom
Keynes was actively involved in the years before and after World
War I. Its other famous names were Bertrand Russell, Virginia
and Leonard Woolf, Lytton Strachey and Clive Bell. They were
disciples of George Moore, a philosopher at Cambridge when
Keynes was a student there, whose ideals for the good life were
love and beauty. The members of the set felt able to cultivate these
virtues without economic worries, since they all had upper-class
incomes which they could take for granted.
This attitude to life led Keynes to a subordination of concern
for, if not disdain for, the middle-class virtues that could be
primarily valued for their contribution to economic growth—
thrift and the work ethic— and to the policy reflections of those
virtues— balanced budgets and care for the entrepreneur. More­
over, he did not assign high status to those who practiced these
policies or preached these virtues— businessmen and conservative
politicians. And this, of course, made the conservatives uneasy
with him.
In the end, however, it was not Keynes himself or what he
said that would be the great threat to the conservatives. It would
be the ideas that his followers— the Keynesians as distinct from
Keynes— extrapolated from his theories. Even more, it would be
the consequences of these ideas when they came to permeate the
political process. Some of the “Keynesian” ideas were already
evident in the New Deal period, before World War II. The most
important of these was to maintain that the conditions which
Keynes considered to exist at the bottom of the depression were
general and permanent conditions of “mature” economies like
ours. Some of the political consequences of Keynesianism—
especially inflation— were foreseen before the war, but not by
many. In these earlier days few visualized in the 1930s what




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

were to be the real consequences of Keynesianism as it came to
be understood and practiced after the war. That was a Keynes­
ianism simplified beyond the text of Keynes, generalized into a
description of the natural state of the economy, rather than o f
an economy in an extraordinary depression, and applied to pol­
icy by economists who could only guess at the magnitudes which
would have to be known for a precise prescription and by politi­
cians who had their own fish to fry. Specifically, the simpleminded Keynesianism that a generation of economists learned
in school and which became the creed of modern intellectuals
assumed:
1. That the price level was constant, so that demand could
be expanded without danger of inflation.
2. That the potential output of the economy, or the level o f
full employment, was given— that is, would not be affected by
the government’s policy to maintain full employment.
3. That we knew how much output was the potential output
of the economy and how much unemployment was full employ­
ment.
4. That the economy had a tendency to operate with output
below its potential and unemployment above its full employment
level.
5. That output and employment could be brought up to their
desirable levels by fiscal actions of government to expand de­
mand— specifically by spending enough or by running large
deficits.
6. That we knew how much spending or how big deficits
would be enough to achieve the desired results.
7. That there was no other way to get to the desired levels
of output and employment, the main implication of which was
that monetary policy could not do it.
All of these assumptions were wrong. When used as bases for
public policy they inevitably produced errors. But these errors
would not be distributed at random. The political process would




Hoover and Roosevelt: Origins of Liberal Economics

51

give a predictable bias to the results. Politicians naturally like
to spend money, especially if they are not required to raise taxes
to pay for it. The theory, as interpreted, told the politician that
he could spend without taxing and in the process also do some­
thing else that he liked to do— that is, deliver full employment.
Of course, the theory said that there were limits to how much
taxing and spending he could do. But no one knew with confi­
dence where these limits were. No one knew what was full em­
ployment or how much spending or deficit was needed to
achieve it. Moreover, the consequences of exceeding the limit
did not seem great, since the price level was considered to be
“practically” fixed and the level of potential output was consid­
ered to be given by factors that would be uninfluenced by policy.
So the politician was free to choose his fiscal policy within a
wide range. That is, he could choose from among a wide range
of estimates of the size of the spending or deficit the theory
called for, and given the politician’s natural biases he would
choose the larger spending, the larger deficit and the more am­
bitious goal for the rate of unemployment. The result in the end
would be a bigger government sector, slower economic growth
and more inflation than would have been chosen if all the conse­
quences of policy had been accurately foreseen.
As I have noted, few foresaw this danger at the outset. One
who did was Jacob Viner, who said in his original review of
Keynes that it would lead to a “race between the printing press
and the business agents of the trade unions.”10 That is, Keynes’
policy in practice would lead to an attempt to pump up demand
to maintain full employment at whatever wage rates the unions
insisted upon. This was not a necessary consequence of Keynes’
theory, but it was a likely consequence of the way Keynes would
be translated into policy. The likely political consequences of
Keynes became clearer as Keynes’ theory was increasingly trans­
lated into simpler and less qualified form and as rules for policy
began to be derived from it. Keynes himself in the years just
before his death in 1946 became concerned about the unin­
tended lengths to which his theory was being carried in argument




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

and in policy. By that time the risks had become much clearer
in the United States, and I will return in the next chapter to the
debates this generated.
To ask whether the later perversion of his theory, this extreme
extension of it, was a necessary consequence of what he wrote,
which he should have foreseen and for which he is to be blamed,
may seem an academic exercise. But the question does have prac­
tical significance. Keynes’ is not the only or last theory that
may have unintended consequences. There is a lesson in the ex­
perience with Keynesianism for the process of public discussion
of economic ideas, and of other ideas, in general. Keynes stated
his theory, as he acknowledged, in an extreme and provocative
way, in order to be sure of getting attention. His followers, ex­
hilarated by being in at the beginning of a new movement,
simplified it extremely to increase its accessibility to students,
politicians and others. Economists in the government, eager for
influence, exaggerated what they knew. Offered an attractive
course of policy, politicians adopted it eagerly, without serious
questioning. The lesson is that even good ideas can have bad
consequences if irresponsibly exploited.
It would be wrong to ascribe the future course of government
policy and its consequences, both helpful and harmful, entirely
to Keynes and his theories or even to them and his disciples. The
critical event was the depression, for which Keynes surely cannot
be blamed. The depression, given the increasing democratization
of politics and the expectations of prosperity that had been de­
veloped in the preceding generation, would have brought about
a radical change of policy with or without Keynes. The country
was not willing to endure disaster stoically. This could be seen in
the landslide ouster of Hoover and in the uninhibited experimen­
tation of the Roosevelt days. Even without Keynes the depression
would have established the idea that the government had a re­
sponsibility to maintain full employment, which the private sys­
tem could not be counted on to do by itself. The idea that a main
instrument for doing that was the government budget would also
have become accepted, partly as a result of the evident failure of
other approaches and partly as a result of naive theorizing which




Hoover and Roosevelt: Origins of Liberal Economics

53

existed independently of Keynes. The fact that willy-nilly we ran
large budget deficits for ten years, before the war, and no disaster
befell us, did much to relieve us of inhibitions about the need to
balance the budget, even without the rationale that Keynes pro­
vided. The depression provoked Keynes’ theory and provided a
market for it. The fiscal policy extemporized during the depres­
sion served as an example for future generations. What was
learned from the depression was not the only possible lesson. But
if we look back to the 1930s, and to the discussion of that time,
that was probably the most conservative of the available lessons.
That is, it was the one that entailed the least departure from the
prevailing economic structure.

Beginnings of the Tax-Transfer Explosion
The second strand of New Deal policy that was crucial for the fu­
ture development of liberal economics was the early move to­
ward a system of large transfers through the federal government,
addressed mainly to low-income people, financed in part by
higher taxes on upper-income individuals and on corporations.
The biggest item on the transfer side was the social security sys­
tem, initially providing benefits for retired persons and survivors
and later to be expanded to cover disabled persons. The two
other main transfer programs were unemployment insurance and
federal support for welfare payments to poor aged and disabled
persons and to families with dependent children.
The depression stimulated these moves in various ways. One
of the common theories of the causes of the depression— a theory
with a long history— was that the demand for output was too
small to purchase the total output that would be produced at high
employment because of the maldistribution of income. Too much
of the income earned in production went to upper-income people
who saved rather than to lower-income people who consumed.
This was a favorite theory of socialists, who could use it to blame
the depression on the capitalist way of distributing income. It
also had a certain consistency with Keynesian theory. If the de­




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

pression was caused by an excess of the saving that people
would want to do under conditions of high employment over the
investment they would want to do, one possible remedy would
be to reduce saving by redistribution of income from savers to
spenders. Keynes did not himself propose that solution. In his
theory the problem could be solved simply by running a larger
deficit. But “liberals” took pleasure in pointing out to conserva­
tives that if they did not want deficits the problem of excessive
saving could be solved by income redistribution.
This argument obviously supported a program of taxing the
rich and giving to the poor. (Later research cast doubt o n
whether any significant reduction of saving could be achieved b y
this route, but at the time it seemed plausible.)11 The social se­
curity system as originally planned was not good from this stand­
point. The intent was to raise a reserve fund by payroll taxes,
the income from which would be available to pay retirement
benefits in the future when the people being covered by the sys­
tem when it started would reach retirement age. The accumula­
tion of this fund would be a big addition to national saving, and
would compound the problem of excessive saving. There would
have been an offset to that if the future beneficiaries of the sys­
tem had reduced their private saving in view of their expectation
that the social security system would look after them. But it w as
a basic premise of the program that people did not voluntarily
save enough to provide for their old age, and it would have been
inconsistent with that view to assume that the saving now being
forced through the social security system would be offset by a
reduction of private saving. In fact, as the social security system
began to run a surplus in 1936 and 1937, concern was expressed
that it was depressing the economy and contributing to the re­
cession of 1937. Because of this, and also because of politicians’
unwillingness to raise enough taxes to pay for future benefits,
the system was changed in 1939. Only enough reserve would b e
accumulated to safeguard the program against brief contingen­
cies, such as a recession when receipts might fall off. Future
benefits, which would be much larger than present ones because
a much larger number of people would have earned much larger




Hoover and Roosevelt: Origins of Liberal Economics

55

benefits per retiree, would be paid for by higher taxes on future
generations of workers.
This change in the system had important consequences. It cre­
ated built-in pressure for increases of benefits. People already in
retirement, or near retirement, had a strong interest in raising
benefits, which they would not pay for, or pay for only to a small
degree. Those who would pay, the future workers, were unaware
of the burden being stored up for them, or at least were not suffi­
ciently aware to be a great political force against the increase of
benefits. Some who would pay were not yet bom. Moreover, the
change in the financing system tilted the scales of saving in the
opposite direction from the original one. People were being
promised benefits for their retirement, and their incentive to save
for their retirement was being reduced. But the government was
not doing any saving to compensate for the loss of private sav­
ing. Forty-five years later that would be put forth as a reason for
the slowdown of economic growth in the United States.12
On the tax side of the tax-transfer system, the clearest expres­
sion of the anti-saving motivation was the undistributed profits
tax of 1937. The theory was that taxing the undistributed profits
of corporations at a higher rate than the distributed profits would
force corporations to pay out more in dividends and so stimulate
consumption rather than saving. The undistributed profits tax
did not last for long, but the same reasoning was only a little less
evident in the increase of the corporate profits tax in general and
in the increase of the income tax in the upper brackets. These
rates would be much further increased during the war and never
returned to the New Deal levels. In fact, the Roosevelt tax acts
of 1934 and 1936 did not raise upper-bracket income taxes as
much as the 1932 act, during the Hoover administration. The
Roosevelt tax increases were more resented, however, because
they raised the upper-bracket rates while cutting those for middle-income taxpayers, unlike the 1932 act, which had raised
rates across the board.
The antidepression argument for unemployment insurance was
also clear. The payments to the unemployed would help to sus­
tain the expenditures of those who had lost jobs and so would




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

help to sustain economic activity. At the same time a payroll tax
would be imposed on employers, and the level of that tax for
each employer would depend on the amount of unemployment
experienced by his workers. Thus there would be an incentive for
employers to manage their affairs in a way that would reduce un­
employment.
The economic arguments for expansion of the tax-transfer sys­
tem were only part of the reason for it. The growing feeling
about poverty and, what is not the same thing, inequality, was
probably even more important. The poverty that came with the
depression was especially moving to the national conscience and
politically forceful for a number of reasons in addition to the
fact that it was so widespread. There was the striking contrast
with the prosperity of the 1920s. The poverty was not confined
to rural and urban slums— out of sight of average citizens and
the media. It was not confined to blacks or to recent immigrants,
and could not be “blamed” on their special characteristics. It was
not confined to people who could be called “shiftless.” It had ob­
viously far outstripped the ability of private charities or state and
local governments to deal with it. Moreover, it could not be
blamed on the inability of the American economy to produce
enough to relieve the poverty. The situation at the time was com­
monly described as poverty in the midst of plenty, really mean­
ing poverty in the midst of potential plenty. In the circumstances
the remaining extremes of great wealth seemed more than ever
intolerable. My professor Henry Simons, certainly no radical
demagogue, found the inequality of income distribution “un­
lovely,” not a fiery condemnation but one difficult to quarrel
with.13 Justification for extreme personal wealth as the engine o f
the general prosperity, which might have been accepted in the
1920s, was no longer acceptable when the engine had stalled.
Many prominent captains of industry had lost their credibility as
economic leaders by inanely optimistic statements or, worse, by
criminal actions that brought them to prison. Populist, egali­
tarian movements were sweeping the country, with Huey Long,
proclaiming “Every Man a King,” as the most important leader.
The social security system, the program of federal grants to




Hoover and Roosevelt: Origins of Liberal Economics

57

the states in support of welfare payments to the aged, the blind
and dependent children, and the expansion of the progressive in­
come tax were responses to economic, emotional and political
conditions of the depression which lasted and grew during the
postwar generation of prosperity. A related program of federal
employment for people who could not find private jobs— the
WPA and all its variants— faded away during the war and did
not reappear until it came back in a much different form in the
1960s as part of the manpower programs initiated by the Ken­
nedy administration. Of course, the welfare state which emerged
in the United States in the 1930s had emerged in Europe much
earlier. An important fact, usually considered a paradox but per­
haps only natural, is that the beginning of social insurance goes
back to Bismarck, the conservative Prussian Chancellor, in the
1890s. The emergence of the welfare state in the United States
in the 1930s is probably easier to explain than its failure to
emerge earlier.
Once the welfare state did come to America it grew rapidly.
In 1929, total transfer payments by all governments— federal,
state and local— except for benefits to veterans and pensions to
government retirees amounted to about $250 million. (Those
were days when we counted in millions.) Ten years later, with­
out any intervening price inflation, they were a little over $1,750
million, or about seven times as much. As a fraction of GNP
they had risen from .25 percent to about 2 percent. Most of the
increase was in social security and unemployment compensation,
which went from zero to 1.4 percent of GNP.
The development of the tax transfer system was hotly resisted
by conservatives. The WPA became a national joke because of
the commonly accepted picture that the work being done was
useless and the workers indolent. Businessmen complained that
the public employment and welfare programs kept wage rates up
and so interfered with the revival of the private economy. (Labor
unions criticized the low-paid government employment projects
for driving down wages.) The social security system was at­
tacked on grounds that would later seem bizarre. It was held
that giving every covered worker a social security number would




58

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

introduce a police state, enabling the government to keep track
of, and ultimately control, the movements of every worker.
Workers were also warned that they were being required to pay,
through their social security “contributions,” for promised pen­
sion benefits which they might never receive because Congress
could eliminate them by a stroke of the pen. (A realist might
have predicted, on the contrary, that the political process would
give them benefits they had never paid for.)
The most serious conservative complaint, however, was about
the tax side of the tax-transfer system. There was a little prob­
lem in this, because the conservatives were also opposed to the
budget deficits, and raising taxes seemed, to ordinary people, a t
least, to be a way to reduce the deficit. Conservatives resolved
this difficulty then, as they had done earlier and would do over
and over again later, by claiming that the particular kinds of ta x
increases proposed— mainly individual and corporate income
taxes and estate taxes— would depress the economy and so re­
duce rather than increase the revenue. Opposition was especially
strong to the undistributed profits tax. The business community
regarded that as an attack upon the growth of existing enter­
prises, and, indeed, one of the motives of its sponsors was to cor­
rect what they regarded as a bias in favor of existing enterprises
and against new ones. The undistributed profits tax was the only
New Deal enactment that conservatives succeeded in repealing.
Corporate profits tax liability rose from 13.7 percent of book
profits in 1929 to 20 percent in 1939. (As a percentage of “ true”
profits— adjusted for under- or overstatement of the cost of re­
placing capital and inventories— the tax ratio rose from 15.1 per­
cent to 27.0 percent.) The effects of the change in individual in­
come taxation are less visible in the revenue figures. Individual
income tax as a percentage of personal income remained ap­
proximately stable at 1.4 percent in 1929 and 1.2 percent in
1939. Most personal income throughout this period was ex­
cluded from income taxation by high personal exemptions. T h e
income subject to taxes because it was above the exemption
levels was a smaller fraction of total personal income in 1939
than in 1929, and the average tax rate on that taxable income




Hoover and Roosevelt: Origins of Liberal Economics

59

was not only much higher than is suggested by the 1.6 percent
and 1.4 percent figures but also had risen rather than declined.

The Spread of Economic Regulation
Although the American welfare state can be said to have its be­
ginning during the New Deal, the history of federal economic
regulation is much older.14 The grandfather of it all, of course,
was the protective tariff, which began with the new nation in
1789. In more familiar terms economic regulation can be dated
from 1887, when we got the Interstate Commerce Commission
to control the railroad industry, and 1890, when the Sherman
Act to restrain monopolization was passed. There was another
spurt of regulation during the administration of Woodrow Wil­
son, and some further steps even during the “conservative” Re­
publican era following World War I.
Dissatisfaction with the performance of the economy in the
1930s naturally led to many proposals for increased government
regulation. The National Recovery Act was the most compre­
hensive system of control attempted. That did not last very long,
as already noted, and not only because it was declared uncon­
stitutional. It was early seen to be an unworkable and unproduc­
tive system. Nevertheless, the New Deal did spawn a very signifi­
cant extension of federal regulation of the economy.
What happened during the New Deal was not just more of the
kind of regulation that had been going on since 1890. A new
basis or justification for regulation was introduced on a major
scale. Earlier regulation was designed either to preserve com­
petition or to achieve the results of competition in circumstances
where competition was considered not to be feasible, as in the
case of railroads. There was some of this during the New Deal,
with the establishment of the Civil Aeronautics Board and the
Federal Power Commission. But the main new regulatory sys­
tems introduced by the New Deal had a different basis. They
were intended to protect chosen sectors of the economy from
competition.




6o

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

The chosen sectors were labor, agriculture and small business.
Presumably these sectors were disadvantaged in a competitive
economy or, as was sometimes said, the competitiveness of these
sectors put them at a disadvantage in an economy where other
sectors were less competitive. There were several reasons for try­
ing to do something about these “disadvantaged” sectors. One
was the underconsumption argument, already mentioned. If a
larger share of the national income could be directed to workers
and farmers, a larger share of the national income would be con­
sumed and the economy would operate at a higher level. A lso,
the disadvantaged were natural objects of sympathy, especially if
their relatively low incomes were due to a defect in the economic
system. Third, and certainly not least, workers, farmers and
small businessmen made up a large proportion of the electorate
and for that reason attracted the interest of politicians. (Small
businessmen probably have a political influence that is more than
proportionate to their numbers because they tend to be leading
figures in almost every Congressional district.)
There were two main regulatory instruments for promoting
the interests of workers. The National Labor Relations Act w as
intended to protect workers in the exercise of their right to orga­
nize in trade unions, and the Wages and Hours Act set for the
first time a federal minimum wage. Farmers were the intended
beneficiaries of a large body of legislation and regulation mainly
working to raise farm prices by reducing farm output and b y
holding some of the output off the market. The Robinson-Patman
Act was an effort to aid small businessmen by assuring that they
could buy at prices not higher than those paid by larger firms.
Whether any of this ever worked as intended has always been
subject to many questions. From the beginning, employers main­
tained that the Labor Relations Act was a limitation on the right
of workers to abstain from unionization if they wished to do so
and on the right of employers and employees jointly to agree on
the best kind of relation between them. Economists have argued
that the promotion of unionism has enabled a small elite fraction
of the labor force to increase its incomes at the expense of other
workers, and has increased rather than decreased the inequality




Hoover and Roosevelt: Origins of Liberal Economics

61

in the distribution of income. The minimum wage can be looked
at as a mechanism initially designed to prevent poor Southern
workers from getting jobs at the expense of better-paid Northern
workers, or as a device for keeping the Southern poor in their
poverty. Later the minimum wage was to be extensively criti­
cized for reducing the employment opportunities of disadvan­
taged youth, who were not sufficiently skilled to be employable
at the minimum wage, and thereby preventing them from get­
ting the work experience that would have made them employ­
able at better jobs. The programs of agricultural regulation and
price support were later seen to have mainly served the interests
of the more prosperous farmers, and even more of landowners,
at the expense of consumers and even of low-income farm work­
ers who suffered from reduced demand for farm labor and did
not share the gains in the value of the farmland.
Despite these serious questions about the consistency of their
actual effects with the advertised intent, these regulations had
great popular support. They persisted in the face of continuous
conservative complaint and attack, although with some modifi­
cations in the postwar period.15 The notion embodied in them,
that the government had a responsibility to protect the incomes
of selected groups of the population by regulation of prices or
production, was extended to other sectors in the wave of regula­
tion which came in the 1960s and 1970s.
The New Deal laid the basis for subsequent regulation of eco­
nomic activity in another way that was probably even more im­
portant. The New Deal experience ended, apparently perma­
nently, any constitutional restraint on the power of the federal
government to regulate economic life. Before the New Deal the
courts had limited the powers of the federal government in this
field by a strict interpretation of the commerce clause and due
process clause of the Constitution. On this basis the Supreme
Court invalidated two of the key elements of the early New Deal,
the NRA and the A A A . Roosevelt challenged the legitimacy of
the court’s action in striking down measures he considered neces­
sary for the national welfare, and he proposed to get legislation
which would permit him to appoint additional members to the




62

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

Supreme Court who would be more congenial. It never became
necessary for him to push this proposal. The Court bowed to his
popularity in the country and power in the Congress. Subsequent
appointments to the Court, by Roosevelt and Truman, confirmed
the fact that the power of the federal government to regulate eco­
nomic activity would not be limited by any constitutional in­
hibitions.

The Legacy of the Depression, Roosevelt and Keynes
Whether the New Deal cured the depression is doubtful. T h e
economy did recover after 1933, but slowly. In 1939, before the
war began to dominate the economy, total output was still lower
than it had been in 1929. The failure of the economy in a re­
covery to regain the level of output experienced ten years earlier
had no parallel in our history. In the course of the recovery, and
while it was still far from complete, we had a second recession,
in 1937, one of the sharpest of our history. The New Deal did
not yield a quicker or better recovery than we might have ex­
pected from the historical record. But we had had a deeper de­
pression than the record would have led one to expect, and the
relevance of the historical precedents is not certain.
One can reasonably argue, however, that once the pressure fo r
contraction of the money supply had been relieved by the loosen­
ing of the tie to gold and the establishment of deposit insurance,
and the gold inflow began to raise the money supply, a strong
recovery was most probable. The increase of government ex­
penditures may have tended to strengthen that course, but w as
probably not a dominant factor. On the other hand, many N ew
Deal measures that tended to raise costs and prices— notably
the labor and farm policies— tended to restrain the growth o f
real output while the tax and regulatory policies impeded the
revival of private investment.
Only when combined with the theory of Keynes and the per­
sonality of Roosevelt does the New Deal look like a success and
a lesson for the future. Keynes told us not to expect recovery as




Hoover and Roosevelt: Origins of Liberal Economics

63

a natural development, because the system was capable of an ex­
tremely long depression, so that any recovery seemed a triumph
of policy. He also told us that the essential policy for recovery
was fiscal policy, and that other measures were of less impor­
tance, which also validated what the New Deal did.
But if the economic success of the New Deal was doubtful, its
political success could not be questioned. No other President be­
fore or since has dominated the political scene as Roosevelt did.
His personal triumph was more than a matter of votes. He made
the nation feel better in miserable objective conditions, by the
force of his own personality and behavior. What in others might
have seemed vacillation and indecisiveness he made to seem bold
experimentation. His defeats and failures were given the appear­
ance of temporary setbacks at the hands of the enemies of the
people against whom he would inevitably triumph.
The combination of the depression, Keynes and Roosevelt left
us with many basic “lessons” which were to dominate policy for
years to come:
1. The basic economic problem is unemployment— getting
the economy to operate up to its potential.
2. That goal is to be achieved by assuring the adequacy of
total spending— nominal demand— and that in turn is to be ac­
complished by management of the government budget.
3. If aggregate demand is managed properly, other aspects of
economic policy— the tax-transfer system and regulation— can
be used to redistribute income in favor of low-income groups or
other “worthy” parts of the population— without concern for
possible adverse effects on the total potential output of the
economy.
4. There are no constitutional limits to the power of the fed­
eral government to regulate the economy.
5. An activist policy by the President— proposing strong and
dramatic measures and maintaining constant communication
with the public— will be appreciated by the public and will help
to maintain the vigor of the economy.







3
Truman and Eisenhower:
Postwar Consolidation

II, President
Roosevelt said that Dr. New Deal would be replaced by Dr. Win
the War. This did not mean that domestic economic policy
would be put in the deep freeze and reemerge unchanged when
the war was over. The war years, when no immediate decisions
about the “normal” peacetime operation of the economy had to
be made, were a period of gestation for the ideas and contro­
versies of the depression decade. Also, the economic experience
of the war left behind changes of thinking and conditions which
would not be entirely undone when the war ended.
The American economy performed brilliantly during the war.
Total output rose by 77 percent from 1939 to 1944, or by about
12 percent a year. (This is according to present gross national
product estimates, which cannot be taken literally for a period
in which the composition of output changed as much as it did
during the war, but the fact that output increased greatly cannot
be questioned.) Unemployment fell to negligible levels. This ex­
perience tended to confirm the belief that there was nothing
wrong with the economy that a sufficient expansion of demand

W hen

th e

U




n it e d

St a t e s

entered

W orld W ar

65

66

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

brought about by government spending or government deficits
could not correct. Everyone did not accept this conclusion.
There was, after all, an unprecedented degree of government
management of the economy during the war— with comprehen­
sive price controls, rationing and materials allocations— a n d
some drew from that the lesson that extensive economic planning
was feasible and necessary. Others were concerned about th e
inflationary pressures which were associated with the demand
expansion that had yielded the great increase of output and em ­
ployment— pressures which had been only partially and tem ­
porarily restrained by price controls. But the prevailing lesson
was that we could avoid a repetition of the depression by d e ­
mand management without “structural” changes.
The war was a struggle of the free societies against totali­
tarianism. It was an occasion for remembering and reaffirming
that freedom was the American way. This helped to restore a c ­
ceptance of the idea that the way we organize the Am erican
economy is through the free enterprise system, after that id e a
had been called into question by the depression. The war tended
to support the belief that we had to choose between free m arket
systems and totalitarian systems, and this elicited and drew a t­
tention to a wave of powerful writing which warned of the direc­
tion in which the interventionist tendencies of the 1930s w ere
taking us. The best-known example, whose title illustrates th e
thinking well, was Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom.1 This w riting
put the problem of the choice of economic systems in a m ore
objective and historical context than had been done by the typ i­
cal anti-New Deal pamphleteering of the National Association
of Manufacturers during the 1930s. It was much more appealing
to intellectuals and contributed to strengthening an intellectual
free market or conservative movement, which had been w e a k
during the depression (although Hayek, as already noted, d id
not accept the designation “conservative,” preferring “liberal” ) .
The war tended to moderate the negative and reactionary a t­
titude which had characterized business leadership during th e
193os. Although some aspects of the wartime economic p o licy
raised issues between business and the New Dealers who w ere




Truman and Eisenhower: Postwar Consolidation

67

still in the government, on the whole the war provided a breath­
ing spell during which some of the earlier struggles could be for­
gotten. There was an atmosphere of national unity. Business had
less to feel guilty about. And many businessmen came to work
in the Washington war agencies and acquired a better under­
standing of the problems of government and of the people who
ran it.
Keynesian economics was completing its domination of the
economics profession. Keynesianism moved from a general the­
ory to some abstract rules of policy— such as that government
expenditures should be high enough to maintain high employ­
ment— to operational procedures for applying these rules in par­
ticular situations. One basic problem was to know how much to
do in those particular situations. Keynes himself gave the lead
in thinking about this problem in his pamphlet How to Pay for
the War, which applied his reasoning to the British situation and
data.2 He estimated how much of the national output would be
available for private consumption, in view of the demands of the
war, how much income could be left to consumers so that they
would not try to buy more than that amount, and what tax and
savings programs were required to hold down disposable income
and consumption to the permissible, noninflationary level.
The effort to quantify Keynesian policy was greatly promoted
in the United States by availability of a new series of statistics
on the gross national product (GNP), which began in 1941. For
the first time we had a set of books on the American economy
with income and expenditure sides that balanced. This permitted a
comparison of the income that would be earned in production
with the amount of output that would be available for private
purchase. From this, on certain assumptions about how much of
their income people would want to spend, it was possible to cal­
culate a “gap”— the difference between desired expenditures and
available output. On other assumptions one could then calculate
what tax or other measures would be needed to close the gap.
Moreover, it seemed only a matter of time before the accumula­
tion of data would provide a solid empirical foundation under
the assumptions needed for these calculations.




68

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

In World War II as in earlier wars the question arose of how
to divide war finance between taxing and borrowing. In W orld
War I, to say nothing of earlier days, there seemed to be no guid­
ance for that question except such intuitive rules as fifty-fifty o r
political considerations of how much taxation the public would
stand. In World War II the young Keynesian economists w h o
were becoming important in the Treasury, Bureau of the Budget,
Department of Commerce and Office of Price Administration
tried to use their theory and new data to answer the question
“scientifically.” This did not mean, of course, that the President
and the Congress would follow their prescription. Nor was there
any demonstration that the prescription was correct. Neverthe­
less, there was growing confidence throughout the government
that they knew how to do it, if given the chance.
In addition to these developments in the world of ideas the
war brought two developments in the budget which would be in ­
fluential for many years to come. The most important of these
was that the nation acquired an enormously powerful new reve­
nue-raising machine. For the first time we had a broad-based
individual income tax, capable of nearly universal application.
In 1939 a family of four with an income of $3,000 paid no in ­
come tax, with an income of $5,000 paid $48 and with an income
of $10,000 paid $343. At the peak of wartime tax rates th e
$3,000 family was paying $275, the $5,000 family $755 and
the $10,000 family $2,245. In I939> federal personal income
taxes were 1.2 percent of personal income. By 1945 the propor­
tion had risen to 11.2 percent.8 These rates would be reduced
after the war, then raised again during the Korean War and sub­
sequently reduced in a series of steps, mainly in 1954, 1964,
1970 and 1981. But they would never get anywhere near the lo w
rates of 1939.
We could have what almost everyone regarded as a big ta x
cut after World War II and still be left with much more revenue,
absolutely and relative to GNP, than the federal government ever
had before. Also, with that tax system in place, even as reduced
after the war, revenues would rise faster than GNP because o f
the interaction between the progressive tax system and economic




Truman and Eisenhower: Postwar Consolidation

69

growth, and that effect would be heightened by inflation. As a re­
sult, governments were in the position where they could continu­
ously increase expenditures and cut tax rates from time to time
without running deficits of a kind that they found unacceptable.
This fact, plus the fact that so much of the revenue came in the
form of weekly withholding rather than in annual declarations
and payments, which made it all seem fairly painless, undoubt­
edly contributed to the growth of expenditures in the postwar
period.
We ended the war with a federal budget much higher than it
had been in 1939, not only absolutely but also relative to the
GNP. But this increase was due entirely to purposes connected
with the war and its aftermath. The defense establishment was
much larger, and could be expected to remain so, now that we
no longer rested behind the shield of the European Allies. We
had large bills for veterans’ benefits. Interest on the federal debt
had been increased greatly by the wartime deficits. We had un­
dertaken to make large expenditures in support of the recon­
struction of Europe. Aside from these war-connected expendi­
tures, federal outlays were a smaller fraction of the GNP than
they had been in 1939— 3.9 percent in 1946 compared to 7.3
percent in 1939.
There was a reasonable expectation that these war-connected
expenditures would decline, if not absolutely at least as a frac­
tion of the GNP. This did happen, although less than had been
hoped when the war ended. This decline in the demands for warconnected expenditures was another factor, along with the nat­
ural growth of revenues from the existing tax system, that made
it easy for nondefense expenditures to rise. Arithmetic suggested
the possibility that total federal spending, as a fraction of GNP,
would decline when the war-connected fraction declined. Politics
suggested the unlikelihood of that picture. Especially when the
revenue was rising strongly, the decline in the war-connected
share left a vacuum into which nondefense spending rushed.
The higher level of taxes and expenditures left to us by the
war had an important implication for “Keynesian” fiscal policy.
In the 1930s that policy had essentially meant the government




70

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

would decide from time to time what the level of government
spending should be to maintain full employment. The budgetary
situation after the war directed emphasis to taxation as an im ­
portant variable, probably the most useful variable, for adjusting
the budget to the needs of economic stabilization. Before the w a r
the level of taxation was so low that there was little room f o r
stimulating the economy by cutting taxes. After the war that w a s
no longer the case. In fact, during the war the government b e ­
gan to withhold income taxes from wages at the time wages w e r e
paid. With that system larger flows of income could be m anipu­
lated in a short period on the revenue side of the budget than o n
the expenditure side. This had a substantial effect on the think­
ing of conservatives whose previous opposition to expansionist
fiscal policy had been largely opposition to the increase of g o v ­
ernment spending it was assumed to imply.
A second consequence of the new budget situation was th a t
large swings in the size of the deficit or surplus would occur a u to ­
matically when the economy fluctuated. With large amounts o f
revenue coming from the income tax, and with Treasury co llec­
tions being almost simultaneous with the earning of income, b y
virtue of withholding, there would be a large prompt increase o r
decrease of revenue when the economy rose or fell. On the o th er
side of the budget, there would be a rise or fall of unemploy­
ment compensation payments as unemployment increased or d e ­
creased. Tlius, there seemed to be an automatic stabilizing m ech ­
anism in the budget. This possibility had been observed earlier,
but it became quantitatively important only when the level o f
taxation had increased and when pay-as-you-go income taxation
brought fluctuations in tax payments much closer in time to th e
fluctuations in the economy. Such an automatic stabilization s y s­
tem was of great interest to conservatives who could buy th e
Keynesian theory but shied away from its implementation b y
politicians and bureaucrats, whom they mistrusted.




Truman and Eisenhower: Postwar Consolidation

71

Postwar Schools of Economic Thought
In the days immediately after the war one could identify four
main attitudes to the problems of economic policy.
I.
Strict and exclusive Keynesians These were people,
mainly economists, who believed that the only problem, or at
least the main problem by far, was to maintain full employment.
Moreover, they believed that the main, or sufficient, instrument
for achieving that was the government budget. The devotion of
fiscal policy to the maintenance of full employment was called
“functional finance.” Initially this had meant manipulation of
the expenditure side of the budget, but there was no reason in
principle for them to reject manipulation of the revenue side as
well, and in a short time that became part of the accepted doc­
trine. They recognized that the implementation of a fiscal policy
for full employment entailed certain difficulties of estimation and
forecasting, but they didn’t think those difficulties were serious.
In principle these early Keynesians recognized that expansion­
ism could be overdone and cause inflation. But they were not
greatly concerned about that either. They thought that inflation
would be the result of an error— of generating more demand
than was necessary for full employment. This could be avoided
by good estimation of the amount of demand needed. They were
not impressed with the possibility that if the level of demand was
high enough to achieve full employment— which they assumed
they knew how to measure— it might also be high enough to
cause inflation. They thought that the inflation that might be
caused by error could be reversed, and in any case they didn’t
think that on the scale that might be imagined in peacetime it
would do any great harm.
They tended to regard monetary policy as ineffective, or at
most only one-sidedly effective. That is, monetary restraint might
serve to limit demand when it would otherwise be excessive, but
it could not stimulate demand when it might be deficient.
I call these people exclusive Keynesians because their interest




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

was almost entirely concentrated on the overall performance of
the economy and on the overall behavior of aggregate demand.
They were not much concerned with microeconomic matters,
with the structure of the economy. They were not planners, in
the sense of wanting to control production, investment, prices or
wages in particular industries. They were not, however, strongly
averse to price controls, either selectively or generally. They did
not put great stock in the classical arguments for the price sys­
tem, and if their demand-expansionist measures threatened to
cause inflation they would be prepared to take direct steps to
hold prices down. But they did not regard manipulation of prices
as important to correct economic problems. They were not even
much interested in selective regulation of this or that industry;
although they felt no desire to reduce the regulation, regulation
was not high on their agenda. Also, they tended to be incomeequalizers, but they were not pushing that line of policy either.
Given the structure of tax rates with which the country ended
the war, there was not much point to discussing further increases
of taxation of the wealthy. By and large, although these people
tended to resist some of the claims made in the postwar years
for reduction of income taxes on upper-bracket individuals and
on corporations, they were not aggressively seeking to raise such
taxes. Basically, they believed that the overwhelming problem
was the execution of a fiscal policy for full employment, and they
were not to be diverted from that by worrying about problems
that might remain if such a policy was accomplished.

2.
Reformers and planners These were mainly leftover New
Dealers who wanted to continue and expand the structural
changes of the economy that they thought had been begun dur­
ing the 193 os, for example, with the pro-labor and pro-farmer
measures. They accepted the Keynesian prescriptions for macroeconomic policy, but did not think that was enough. They
thought that more detailed government control, or influence, was
needed to achieve “balance.” By that they meant both balance
between wages and prices, which would assure that the full-




Truman and Eisenhower: Postwar Consolidation

73

employment product could be sold, and balance among indus­
tries, to avoid waste. They also supported major expansion of
government transfer and subsidy programs, for housing and
health, among other things.

3. Conservative macroeconomists This group of people has
been called “commercial Keynesians,” by critics who did not
mean that as a term of approval. They agreed with the strict
Keynesians that the maintenance of economic stability— of high
employment without inflation— was the major problem. They
also agreed that the stabilization of demand at an adequately
growing rate was the way to solve that problem. They accepted
the use of fiscal policy as an important instrument for the man­
agement of aggregate demand. But they differed from the con­
ventional Keynesians in a number of respects. First, they thought
that monetary policy was also important, being capable of both
expanding and contracting demand. Therefore, they had more
options for fiscal policy, because fiscal policy did not have to be
exclusively dedicated to economic stabilization. Second, they
were much concerned with inflation. This was partly because
they thought that “full employment” might be inconsistent with
price stability. They were worried by the experience of 19361937, when prices began to rise while the economy was still far
short of full employment. Moreover, they mistrusted the politi­
cal management of demand, thinking that it would have an in­
flationary bias even if that was not economically necessary.
Third, they were skeptical of the claims of the Keynesians that
they could reliably make the estimates and forecasts required for
their fine-tuning management of the economy.
Like the Keynesians, they did not have microeconomic policy
questions in the foreground of their concerns. But their basic
leaning with respect to such questions was the opposite of the
typical Keynesian. That is, they rejected ideas of government
planning and intervention. But they did not have a long list of
regulations they wanted to undo. Their concern in this field was
mainly to prevent further intrusion by government.




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

4.
Conventional conservatives These were the people,
mainly leaders of business organizations and Republican politi­
cians but also including some intellectuals, who were still fight­
ing the battles of the New Deal. “Keynesian” was to them a n
obscenity. They waved the bloody red shirt of the totalitarian
takeover. But behind or alongside the extreme rhetoric there
were a few real things they wanted— especially lower taxes o n
corporations and upper incomes and some reduction of the
powers given to labor unions under the Wagner Act.
Despite what seemed at the end of the war a wide range o f
opinion about national economic policy, a remarkable consensus
was achieved in a few years. This was largely the result of an
unusual process of discussion of economic policy that occurred
near the end of the war and for about five years thereafter. T h e
discussion was unusual in the degree to which it was realistic,
operational, directed to national, long-run objectives and non­
partisan and nonideological. The process is important to recall,
because progress today would be greatly assisted if we could
have something like it again.
The basic condition was that the war had heightened the sense
of common national destiny and purpose to a degree that is rare.
A t the same time, there was general acute concern about th e
possibility of falling back, after the war, into the depression from
which only the war had extricated us. There was, therefore, a
common willingness, and indeed eagerness, to think broadly
about economic policy in the national interest, and to put aside
partisan, special-interest or ritualistic arguments. The war h a d
given us a feeling of competence to solve great problems, w hile
the memory of the depression prevented us from complacency.
As the war drew to an end, postwar planning became the na­
tional occupation.4 Among the proposals getting much attention
were prescriptions from the National Planning Association, from
Vice-President Henry Wallace, from the National Association o f
Manufacturers, and from a group of citizens in Minneapolis—S t.
Paul. Early in the postwar period the Twentieth Century F u n d
published a series of essays by well-known economists on m ain-




Truman and Eisenhower: Postwar Consolidation

75

taining postwar prosperity.5 The American Economic Associ­
ation, in an unusual step, established a committee to write a
report setting forth the profession’s views on economic stabiliza­
tion. There were also many private, individual efforts, the most
notable of which was Milton Friedman’s “A Monetary and Fiscal
Framework for Economic Stability.”6
Special note must be made of the work of the Committee for
Economic Development, because it epitomized both the spirit
and the substance of the postwar consensus. The CED, estab­
lished in 1942 with the blessing of the Department of Commerce,
was a private organization of businessmen whose first concern
was with the postwar transition. The leaders of this group con­
sidered themselves to be deeply devoted to the free society and
the free economy and believed that the negative attitudes of busi­
ness organizations in the 1930s had been unproductive from that
standpoint. Those attitudes had not contributed to a solution of
the economic problem, they had alienated business from the rest
of society, and they had destroyed the influence of business even
when it had something to say. Several of the business leaders of
the CED had close connections with the University of Chicago.
Of the founding members, one, the first chairman, Paul Hoff­
man, was a trustee of the university, one had been vice-president
of the university, and one had been dean of the social sciences.
The first three research directors, covering the period from 1942
to 1967, were Ph.D.s in economics from Chicago.7 There was a
strong influence of what I have called above conservative macro­
economics. That is, there was acceptance of government respon­
sibility for stabilizing aggregate demand, with fiscal policy as an
instrument for doing that but with monetary policy also impor­
tant, but also with a need to constrain those policies to reduce
errors and political bias in their management.

The Macroeconomic Consensus
Three developments were of major importance in arriving at the
postwar consensus on macroeconomic policy.




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

1.
The Employment Act of 1946 As the end of the w ar
came into sight, New Deal economists in the government and
their allies in the Congress initiated an effort to set postwar eco­
nomic policy in a simple Keynesian mold. This was to be done
by the enactment of what was initially called the Full Employ­
ment Act. The act would declare the responsibility of the federal
government for maintaining full employment and establish a pro­
cedure and policy for discharging that responsibility. Essentially,
the Bureau of the Budget, where much of the thinking behind
the bill originated, would estimate the size of the government
deficit required to achieve full employment. (This deficit was
euphemistically called “investment.” ) The President would rec­
ommend this deficit to Congress, where it would be considered
by a joint committee to be newly created for this purpose. Once
this committee had decided on the proper size of the deficit, the
Congress was to be guided by that decision in acting on expendi­
tures and taxes.8
This proposal stimulated a great debate. There were people
who rejected the whole idea, root and branch. But it was not
really practical in 1945 to deny the government’s responsibility
for the level of employment. The real debate centered on more
operational issues.
— Did the notion of “full employment” imply a target so am­
bitious that it could be achieved only by harsh government con­
trols or by inflation? There were arguments that a commitment
to full employment would require, or at least entitle, the govern­
ment to force housewives out of the home into the factory. T he
concern about inflation if the government tried to drive unem­
ployment down to an extremely low level was more realistic.
— Did the formulation in the proposed legislation place too
much emphasis on manipulation of the budget, and especially o f
the deficit, as a way of achieving full employment?
— Did the commitment to full employment authorize the gov­
ernment to direct or suppress the private economy?
— Did the proposal give too much power to the nest of Keynes­
ian economists in the Budget Bureau who would presumably
make the estimates on which the whole operation was based?




Truman and Eisenhower: Postwar Consolidation

77

On all of these issues compromises were reached in a con­
servative direction. The term “full employment” was removed
from the bill and replaced by “maximum employment, produc­
tion and purchasing power.” While this might not in substance
seem a great difference, in the context of the contemporary dis­
cussion it was understood as a move toward pragmatism and
flexibility. References to the government deficit as the instrument
of economic management were deleted. A sentence was inserted
requiring that measures adopted under the act should be con­
sistent with the free enterprise system. The Bureau of the Budget
was removed from the implementation of the act. Instead a
Council of Economic Advisers to the President, requiring con­
firmation by the Senate, was established. While many conserva­
tives would have preferred an outside, nongovernmental coun­
cil, the organization established at least held open the possibility
of escaping the biases attributed to the Bureau of the Budget.
Given the experience of the 1930s, it was inconceivable that
the government would fail to commit itself to maintaining high
employment. That commitment was made in one way or another
by governments all over the world. But the form that commit­
ment took in the United States, as embodied in the Employment
Act of 1946, could hardly have been more satisfactory to con­
servatives. That is, after a major national discussion the Con­
gress rejected an overly ambitious, inflationary definition of the
goal, rejected exclusive reliance on deficit financing as the means
and reaffirmed its devotion to the free enterprise system.
Probably the most important lasting result of the act, which
might not have occurred without it, was the establishment of
the Council of Economic Advisers in the White House. The
discussion at the time the act was passed did not imply that the
members of this council would have to be economists. In fact,
two of the three members of the first council, appointed by Presi­
dent Truman, were not professional economists. Starting with
the three appointed by Eisenhower in 1953, however, all have
been economists.
Whether the establishment of professional economists in a
position so close to the President should be regarded as a plus or




PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

78

a minus from the standpoint of conservative economics is an
open question. There are people who would unhesitatingly say
that the answer is a minus, since they regard a majority of all
economists and a still larger majority of the economists who take
government positions as radicals of one degree or another. B u t
a good case can be made for the opposite answer. On matters o f
government regulation and government expenditure the White
House economists in all administrations have been a conserva­
tive force. On such matters the drive for expansion comes, within
the government, from the spending departments and regulatory
agencies, and anything that strengthens the President’s hand is a
force for restraint. On macroeconomic matters— particularly on
inflation, deficits and controls— the history is more mixed. B u t
it is probably true that on the whole the President’s economists
have been more cautious about these matters than the Presi­
dent— although undoubtedly not as cautious as they should have
been.

2.

The domestication of Keynesianism The Employment
Act of 1946 left open the question of the nature of federal fiscal
policy and its relation to the maintenance of high employment.
At the conventional academic level there was no question about
this. Simple-minded Keynesian functional finance swept the col­
leges and universities. Generations of sophomores were being
taught (fortunately, however, they soon forgot) that there w as
at any moment of time a size of government deficit, which the
government knew and could achieve, which would yield full em­
ployment, and that the government should run a deficit of that
size. Paul Samuelson’s textbook Economics: An Introductory
Analysis, which taught that lesson, dominated the field.® It had
imitators but few dissenters.
A t the level of policy, and at the more sophisticated level o f
economic thinking, things were not that simple. A critical ele­
ment in the argument was, of course, the ability of the govern­
ment to estimate reliably the size of the needed deficit. On this
subject experience at the end of the war was enlightening— even
shocking. The conventional forecast made by economists w as




Truman and Eisenhower: Postwar Consolidation

79

that when the war ended and defense spending was cut back the
United States would fall into a severe recession unless there was
a big increase in nondefense expenditures of government. This
didn’t happen, and its failure to happen vividly illustrated three
points:
1. The forecasting ability of economists was not adequate for
the “functional finance” prescription.
2. The error in the postwar forecast resulted from a too ex­
clusive Keynesian approach. The conventional forecasters ig­
nored the effect on private demand of the big accumulation of
money and other liquid assets that had occurred during the war.
Economists who gave more weight to monetary factors did not
make the same mistake. They believed that when wartime re­
strictions were removed, households arid businesses would hurry
to convert their liquid assets into real assets— which had been
depleted during the war. That would create a demand for output
and prevent a recession.
This experience tended to support the view that money mat­
tered much more than was recognized in conventional Keynesian
analysis. And that in turn had implications beyond the ability to
forecast. It meant that there was no unique proper size of the
deficit needed to achieve full employment. The proper size of the
deficit for that purpose would depend on the monetary policy.
There could be high employment with a deficit and tight money
or with a surplus and easier money.
3. There was a suspicion that the error of the conventional
forecasts was not simply a matter of chance or of mistaken anal­
ysis. These forecasts were made by people who wanted an in­
crease of government nondefense expenditures and who were
therefore biased toward making a forecast that would justify
such an increase.
The implications of these points, and a proposal for dealing
with them, were most clearly set forth by the Research and
Policy Committee of the CED, notably in its 1947 statement
“Taxes and the Budget: A Program for Stability in a Free So­




8o

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

ciety.”10 The CED rejected the conventional functional finance
prescription on the grounds that forecasting errors would make
it destabilizing rather than stabilizing, and that political bias
would lead toward inflation and increasing government expendi­
tures. On the other hand, it rejected traditional budget balanc­
ing, which would require tax increases in recession and tax cuts
in booms. That would probably be destabilizing, and, if not, cer­
tainly impractical and unnecessary.
The CED proposed as an alternative a policy of balancing the
budget, or achieving a small surplus, at high employment. D e­
partures of the economy from high employment would automati­
cally yield deficits if the economy was below high employment,
or a larger surplus than planned for high employment if the
economy was in an exceptional boom. These automatic varia­
tions in the deficit or surplus would tend to stabilize the econ­
omy but they would not be subject to forecasting errors because
they would be responses to actual variations of the economy, not
to forecast ones. Also, the requirement that durable, noncyclical
increases of expenditures be matched by increases of taxes would
restrain the growth of expenditures, because the politicians* re­
luctance to raise taxes would affect their desire to raise expendi­
tures. To the argument that a balanced budget might not on the
average be consistent with high employment or that the auto­
matic variations of the deficit or surplus might not sufficiently
limit the fluctuations of the economy the CED replied that mone­
tary policy would care for these deficiencies if they arose. (This
implied that monetary policy would be not only powerful but
also correct.)
Explicitly or implicity this became the standard approach to
fiscal policy in the Truman and Eisenhower years and into the
Kennedy years. Something like it was endorsed by the Douglas
Subcommittee of the Joint Economic Committee in 195011 and
by various officials or committees of the Eisenhower administra­
tion. Even without such endorsement it came to be commonly
accepted that the normal practice would be to balance the budget
in normal conditions, that the automatic variations of the deficit
or surplus that came with variations of the economy would be




Truman and Eisenhower: Postwar Consolidation

81

accepted, but that except in extreme circumstances there would
be no positive steps to change expenditures or tax rates to deal
with actual or forecast recessions or booms. In a general way the
actual fiscal policy of the years up to, say, 1965 can be described
as conforming to these principles.
Despite broad acceptance, exception was taken to this stan­
dard doctrine from both sides. The Keynesian economists thought
it was pretty good for a group of businessmen and a refreshing
advance beyond traditional budget balancing. But they regarded
the policy as still inadequate to the goal of full employment and
an insufficient acceptance of modern economic analysis. The tra­
ditional conservatives, on the other hand, regarded the CED
proposal as crypto-Keynesianism and a thinly disguised excuse
for not balancing the budget. They carried on a campaign against
the CED on these lines for many years.
Both objections were ironical. When the standard Keynesian
economists came into office with President Kennedy they did not
disdain to justify cutting taxes while there was a budget deficit
by pointing to the fact that the budget would be in balance at
full employment. That is, they were willing to make use of the
vulgar prejudice in favor of a balanced budget, even if they did
not share it.
The inconsistency in the traditional conservative position was
more serious. Even though they held themselves out to be the
champions of the balanced budget they never allowed that to
stand in the way of their effort to get taxes— especially their
own— reduced. Thus, there is the odd result that the traditional
conservatives were all-out for tax reduction in 1947-1948 and
1953-1954, whereas the CED, constrained by its principle about
a small surplus at high employment, was much more cautious
about it. The conservatives in these cases rationalized their posi­
tion by claiming that the tax reduction would increase the reve­
nue— as they had done in the 1930s and would do again, nota­
bly in the 1980s. What stands out is that the balanced-budget
argument, as commonly used, is an argument against govern­
ment spending and for tax reduction, not against deficits that
result from tax reduction.




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

3. The liberation of monetary policy The restrained view
of the operation of fiscal policy was made more acceptable than
it would otherwise have been by the belief that it would be sup­
plemented by monetary policy. This idea required first of all
overcoming the extreme interpretation of Keynes, that money
didn’t matter. As far as economic analysis was concerned, this
occurred early in the postwar period. The evidence of the post­
war forecasts has already been mentioned. But also, reflection
indicated that the conditions specified by Keynes in which money
would not matter were quite exceptional and did not exist in
postwar America— if, indeed, they had ever existed. Wide dif­
ferences remained in the economics profession about the size
of the monetary influence. The great effort of Friedman and
Schwartz to show that the monetary influence on total spending
and on inflation was dominant and stable had not yet appeared.12
Most textbooks, and most discussion by economists aimed at the
public, still ran as if money didn’t matter. But basically the pro­
fession accepted the idea that money did matter.
But to make monetary policy available as a supplement to fis­
cal policy required another step. During the war the Federal R e­
serve had accepted the responsibility of pegging the interest rates
on government securities. That meant that the Federal Reserve
would buy those securities whenever necessary to keep their
prices from falling and their yields from rising. But when the
Federal Reserve bought securities it increased the reserves of the
banking system and so permitted an expansion of the money
supply. As long as it remained committed to supporting the
prices of government securities the Federal Reserve could not
control the money supply in the interest of any other objective—
such as to stabilize the price level.
When the war ended, a debate began over whether to continue
this policy. There was nothing valid to say for it. But President
Truman remembered that when he came home from World W ar I
the Liberty bonds that he and other soldiers owned declined
sharply in value. He didn’t want that to happen again. Some
banks that held large quantities of government securities were
also opposed to letting them drop in value. Characteristically




Truman and Eisenhower: Postwar Consolidation

83

they identified this interest with the national interest. There was
fear that if the bond price were not supported, interest rates
would rise so high as to depress the economy.
Gradually the national discussion revealed the folly of this
policy, especially when the Korean War revived the problem of
inflation in an acute way. The Federal Reserve finally deter­
mined to end the bond support program. This led to a more
open and explicit conflict between the President and the Federal
Reserve than had ever occurred before or has occurred since.
The upshot was an “accord” between the President and the Fed­
eral Reserve in which the Fed assumed some transitional obliga­
tions but basically achieved its freedom. This incident tended to
establish the idea that the independence of the Federal Reserve
is special— more sacred than the independence of other agencies.
It did not advance any principle of how the Fed should use its
independence. But it liberated monetary policy to act as part of
a combined strategy for economic stability.
Thus, we achieved a national reconciliation on the issues that
had arisen in the 1930s and that had divided and confused the
country. The idea that the economy did not automatically stabi­
lize itself and maintain a satisfactorily low level of unemploy­
ment was accepted, and so was the responsibility of government
to contribute to stability and high employment. There was agree­
ment that the basic requirement was stabilization of the growth
of aggregate demand. The proposition that the government’s
budget was a useful instrument for doing this was accepted.
But the idea that the budget was the exclusive instrument was
rejected and a complementary role for monetary policy was ac­
cepted. Fears that a fiscal policy aimed at full employment might
turn out to be destabilizing and inflationary and to yield exces­
sive deficits and excessive government spending were recognized
to have a real basis, and moderations of policy were accepted to
avoid those dangers. There was also agreement that the stabiliza­
tion of the economy did not require any radical change of its
structure, or increase in the powers of government, but only
more responsible use of the fiscal and monetary powers that gov­
ernment inevitably exercises.




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

Thus, we seemed to have reached a solution of the problem o f
the 1930s that was consistent with economic freedom, growth
and price stability.

The Truce in the Microeconomic Struggle
As in the field of macroeconomics, many of the issues in other
aspects of economic policy which had confused and divided the
country simmered down in the 1950s. Conservatives continued
to complain about government regulation and government spend­
ing, but with few exceptions these were abstract and ritual com­
plaints. Business had learned to live with and accept most of the
regulations it had strenuously opposed in the New Deal— the
SEC, the minimum wage, the hours legislation, the FPC, C A B ,
FCC, etc. Still later, of course, this era when we had only the
New Deal regulations would be looked back upon by business as
the golden age of economic freedom. It is probably true that it
is the newness and unfamiliarity of regulation that most disturbs
the businessmen, and they regard the regulations they are used
fo as being freedom. But that says nothing at all about the real
effects of the regulations on the economy as a whole and cer­
tainly does not mean that the regulations businessmen are used
to and do not complain about are less harmful than the others.
On the other hand, there was little drive to push on with the
movement toward regulation of business that had been begun
during the New Deal. There was some flirtation with the revival
of price controls, allocation of materials and selective credit con­
trols, especially by the Democrats before the 1948 election, but
it did not get far.
The one important exception to this general acceptance of the
status quo with respect to regulation concerned the Wagner A ct,
designed to promote and protect collective bargaining. The W ag­
ner Act seemed more menacing to businessmen and conserva­
tives than the other regulations. The others imposed costs whose
extent was known and which could be dealt with by lawyers, ac­
countants and lobbyists. The Wagner Act exposed business and




Truman and Eisenhower: Postwar Consolidation

85

the business system to a dynamic, hostile and even violent force
(as shown by the sit-ins of the 1930s) of potentially unlimited
demands. Henry Simons, in one of his last articles, “Some Re­
flections on Syndicalism,” pictured the free enterprise system as
being devoured by labor unions.13
Conservatives launched a major effort to revise the Wagner
Act when the war was over. The battle in Congress was furious.
The upshot was the Taft-Hartley Act, which accomplished some
but not all of the conservative objectives. It provided that in the
event of a strike constituting a national emergency the President
could seek an injunction prohibiting striking during an eightyday “cooling-off” period, in which, presumably, reason would
prevail. Limits were placed on picketing and boycotts. Probably
the most controversial provision authorized states to pass legis­
lation prohibiting employers from discriminating against workers
for refusal to join a union.
The Taft-Hartley Act did not satisfy the conservatives and in­
furiated the unions. Each side continued for years to seek changes
in it; these were never made to a significant degree. Whether the
Taft-Hartley Act changed the course of unionism in the United
States is uncertain. Its main importance for our story is that it is
the only notable retreat from the regulatory legislation of the
New Deal that occurred in the postwar period, and the only ex­
ception to the proposition that the period 1945-1960 was one in
which the status quo was preserved in the field of economic
regulation.
Conservatives continued to press for restraint or reduction of
federal expenditures in the period under consideration here—
from the end of World War II through i960. On the other hand,
proposals that would have increased expenditure substantially
were constantly on the agenda— for federal aid to education, for
housing and for health. But the conservatives were not advo­
cating radical change in the New Deal program which had the
greatest potential for raising outlays— namely, social security.
That was accepted, in part because it was considered to be selffinancing. And new expensive programs found inadequate sup­
port in Congress to get them adopted.




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

The result was approximate stabilization of federal expendi­
tures relative to GNP. The level of this ratio was higher than it
had been before the war, but this was entirely due to higher
expenditures associated with national defense. The ratio of non­
defense expenditures to GNP rose slowly, largely because of the
increase in the number of people entitled to social security bene­
fits and the increase in the average benefits to which their previ­
ous earnings entitled them. In i960, federal nondefense expendi­
tures were 9.6 percent of GNP compared to 8.4 percent in 1939,
and social security expenditures were 3.4 percent of GNP com­
pared to 0.9 percent in 1939. The approximate stability of the
expenditure ratio did not satisfy the conservatives. They could
and did argue that with private incomes growing strongly there
was no need for as large nondefense expenditures as we had had
at the end of the depression and that the ratio, if not the absolute
level, should fall. The feeling about this was not intense, how­
ever. There had been two tax reductions— in 1948 and in 1954,
from the World War II and Korean War levels— along lines con­
genial to business, and further tax reduction could be expected.

The performance of the economy in the first fifteen years of
the postwar period was highly satisfactory by the standards of the
prewar period. It also looks in most respects highly satisfactory
from the perspective of the 1970s. The widely predicted sharp
postwar recession had been avoided. The country had been
through several recessions— in 1949, 1954, 1958 and i960— .
but they were short and mild by comparison with the 1930s. E x­
cept in the first months of the Korean War there had been little
inflation, at least by later standards. Total output in i960 was
134 percent higher than in 1929— an average annual increase
of 2.8 percent. Real disposable income per capita— income after
tax and adjusted for inflation— was 44 percent higher than in
1929, an average annual increase of 1.2 percent. Differences of
income among the regions of the country, and between the agri­
cultural and nonagricultural economies, were declining. Although
we didn’t then have statistics on poverty, later estimates indicated




Truman and Eisenhower: Postwar Consolidation

87

that the proportion of the population in poverty was declining.14
This success is not to be attributed to the economic policy fol­
lowed. It is mainly testimony to the vigor of the private econ­
omy. But at least one can say that the policy being followed was
consistent with successful performance. The bundle of regula­
tions and transfer programs left over from the New Deal, plus a
fiscal-monetary policy aimed at economic stabilization but in a
moderate way, did not seem to inhibit the effective working of the
economic system. At the same time the performance of the econ­
omy did not seem to require a more active, ambitious, interven­
tionist policy on the part of government. But, of course, we were
about to turn in that direction.







4
Kennedy and Johnson:
Activism Exhausted

I f t h i n g s w e r e a s g o o d as I have just reported in the years up
to i960, why did the consensus break down and policy take off
in a different direction? The answer has to be first in the realm
of simple politics. John F. Kennedy wanted to be President. He
could not become President by saying that things were great un­
der Eisenhower. His opponent, Richard Nixon, had the best
claim to the Eisenhower mantle, even though Ike gave it to him
rather grudgingly. Kennedy had to identify unsatisfactory condi­
tions in the Eisenhower years, which he could then promise to
correct. Lyndon Johnson wanted to be a great President on his
own, not living in the shadow of the popular young victim-hero
to whom he was the accidental successor. He needed to find new
conditions to correct, more ambitious goals and grander programs.
The Kennedy-Johnson situation was quite different from the
one Franklin Roosevelt had faced. Roosevelt did not have to
persuade the American people in 1932 that there was a massive
economic problem. That was obvious. But Kennedy and John­
son did have to identify their problems and persuade the Ameri­
can people of the seriousness of the problems. That is not to say




89

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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

that the conditions that they identified and offered themselves to
correct were fabricated or unreal. The missile gap that Kennedy
exploited in the i960 campaign was unreal and may have b een
fabricated. The economic conditions to which he pointed as e v i­
dence of the need for a change did exist. The question abo ut
them was something else. We do not live in the garden of E d en .
Even in the time of Dwight Eisenhower we did not live in Hie
garden of Eden. There are always conditions that one could
wish were different or better than they are. The relevant question
is whether there is a cure for the condition which the candidate
knows and can put into effect and which will not have conse­
quences that are worse than the initial condition. This question
Roosevelt did not have to answer in 1932. Kennedy and Johnson
did not have to answer it in the early 1960s when they raised
their problems to the top of the national agenda. The question
would be answered only with the passage of time. The conserva­
tive economics movement of the late 1970s and early 1980s can
be regarded as a response to the perceived failure of the liberals
to solve the problems they identified. That is, it is a response to
the belief that the policies initiated in the early 1960s to d e a l
with the conditions that Kennedy and Johnson identified either
did not cure the conditions or did so at costs that many people
found unacceptable.
There were four main economic conditions which K ennedy
and Johnson described as major national problems requiring a c ­
tive and aggressive federal policy, which they, of course, prom ­
ised to provide.
1.
Although, as has already been said, unemployment w a s
much lower than it had been in the 1930s or than it would b e
again in the 1970s and early 1980s, there seemed to be a risin g
trend of unemployment. Unemployment had reached its highest
postwar level in 1958— at 7.6 percent— and what was considered
full employment had not been regained before unemployment b e ­
gan to rise again in i960. The 1930s had left America acutely
sensitive to the problem of unemployment, and the thought th a t
unemployment was rising again, even though the numbers w ere




Kennedy and Johnson: Activism Exhausted

9i

much lower then they had been in the depression, was alarming.
2. The long-term rate of economic growth, abstracting from
cyclical fluctuations, had become, or been made into, a subject
of national concern. Previously we had thought that our rate of
secular growth, averaging about 3 percent a year, was one of the
great marvels of the U.S. economy. Three percent a year is,
after all, enough to double total output in twenty-five years.
Moreover, at the end of the 1950s there was no reason to think
that our growth rate was slowing down. Still, the growth rate be­
came a national issue in the 1960s. There was nothing easier
than to say that what had been 3 percent should be 4 percent or
5 percent. (There were even grown people who thought that an
increase from 3 percent to 4 percent was a trifle— only 1 per­
cent— whereas, of course, it is an increase of one-third.) The
apparent reasonableness of such a goal was increased by com­
parison with the experience abroad. It was possible to show that
several other countries were growing more rapidly than we. The
most troubling comparison was with the Soviet Union, which
had just given a demonstration of economic and technological
proficiency by launching Sputnik. But there were also economic
“miracles” in Japan, France, and Germany.1
3. Although the real per capita incomes of the American peo­
ple were very high, by comparison with earlier periods or other
countries, the charge was made that we were not using our in­
comes for the right things, and therefore were not getting the sat­
isfaction out of them that we could get. The American way of
life was said to be deficient, not worthy of us, in spite of our af­
fluence. There were two lines to this complaint. The first was
that the market system did not work satisfactorily to deliver the
kinds of goods and services that the American people really
wanted because the system did not adequately satisfy those wants
that could only be satisfied collectively. The typical example was
that of the American family driving in its 200-horsepower car to
picnic next to a polluted river. The family would have preferred
to spend a little less on the car and to spend something on clean­
ing up the river, but there was no way for a single family to
make that choice. The benefit of its expenditures on cleaning up




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

the river would be largely reaped by other people and would be
realized by the family to so small an extent that it was not worth­
while to make the expenditure. All who picnicked along the
river would be better off if they each spent a little to clean it up,
but there was no way for the private market system to yield that
result. So we were said to be living in a condition of “private op­
ulence and public squalor,” in a vivid and influential phrase of
J. K. Galbraith’s.2
But the point was also made that if the system did respond to
and satisfy the consumer’s wants, those wants were not neces­
sarily good wants. In fact, it was said, these wants could be, and
to an unfortunate extent were, trivial, crass, selfish and otherwise
unworthy. The standard example of the time was the automobile
tail fin. So, the picture was drawn of an America that was rich
in material terms but psychologically, aesthetically and spiritu­
ally impoverished. This line of thought was buttressed by Gal­
braith’s argument that consumers’ expenditures in the market
did not reflect any original or autonomous desires of consumers
but reflected wants created by producers, for their own benefit,
through advertising. This argument tended to dethrone “con­
sumers’ sovereignty” and open the way for collective— i.e., gov­
ernment— action to determine the best uses of the national output,
4.
The rise of average incomes per capita, the maintenance of
fairly low unemployment, and the social security and welfare
measures introduced during the Roosevelt era had combined to
reduce poverty in the United States substantially by 1960.® Still,
there were people in the United States who were poor. They
were poor not only in the sense that they felt poor but also in the
sense that many other people felt, or could be brought to feel,
that the condition was a national concern about which something
should be done. This feeling was probably heightened by a
change in the distribution of poverty. Immediately after World
War II, poverty seemed to be mainly a matter of the agricultural
South, which meant first that most people rarely saw it and sec­
ond that one could expect it to be cured either by agricultural
policy or by migration from the farm. By i960 much of the mi­
gration had occurred, and although that had reduced the depth




Kennedy and Johnson: Activism Exhausted

93

of the poverty it had also brought the poor into the cities, where
the nonpoor were more conscious of them.
The Kennedy-Johnson liberal movement promised a leap for­
ward on these four fronts— unemployment, growth, the “quality
of life” and poverty. Now, there was nothing particularly new or
“liberal” about the idea that these four areas were areas of legiti­
mate collective and governmental concern. As pointed out in the
preceding chapter, the idea that high employment was a proper
objective of government policy was accepted after World War II
even by those conservatives who had not previously accepted it.
Economic growth was a particularly “conservative” objective.
That is, when complaining about government policies they dis­
liked— notably, high taxes— conservatives usually argued that
those policies inhibited economic growth and therefore injured
the whole population and not only the wealthy and the corpora­
tions, who might seem to be the only victims of those policies.
Conservative— that is to say, old-fashioned classical— econom­
ics had recognized for a long time the possibility that the private
market might not adequately satisfy the wants of consumers be­
cause of the presence of what economists called “externalities.”
If the full benefit of a particular expenditure was not reaped by
the consumer making the expenditure but was shared by others
the individual consumer would not have an incentive to make
expenditures in an amount whose benefits just equaled their cost.
This was acknowledged to be an argument for government in­
tervention of some kind. And, of course, there had been govern­
ment intervention ever since the first regulations prohibiting
throwing garbage into the street from second-story windows.
Moreover, the classical argument about the superiority of the
free market system only maintained that such a system would
satisfy the wants of the population efficiently, aside from the ex­
ternalities just noted. It did not judge the merits of those wants,
but took them as given. The free market argument did not ex­
clude the legitimacy of a collective decision to affect the wants
the economy served, either by education, regulation or govern­
ment expenditure.




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

Finally, the classical conservative argument did not rule out
government action to affect the distribution of income, presum­
ably in an equalizing direction. The classical argument for free
markets said that they would yield optimum results given the dis­
tribution of productive resources, which would determine the
distribution of income. It did not maintain that the distribution
of productive resources was itself optimal, and therefore did not
maintain that the distribution of income was optimal. In general,
classical economists had supported progressive income taxation
as a means of reducing inequality and had supported measures to
reduce poverty. By i960, progressive income taxation on the one
hand and income support measures for the poor on the other hand
were accepted by all but the most unreconstructed conservatives.
Thus, what the Kennedy-Johnson liberalism brought was not
the idea of a national concern with unemployment, growth, the
quality of life or poverty. What it brought was the idea that the
United States in the early 1960s was so backward in these re­
spects that major changes of policy were required— meaning, o f
course, major changes in the occupancy of the White House— to
“get America moving again.” It created and exploited for its po­
litical advantage a much more ambitious set of goals for these
four objectives than had existed earlier. The leaders of this move­
ment in the early 1960s, Kennedy, Johnson and their political
and intellectual associates, had no clear conception of the mag­
nitude of the goals they were offering to achieve. They only
promised “more.” But they opened up a process in which the
goals were likely to become more ambitious than was even
vaguely visualized at the beginning, because of political com­
petition. It was always possible to promise cleaner water and
less poverty, and who could be against such goals? Moreover,
the Kennedy-Johnson teams had no precise program for achieving
the goals that they were raising to the top of the national agenda.
They were, as they said, “pragmatic” about that, meaning that
they had only slight reservations about using government spend­
ing, taxing and regulations for achieving their goals.
I describe this establishment of new goals as having mainly a
political motivation of providing a platform on which the Dem o­




Kennedy and Johnson: Activism Exhausted

95

cratic opposition could come into office. But it also had a con­
siderable intellectual element. One should probably not say “but”
in this connection, suggesting that the intellectual element is non­
political. It was partly political in the ordinary DemocraticRepublican sense that it was concocted and promoted to serve
a party purpose. But it was also political in the larger sense that
it served the personal interests of its promoters in status, influ­
ence and ego satisfaction, and even in money. We had a stan­
dard Schumpeterian4 case of the radicalization of the intellec­
tuals who did not find themselves sufficiently appreciated by the
society, even though the society was working well in other re­
spects and even though they themselves enjoyed comfortable
tenure in their universities or, in some cases, the luxury of Park
Avenue apartments. In the more contemporary phrase of Tom
Wolfe, we were experiencing the flowering of “radical chic”
which had its milder origins in the admiration for Adlai Steven­
son and became much riper in the Camelot of John F. Kennedy.
There were two elements in the intellectual underpinning of
the new liberalism. One was basically Keynesian and reflected
what by then was the mainstream of academic economics. By
i960 the young economists who had been hypnotized by Keynes
when they were graduate students in the late 1930s were mature
enough to be the advisers to Presidents and pundits to the na­
tion. This included such people as Paul Samuelson, Walter Hel­
ler and James Tobin. They were primarily interested in the first
two of the liberal goals— full employment and more rapid growth.
They regarded the postwar consensus described in the previous
chapter as progress but still far from the true gospel. They had
much more ambitious goals for unemployment than the perfor­
mance under the Eisenhower administration, they were much
more confident of their ability to forecast and manage the econ­
omy, and they were ready and eager to put into practice the ste­
reotype of Keynesian macroeconomic policy that was incorpo­
rated in the standard textbooks. Walter Heller later invented a
name for that, “fine-tuning,” which still later became a symbol of
much that was thought to be wrong with the policy.
Contrary to what later became a common criticism of Keynes-




g6

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

ians, these people were not indifferent to the value of economic
growth. They did not operate on the theory, which might have
been reasonable during the depression, that the potential output
of the economy was given, or at least of no concern, and that the
only problem was to get the potential output actually used. They
did, however, have their own view of how growth was to be pro­
moted, which differed from the conventional businessman’s view
of that problem and from what later became the Reagan view.
In the first place, they thought that maintaining a high level of
demand and total output was absolutely essential, because busi­
nesses would invest in capital expansion only in that condition of
the economy. Second, and again contrary to the cliche image of
Keynesians, the preferred policy called for the government to run
a budget surplus when the economy was at high employment.
This surplus would add to the supply of savings available for
private investment, keep interest rates down and stimulate growth
by its favorable effect on investment. Third, the policy called for
enlarged governmental investment in “human capital”— educa­
tion, training and worker mobility. This might be called an anti­
capitalist approach to economic growth. It would avoid having
to pay high interest rates to capitalist savers, by providing for in­
vestment through the federal budget, both by running a surplus
and by government investment expenditures. Moreover, it would
add to the capital owned by the working class, in education that
would increase their ability to produce and earn.
Again contrary to the common impression of them, the Keynes­
ians of this period were not inflationists. Or, at least they did not
think of themselves as inflationists. Their thinking had moved
beyond the original and simple Keynesian model in which there
would be no inflation while the economy was below full employ­
ment and nothing but inflation when the economy was above
that level. They now thought of a continuous relation between
unemployment and inflation, such that at lower levels of unem­
ployment there would be a higher inflation rate and vice versa.
(This relationship was called the Phillips curve, after the British
economist A. W. Phillips, who had published a statistical dem­
onstration of it.5) Thus, the government could choose among




Kennedy and Johnson: Activism Exhausted

97

many combinations of unemployment and inflation. They could
have, for example, 4 percent unemployment and 3 percent infla­
tion, or 5 percent unemployment and 2 percent inflation, or 6
percent unemployment and 1 percent inflation, and so on. Basi­
cally, the Keynesian economists of this time thought that a fairly
satisfactory choice was available. It would be possible to have
something like 4 percent unemployment with, say, 3 percent in­
flation. Moreover, policy measures could improve this choice.
Improving labor markets, by better training of workers for avail­
able jobs and assistance to worker mobility, would reduce the
unemployment rate associated with a given inflation rate. “In­
comes policy,” the use of government “influence” to restrain
wage and price increases, could reduce the inflation associated
with any level of unemployment. The economists who came into
office with Kennedy did not overlook the inflation problem. They
only thought that they could manage it, like everything else.
The second strand in the 1960s liberalism, other than the up­
dated and ambitious Keynesianism, was what might be called
Galbraithianism. Whereas the Keynesian element was not radi­
cal in the sense that it did not require any serious departure from
the free market system— whatever it might have led to in the
end— the Galbraithian view was much more venturesome in this
respect. It had little regard for “consumers* sovereignty”— a
staple of free market economics— because it believed the con­
sumer to be led around by the nose by the producer and adver­
tiser. Therefore, those who held this view were quite prepared to
alter the pattern of production that resulted from consumers’ ex­
penditures whenever they thought some better purpose would be
served by government intervention. They scoffed at the idea that
the American economy was governed by competition which
yielded a high degree of efficiency and therefore had few qualms
about extending government regulation. They did not accept the
idea that the high rewards of capitalists and business executives
were needed to induce saving, investment and business manage­
ment on a satisfactory scale. So they were prepared for, and
eager for, a large degree of government regulation of the econ­
omy and government redistribution of income. Unlike most of




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

the Keynesians they would not be satisfied with successful opera­
tion of the economy in the macro sense— with the maintenance
of full employment and rapid overall growth. They wanted that,
of course, but would have thought even such an economic per­
formance to be deficient.
This kind of argument provided the motivation for, or at least
the justification for, the wave of regulatory and antipoverty pro­
grams of the 1960s. Although this involved a more far-reaching
departure from the free market system than was involved in the
Keynesian revolution, the case for it was put in a way that made
it peculiarly acceptable in America. There was no demand for a
new and different economic system. The ideological case for the
old system, the free market, capitalist system, was punctured b y
the demonstration of exceptions to its general rules and claims,
and this opened the way for specific policy interventions and
measures of income redistribution without any visible limits.
This movement of the 1960s did not entail a turn to a “planned
economy.” The American people were not asked whether they
wanted a radical change in their economic system. They were
only asked whether they wanted cleaner air and water, or whether
they wanted seventeen million Americans to go to bed every
night hungry. The answers to such questions seemed obvious— but they were not the right questions. J. K. Galbraith was the
chief promoter of the intellectual attitude I am describing and
the chief example of the point I am making. He declared himself
a socialist, but did not fit the stereotype of a radical. He was a
member of the jet set, wintering in Gstaad and squiring Jacque­
line Kennedy around.
The interesting question about the idea that a sharp change o f
policy was needed after the Eisenhower period is not why politi­
cians like Kennedy espoused that idea. They clearly needed it as
a platform to run on. Neither is the question why a certain group
of intellectuals promoted it. They got the prospect of power and
vicarious glamour with the Kennedys, a chance to thumb their
noses at the anti-intellectualism of the Eisenhower regime, and
other psychological and material advantages. The interesting




Kennedy and Johnson: Activism Exhausted

99

question is why the public, which after all was well off under Ei­
senhower, bought the idea.
Part of the answer, of course, is that we don’t yet know that
they really did buy it in i960. We still don’t know whether Ken­
nedy won the election in that year or was given it by Chicago’s
Mayor Daley, who was believed by many to have tampered with
the election results in Illinois. In any event, the Kennedy victory
was close, and could be explained by many things other than a
general desire for a change of economic policy.
But still there seemed to be, in i960, a certain readiness to ac­
cept a change of economics in a more activist direction, and
there were several reasons for that. The possible changes of pol­
icy were not described specifically during the i960 campaign,
and there was no suggestion that anything radical was intended
or that there was any threat to the system. Unlike the situation in
the 1930s, nobody was talking about central planning or social­
ization of industries or any of the other big ideological concepts
that Americans always distrusted. What seemed to be meant by
getting America moving again was doing somewhat more, or do­
ing more vigorously or more intelligently or more compassion­
ately what we had been doing all along.
Moreover, as is always the case, the idea of change was put
forward with no suggestion that there would be any cost. No
one would have to give up anything. We were still operating
with the idea that there was great unused potential output in the
American economy. All that was necessary was to turn that po­
tential into reality and we would be able to afford many new
things without losing any old ones. We were getting used to the
notion that was a little later to be called the “growth dividend,”
that the growth of the American economy automatically gener­
ated more national income and more government revenue each
year, confronting us only with the problem of choosing how to
use the additional national income and government revenue.
There was, for example, no question that, barring war, the trend
of tax rates was down. The only question was when the next step
would come.




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

At the same time that the public accepted the idea that they
had in the American economy a powerful instrument that could
do a great deal costlessly, it was also coming to value less what
the instrument was in fact accomplishing. We were then twenty
years from the Great Depression. The facts of general prosperity
with only occasional mild interruption by recessions, and con­
tinuing rises in the standard of living, were more ordinary and
less impressive than they had been when memories of the depres­
sion were fresher. Popular willingness to believe that American
economic policy needed alteration was fostered by the reports,
whose significance was commonly exaggerated, of economic mir­
acles being performed abroad. Although poverty was diminish­
ing, poverty was becoming a more visible problem, as the loca­
tion of poverty moved from Tobacco Road, where few people
saw it except on stage or screen, to the ghettos of large Northern
cities. And a new influence on popular thinking was beginning
to make itself felt. That was television, with its persistent ten­
dency to dramatize the negative, because it is more unusual in
America, if for no other reason.
But looking back at i960 one cannot miss the presence of an­
other influence— boredom. There was a feeling that although life
went on smoothly, or perhaps because it went on smoothly,
something was missing. Nothing exciting or uplifting ever hap­
pened. One evidence of the searching for something more was
the establishment by President Eisenhower of a Commission on
National Goals.6 This was intended to discover what the nation’s
goals should be. It reflected a feeling that the country should be
after something but had no clear idea of what it should be after.
There was much talk at the time about the lack of a “national
purpose” and the need for one. It was partly to meet this need
later that President Kennedy announced the goal of landing a
man on the moon in the decade of the 1960s. In such a mood it
was easy to accept the idea that something unspecified was miss­
ing in the performance of the economy and that new and inter­
esting steps must be taken to fill the gap.
Once the new economic policies of the early 1960s were be­
gun it was no surprise that they should gain in support during




Kennedy and Johnson: Activism Exhausted

IO I

their early years. For most of the new initiatives the good parts
came first and the bad parts, the costs, came only later. That, of
course, is why these initiatives were politically so attractive. A
drive to pump up the economy and reduce unemployment has its
beneficial effects at first; if there are going to be adverse effects,
like inflation, they will come later. Taxpayers will enjoy the plea­
sures of tax reductions before resulting deficits begin to trouble
them. New spending programs promising attractive benefits can
be launched and years may pass before the magnitude of the out­
lays to which the nation has committed itself becomes apparent.
The public can savor the satisfaction of launching a war on pov­
erty for years before the costs and casualties are recognized. This
lag phenomenon helps to explain why, even though there was no
great popular demand for a new economics in i960, by 1964 it
was held to be a great success and contributed to Lyndon John­
son’s landslide. It also helps to explain, of course, why there was
subsequent disappointment or revulsion, and support for a change
of policy.

Kennedy Economic Policy
The new Kennedy team when it came into office approached eco­
nomic policy in a conventional Keynesian way. Their main ob­
jectives were full employment and more rapid economic growth.
They would achieve full employment by the expansion of de­
mand. The achievement of full employment by the expansion of
demand was also the main instrument for accelerating growth,
on the ground that a full-employment economy was most likely
to have a high rate of investment in productive capital, large pri­
vate investment in training workers and flexible adaptation to
more efficient methods of production. In addition, public expen­
ditures for research, education, training and worker movement
would contribute both to growth and to full employment.
Their preelection prescription for expanding demand by a
combination of more rapid growth of the money supply with a
surplus in the budget did not survive for long. The United States




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

was running a large deficit in the balance of payments. Our pay­
ments to the rest of the world— for imports, investment abroad
and foreign aid— were regularly exceeding our receipts. A tradi­
tional way to deal with this would have been to restrain demand
at home, temporarily reducing the national income and ulti­
mately reducing our price level, which would reduce our imports
and stimulate our exports. That path was, of course, ruled out b y
the full-employment objective of the administration which w as
generally shared. The Kennedy administration’s alternative was
a different “mix” of fiscal and monetary policies, with tighter
money and more expansive fiscal policy— i.e., no budget sur­
plus— which was expected to yield the desired increase of de­
mand with higher interest rates. The high interest rates would at­
tract capital from abroad, or at least restrain our capital exports,
and so relieve our balance of payments deficit. There was an­
other reason, certainly simpler and probably more important in
determining the policy. The budget-surplus-for-growth policy ran
counter to the administration’s promises and desires for increas­
ing government expenditures, especially since a tax increase was,
as almost always in peacetime, out of the question.
So the Kennedy administration became quickly committed to a
policy of fiscal expansionism. But it did not move at once to the
big tax cut that is still remembered as the great triumph of K en­
nedy economics. Although tax reduction was discussed by the
Kennedy economists from the very beginning, over a year and a
half passed before the President decided to make his move. There
were several reasons for that. John F. Kennedy did not have
firm views about fiscal policy, but such views as he had w ere
conventional. A little persuasion would be required to get him to
recommend a tax cut when the federal budget was already in
deficit. Moreover, his administration had to consider that the
Congress and the public might be even more conventional in this
regard than the President, so that a move to increase what al­
ready seemed a worrisome deficit might be politically unwel­
come. Also, the economy was apparently recovering from the re­
cession of i960. How far or fast the recovery might proceed
without an additional boost from the government could not b e




Kennedy and Johnson: Activism Exhausted

103

foreseen. Although getting back to full employment and staying
there was the first objective of the Kennedy economics team,
they were at the same time cautious about launching an initiative
that might overshoot the mark and lead to inflation. (Another
evidence of this caution, which we do not usually associate with
the Kennedy economists, is that they thought of full employment
as being 4 percent unemployment, whereas there were others in
the administration, especially in the Department of Labor, who
wanted to make 3 percent the goal. This disagreement was re­
solved by describing 4 percent unemployment as an “interim”
goal, with the implication that a more ambitious goal would be
pursued once the interim one had been achieved.) Finally, the
administration, or at least many members of it, preferred in­
creasing expenditures to cutting taxes, because they were as in­
terested in changing the allocation of the national income toward
a bigger share for government and for low-income people as in
getting the total income up to a higher level. This was more true
of the Galbraith wing of the team than of the more purely
Keynesian wing, which included Walter Heller, chairman of the
Council of Economic Advisers. Thus, there had to be an effort at
getting the expenditures up before a turn would be made to re­
ducing the revenue. It should be emphasized that the Kennedy
administration was not strongly impressed with the case for tax
reduction as essential to provide incentives for work, saving and
investment. Although some deference was given to this argu­
ment, reducing taxes was regarded essentially as a way of put­
ting money into the hands of people so that they would spend it,
and a rather inferior way compared with the beneficial expendi­
ture programs that the administration could imagine.
Thus, the big tax cut was, for the Kennedy administration, a
second best. By mid-1962 two things had become clear. The
idea that the economy might spontaneously rebound to what the
Kennedy people regarded as full employment had faded. A l­
though there had been some recovery in the first months of the
administration the economy was flattening out in the summer of
1962 and there was fear that the counter might be going into
another of the recesssions that occur before the previous boom




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

had fully matured, an occurrence that the Kennedy team had
thought so typical of Eisenhower economics. Moreover, Con­
gress was being extremely reluctant to go along with the new
or increased expenditure programs the administration wanted.
Something had been achieved in that direction, notably the be­
ginning of new programs for manpower training and regional
development, but on the whole the administration was unable to
boost nondefense spending as it would have liked. This was not,
as one might have thought, because Congress was averse to
budget deficits or to an increase of government expenditures per
se. Congress went along readily enough when the President asked
for an increase of defense expenditures after the Soviets erected
the Berlin Wall. The simple fact was that a large part of Con­
gress did not like the particular things Kennedy wanted to spend
money for.
The administration was coming face to face with the dreadful
prospect that unless it changed course and got things moving
along more speedily it might enter the 1964 election season with
an economy in misery. This is a condition that frequently afflicts
administrations in their second or third year and sets them to
searching, open-mindedly or desperately, for new solutions. This
happened to Nixon in 1971 and to Carter almost every six
months after 1977.
The particular shape that the Kennedy administration’s re­
sponse to the worrisome economic situation took was greatly
influenced by a number of developments during 1962. In its
Economic Report at the beginning of the year, the Council o f
Economic Advisers had taken a new step to increase its room
for expanding the economy without setting off inflation.7 T h ey
described “guideposts” for price and wage behavior which they
considered consistent with reasonable price stability and declared
that businesses and labor had an obligation to abide by these
guideposts. This was the farthest move yet made toward “in­
comes policy” or “voluntary price and wage controls” in the
United States in peacetime, although there were precedents else­
where, especially in Britain. This was not a particularly radical
or liberal step, at least in its historical background. For many




Kennedy and Johnson: Activism Exhausted

105

years business leaders had been describing the irresponsible be­
havior of labor unions as the major cause of inflation, or infla­
tionary danger, and pleading for leadership to restrain such
behavior. President Eisenhower had appealed for noninflationary
wage behavior by labor. Thus, traditional conservatives in busi­
ness and politics were not in principle opposed to the idea of
some government intervention in the price and wage determina­
tion process, especially if that mainly meant the wage determina­
tion process, despite the horror of free market economists. But
both business and labor were dissatisfied with the specific guide­
lines announced in January 1962— neither side thinking them
fair, as usual. And the whole guideposts effort nearly exploded
when the steel industry raised its prices in April 1962 against
the wishes of the administration. The White House threatened
the companies involved in several ways, and the price increases
were rolled back after some tense days. The episode made the
business community furious with the administration. Combined
with a sharp drop in the stock market and the sluggishness of the
economy in the summer it convinced the administration of the
need to do something to mollify business if it was going to get a
durable recovery going.
The guideposts-steel controversy was a further reason for pur­
suing recovery by the “conservative” route of tax reduction
rather than by continued fighting for new spending programs.
In a sense there was implicitly the kind of “social contract” that
many had called for explicitly. The business community would
sit still for an incomes policy to restrain price increases if the
administration would give business what it wanted, which was
tax reduction. Moreover, the tax reduction would have to be of
a kind that the business community would like. In 1961 the
administration had proposed a package of tax changes designed
to increase business investment without reducing the revenue.
That would have provided a tax credit for investment in excess
of a corporation’s depreciation allowances, combined with a
limit on the credit for foreign taxes and withholding of interest
and dividends. That did not satisfy business at all. They regarded
it as an attempt by the administration to drive business to invest




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

more without, on balance, giving business any tax relief. That
proposal was rejected by Congress. In 1962, Congress enacted
an investment tax credit in a form that was less objectionable to
business but still not what they wanted. Business wanted more
tax relief, and also wanted it as a recognition of business’ just
deserts, and not as an ingredient of a plan concocted by a group
of liberal economists who might take the relief away if their
econometric models changed.
As already noted, Kennedy was nervous about proposing a
tax reduction while the budget was in deficit, partly because he
had some vestigial qualms about deficits but more because he
thought that others, “conservatives,” worried about deficits. B u t
as soon as he made the decision to go for the tax cut it became
clear that the opposition on budget-balancing grounds would b e
small, and that there would be none from the business commu­
nity. The business organizations and business leaders had been
hesitant about getting out in front on this issue, and recommend­
ing a bigger deficit than the President did, although the C E D
made some steps in this direction before the President. But once
the President proposed the tax cut, the business community w as
happy to go along. This was another confirmation of the princi­
ple that whatever businessmen’s budget-balancing rhetoric m ay
be, if given a choice between reducing their taxes and reducing
the budget deficit business leaders will choose the reduction o f
their own taxes. In this they do not differ from others, except
that most others do not talk so much about the evils of budget
deficits.
The Kennedy economists at this juncture, when the large ta x
cut was being discussed, made much use of the concept of the
“full-employment budget.” That is, they emphasized that al­
though the budget was actually in deficit it would be in surplus
if the economy were operating at full employment, and w ould
still be in surplus at full employment after the tax cut was made.
The tax cut was defended as a way to balance the budget, on the
ground that it would get the economy up to full employment,
where the budget would actually be balanced. This use of th e
full-employment budget concept was new for the Kennedy




Kennedy and Johnson: Activism Exhausted

107

economists. When the CED had first used the full-employment
budget in this way the Keynesian economists had said that al­
though there was analytical utility in measuring what the deficit
or surplus would be at full employment there was no reason to
say that the budget should be in balance or in surplus at full
employment. Whether there should be a full-employment sur­
plus, or a full-employment deficit, or how large they should be,
would have to be determined from time to time in the light of
economic conditions, with no presumption that balance was
better than deficit. But now the Kennedy team recognized that
there might be some people out there who cared about balancing
the budget, and for them they offered the comfort that the
budget would be balanced at full employment.
The Kennedy tax cut, which he proposed at the end of 1962
but which was not enacted until early 1964, after his death, was
the largest tax cut in American history up to that time. It re­
duced individual income tax rates across the board, including a
cut of the top marginal rate from 91 percent to 70 percent. It
also reduced the rate of corporate profits taxation and liberalized
provisions for the depreciation of capital. In total, estimates at
the time were that the annual revenue loss from the tax cut when
fully effective (it went into effect in two steps), on the assump­
tion that it would not affect the national income, would be about
$ 14 billion, or 2 percent of the GNP at the time.
In the 1960s the Kennedy-Johnson tax cut was regarded as
the great achievement of the Keynesian New Economics and the
demonstration of its validity. In The Fiscal Revolution in Amer­
ica I described the tax cut as “the act, which more than any
other, came to symbolize the fiscal revolution.”81 meant by that
the revolution which was Keynesian in the sense that it relied
upon the use of fiscal policy, by increasing government spending
relative to revenues, to raise total spending in the economy and
thereby to raise real output and employment. But the revolution
was also tamed in a “conservative” direction by reliance upon
tax reduction rather than expenditure increases, by considerable
deference to the interests of corporations and wealthy individuals
as taxpayers, and by some respect for a budget-balancing rule,




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

however attenuated, in the form of the full-employment budget.
It is ironic that by the late 1970s the Kennedy-Johnson tax
cut was appropriated as evidence and model for a group of econ­
omists and politicians, mainly Republicans, who considered
themselves anti-Keynesians. In their language, which will be
explained more later, they were supply-siders rather than demand-siders like the New Economists of the Kennedy days. They
used the Kennedy-Johnson tax cut as evidence for their claim
that a large reduction of income tax rates would not only in­
crease the national income but also raise it enough so that the
total revenue collected would increase rather than decrease. More­
over, this marvelous effect would be achieved by a distinctively
supply-side process.
The New Economists of the Kennedy days had said that the
tax cut would raise the national income, increase total output
and reduce unemployment. That was what it was all about. They
had mainly one particular view of how this would happen. T a x
reduction would leave more after-tax income in the hands o f
taxpayers, individuals and businesses. Having more income
available to spend, they would spend more for the purchase o f
goods and services, both consumers’ goods and capital goods.
This increase of spending would be, in the first instance, an
increase in the dollar value of expenditure. But it would also be
an increase of real expenditure, matched by an increase of real
output and employment. This assumed that there were busi­
nesses willing to produce more, and workers willing to work
more, at the existing real prices and wages, so that when spend­
ing in dollar terms increased, more output and labor would be
forthcoming and the entire increase of spending would not b e
absorbed in an increase of prices and wages. That is what was
meant by saying that the economy was operating below full em­
ployment or below potential.
The supply-side view of the way in which tax-rate reduction
increases the real national income is different. It starts with the
proposition that there are productive resources— labor and capi­
tal— not now being supplied and used because the after-tax
return to working and saving is too small to make it worthwhile.




Kennedy and Johnson: Activism Exhausted

109

A reduction of tax rates will increase the after-tax return and
increase the supply of labor and capital, which will increase total
output. This is a rather modest proposition, although not entirely
beyond question. It was not this modest proposition that made
the supply-siders the enfants terribles of 1980 economics. It was
the idea that the increase of total output would be large and
prompt, large enough so that the tax cut would raise, not lower,
the revenue. That had, of course, always been the argument of
people who wanted their taxes cut but did not want to seem to
be supporters of a deficit policy. The difference in the late 1970s
and early 1980s was that the argument was used more flam­
boyantly by more important politicians and with more certifica­
tion by professional economists.
The architects of the 1964 tax cut certainly claimed some
supply-side benefit from the cut. It is almost always true that
proponents of a policy claim all possible benefits from it. So
they claimed that parts of the tax cut, specifically the cut in the
top individual income tax rate from 91 percent to 70 percent
and the reduction of taxes on corporations, would increase the
incentives to private investment and cause a larger share of the
national income to be invested. The higher rate of investment
was expected, little by little, to raise America’s capacity to pro­
duce, so that after some years total output would be larger. The
cut of tax rates was also expected to increase incentives to work.
But these effects were considered a minor and distant part of the
total effect of the tax cut, which would mainly come from the
additional expenditures of taxpayers who would have more money
in their pockets.
In fact, total spending, total real output and total employment
all rose after the tax cut and unemployment fell. The increases
of output and employment and the decreases in unemployment
were larger than in the years immediately preceding the tax cut.
The crucial question is whether these developments were due to
the tax cut and, to the extent that they were, how much of the
effects was a demand-side effect and how much a supply-side
effect? It is proper to start with saying that economists do not
surely know the answer to this question. Many other things were




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

going on besides the tax cut, and it is hard to disentangle the
effects of the tax from the other effects. But still, the weight of
the evidence is against the idea that the supply-side effects of the
tax cut were dominant. There have been two periods of excep­
tionally rapid rise of production in the United States in the
period after World War II. One was the period of the Korean
War. The other was the period after the Kennedy-Johnson tax
cut and running into the peak of the Vietnam War. The obvious
conclusion is that the dominant factor in each case was the surge
in total demand resulting from the way the wars were financed.
A ll of the increase in the rate of growth of output after the 1964
tax cut went into effect resulted from the faster growth in the
number of persons employed. Output per person employed ac­
tually grew more slowly after the tax cut than before, although
one would have expected the reverse if the supply-side effects
were dominant. That is, the supply-side effects should have in­
creased capital per worker, research, innovation and all the
things that speed up the rise of output per worker. But output
per worker did not speed up.
The rise of the economy in the years after the tax cut is much
more plausibly explained as a result of the growth of the demand
side of the economy than as a result of the growth of the supply
side. The dispute among economists at the time was about what
had caused the acceleration of demand. Was it the tax cut or
was it the stronger and steadier growth of the money supply
which began in 1961? This question has never been resolved,
and in the nature of the case it could not be resolved by looking
at a single episode in which there was both a tax cut and mone­
tary expansion. Economists have observed the behavior of aggre­
gate demand, the money supply, fiscal policy and other variables
over a long period. Some have concluded from that observation
that the behavior of aggregate demand is closely determined b y
the behavior of the money supply. Those who have reached that
conclusion naturally conclude that the expansion of the K ennedy-Johnson days was determined, or at least primarily deter­
mined, by the growth of the money supply. Those whose general
theory and observation of history lead to a different conclusion,




Kennedy and Johnson: Activism Exhausted

in

with fiscal influences playing a more important role and mone­
tary influences unimportant or passive, naturally come to a
different conclusion about the 1964 tax cut, being inclined to
give it major credit for the economic expansion. One cannot tell
from looking at the experience of the 1960s alone what caused
the expansion. One needs a theory of what causes expansions in
general.
Probably the general position of economists today would be
that both expansion of the money supply and a large tax reduc­
tion contribute to expansion of total demand and, at least tem­
porarily, to an increase of real output. The trend of thinking in
the years since the 1964 tax cut has been to emphasize the
monetary contribution, and particularly to emphasize that the
effect of the tax cut is likely to be quite temporary, whereas an
increase in the continuing rate of growth of the money supply
can cause a permanent increase in the growth of demand. But
in 1964 and 1965, after the tax cut went into effect, it was con­
sidered to be the main cause of the expansion. The good per­
formance of the economy was considered to be the complete
demonstration of the validity of the Keynesian theory. This was
because the Keynesian theory was then the standard theory. It
was the way in which almost everyone who thought about it
looked at the world. The experience of the tax cut was not incon­
sistent with that theory, and therefore was thought to be con­
firmation of it. If the standard theory of the time had been that
the behavior of the economy was determined by monetary pol­
icy, the experience of the early 1960s would have been seen to
be not inconsistent with that and would have been taken as con­
firmation of it.
Tax revenues rose after the tax cut went into effect. This also
has been frequently cited as evidence in support of the extreme
supply-side theory that a general cut of tax rates will not only
expand the economy, by increasing incentives to work, save and
invest, but will expand it so much that the revenues rise even
though tax rates fall. This, to repeat, is a proposition that “con­
servative” tax cutters regularly made long before the term “supply-side” was invented. But the rise of revenues after 1964 is not




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

evidence for that proposition. In an economy like ours, the
normal growth of the economy plus even the small amount of
inflation we were experiencing before 1965 tended to raise the
revenues year after year. There was nothing unusual about the
fact that revenues rose after 1964. Even if the economy had con­
tinued to rise at only its normal rate, one would have expected
the revenues to rise somewhat despite the tax cut. But in fact
the economy and the revenues rose more than the normal expecta­
tion. This brings us back to the earlier question of the reasons
for the strong growth of the economy, and the case for attribut­
ing that to the supply-side effects of the tax cut is weak.
Experience after the Kennedy-Johnson tax cut did much to
make an extreme version of Keynesian economics standard doc­
trine for many years. What came to be believed was not only
that fiscal policy could be used to moderate fluctuations of out­
put and employment. The tax cut was thought also to demon­
strate that continuous manipulation of tax rates could keep the
economy at a quite ambitious level of full employment and could
do that without inflation. The interpretation of the tax cut as an
example of fine-tuning— the precise and flexible adaptation of
fiscal policy to forecast economic conditions— is ironic. The de­
cision to cut taxes was made in 1962 in response to the fear that
the economy was going into recession. But by 1963 when the cut
was being debated the economy was recovering. Indeed, there
was some suggestion that the cut was no longer needed. When
the cut went into effect, in stages in 1964 and 1965, the revival
was already stronger. In fact, the whole period of the demon­
strated “success” of the tax cut was short. By mid-1965 there were
signs of incipient inflation, and by 1966 the economy was begin­
ning to be dominated by the Vietnam War.
But the magic of the stabilizing tax cut remained. In 1965,
President Johnson chose another dose, in the form of a small cut
of excise taxes. When Vietnam War spending escalated, in 1966,
the first response of the President’s economic advisers was to
propose a tax increase. Although the President rejected that, he
did take some small and temporary revenue-raising steps later
in the year. In each of the years through 1971 there were tax




Kennedy and Johnson: Activism Exhausted

113

changes, up or down, permanent or temporary, proposed or
enacted to stimulate or restrain the economy, and this was true
in many of the subsequent years as well.
The high-water mark of the glorification of the New Eco­
nomics was the December 31, 1965, issue of Time. The cover
was a portrait of J. M. Keynes— the first time a person no longer
living was so honored. The point of the article was that the New
Economists had learned to apply Keynesian theory in a way that
would maintain high employment and steady growth without
inflation. Time quoted Milton Friedman, our leading nonKeynesian economist, as saying, “We are all Keynesians now.”
What Friedman had actually said was: “We are all Keynesians
now and nobody is any longer a Keynesian,” meaning that while
everyone had absorbed some substantial part of what Keynes
taught no one any longer believed it all. But the important fact
was that Keynesian ideas had been incorporated into standard
government policy to a much higher degree than ever before.

Johnson Economics
The big tax cut was finally enacted only after John F. Kennedy
was assassinated and Lyndon B. Johnson became President. It
remained, however, as a memorial to Kennedy which Johnson
as loyal subordinate and accidental successor had helped in a
minor way to complete. But Johnson wanted a monument of his
own, and his monument in economics was to be the big growth
of social expenditures. Or rather, that was to be one of his two
monuments, the other being the inflation unleashed with the
Vietnam War.
The most conspicuous, although not the most expensive, of
the social expenditure programs of the Johnson administration
were those measures that constituted the “War on Poverty.” The
idea of an intensified attack on poverty was active already in the
Kennedy administration, reflecting some of the conditions and
thinking noted earlier in this chapter. But the direct attack on
poverty did not have a high priority then. The Kennedy admin­




H4

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

istration’s approach was largely the approach of economists, and
macroeconomists at that. Their first goal was to get the economy
moving again, reducing unemployment and curing poverty on
the Kennedyesque principle that a rising tide lifts all the boats.
Beyond that their aim was to increase education and training to
lift the productivity of the disadvantaged, which they expected
would also raise the national income and be costless for the rest
of the population.
As the tax cut approached enactment, in the weeks before
Kennedy’s assassination, attention in the White House turned to
what to do next, and a stronger attack on poverty was high on
the list.9 Public concern with poverty was rising— even though
poverty was falling— and studies were revealing categories of
poverty that would not be lifted by the general rising tide of the
economy. There was also a feeling that the tax cut had been
mainly beneficial to middle- and upper-income people and that
it would be politically helpful for the administration to do some­
thing directly for the poor. However, John Kennedy never had
the opportunity to test what he could do.
The attack on poverty meant more to Johnson than it had
meant to Kennedy or probably would have meant to him if he
had lived. Johnson had a great ambition to demonstrate his own
leadership and have his own success. He could not stand living
in the shadow of Kennedy. Moreover, leading the War on Pov­
erty put him in the tradition of his mentor and hero, Franklin D.
Roosevelt.
Johnson’s proposals for increasing social expenditures had
much more success in Congress than Kennedy’s less expensive
programs. Kennedy’s assassination itself had much to do with
this docility of Congress. It created an atmosphere in which re­
sistance to programs associated with Kennedy, or to the Ken­
nedy-like idea of positive, ambitious government, seemed disrepect for the fallen hero. Also, Johnson was a master in dealing
with the Congress.
There was, however, more to the legislative success of Lyndon
Johnson after the 1964 election. Johnson’s landslide victory
brought into office a large number of Democratic Senators and




Kennedy and Johnson: Activism Exhausted

115

Congressmen who owed their positions to Johnson’s coattails.
Although we had the first Southern President since the Civil
War, we had the first Democratic majority in the Congress that
was not dominated by traditional conservatives. The coalition of
Republicans and conservative Democrats that had existed for
almost thirty years broke down.
The War on Poverty programs initiated in the Johnson period
would have a large effect on the federal budget and on the econ­
omy for years to come. But this continuing and growing impact
was not mainly the result of a Johnson plan or intention. The
program reflected a misconception of the long-run budget situa­
tion, if not a total neglect of the long run. The new spending
measures were launched in an atmosphere still colored by the
notion of the fiscal dividend. That is, policymakers were looking
forward to the increasing flow of revenue that would result from
the growth of the economy. That was considered more than an
opportunity; it was a problem. The money, they thought, had
to be returned to the private sector, in more spending or less
taxes, or the economy would be depressed by deficiency of pur­
chasing power. The Great Society programs were one way to
solve that problem.
As it turned out, the economy did not grow as rapidly as had
been expected, especially after 1973, when the increase of pro­
ductivity slowed down. So the additional revenue counted on
from that source was not forthcoming. The country did “afford”
the new programs, and greatly expanded versions of social pro­
grams in general, but not in the way that had been foreseen. A
major source of the money to pay for those programs came from
inflation, which had not been predicted and which increased
taxes by pushing people up into higher tax brackets. After 1973,
part of the money to pay for the rising social programs came
from the decline of defense spending relative to the GNP and
relative to the revenues. That resulted, to some extent, from the
antimilitary mood affecting the country after the Vietnam ex­
perience. And part of the money to pay for the social programs
came from deficits and reflected increased tolerance of deficits.
So the country was able to pay for the social programs. But it




i i

6

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

was not able to pay in the way expected— out of growth and
without higher tax burdens, without displacing defense and
within the confines of a balanced budget.
Also, the social programs turned out to be much more expen­
sive than visualized in the Johnson days. In 1965, the last year
before the Vietnam War dominated federal finances, social pro­
grams cost $30 billion, 25 percent of the budget and 4.5 percent
of the GNP. By 1980 these programs cost $280 billion, 48 per­
cent of the budget and n percent of the GNP. In constant
dollars the increase was 310 percent, more than five times as
large as the percentage increase of real GNP. Of course, it was
known by Johnson and his advisers that the social programs
would grow, but they greatly underestimated the growth. There
were several reasons for that. They did not foresee certain exog­
enous developments, mainly increased life spans which would
greatly raise the cost of old-age insurance. They did not foresee
the ways in which the availability of the programs increased the
costs of the programs. The leading case was the health programs,
Medicare and Medicaid. Ability to get medical care cheaply, or
at no cost, increased the amount of medical care consumed more
than had been expected. And the big increase in the demand for
medical services, financed by programs in which the patient bore
little of the expense, made the costs of medical care rise much
faster than the general price level. The wider availability of more
generous welfare payments also brought forth an unexpectedly
large number of applicants. This was reinforced by deliberate
efforts, sponsored by the government, to encourage applications.
Much of the big, unforeseen, increase in social expenditures
after the Johnson administration was not automatic, except in
the political sense. That is, the increase resulted from legislation
that was enacted after Johnson was out of office but was stimu­
lated by his example. He had shown how popular these spend­
ing measures were in the country and how feeble the political
resistance was. They became an irresistible temptation for every
officeholder and office seeker.
The fact is that a large part of the big increase in social ex­
penditures that began in Johnson’s term was not Johnson’s but




Kennedy and Johnson: Activism Exhausted

117

only Johnsonian. And although the Johnson War on Poverty
was the kick-off for this development, the largest part of the in­
crease in expenditures was not directed to “poverty” at all. Most
of the money did not go to people who would have been poor
without it— by the standard American definition of poor. Most
of it went to middle-income people— primarily through old-age
insurance and Medicare, but also through some smaller pro­
grams like educational assistance— and, of course, to the bureau­
crats who administered it. Little of it went to rich people, but
only because there are few rich people, not because rich people
didn’t get as much per capita as the average person.
Between 1965 and 1980, federal expenditures targeted on
poor people and requiring a demonstration of need to qualify for
benefits rose from 4 percent to 9 percent of the federal budget.
In the same period, federal benefit payments not targeted on
poor people and not involving a test of need rose from 24 per­
cent to 40 percent of the budget. In 1980, only about 20 percent
of federal benefit payments went to raise people who were other­
wise below the poverty line toward or to it. The remaining ap­
proximately 80 percent went to people who even without it
would have been above the poverty line.10
So Johnson’s War on Poverty ended up as a gigantic program
for transferring income to middle-income people— mainly old—
from other middle-income people— mainly of working age. This
should come as no surprise, considering the political power and
increasing number of middle-income people who were at or
approaching retirement age. These programs were always de­
fended as being for the poor. That satisfied two needs at once
for the politician and for the middle-class public— the need to
feel compassionate and the need to minimize the cost of actually
being so.
It is interesting to ask whether the big growth of social ex­
penditures by the federal government was caused by the avail­
ability of a supply of revenue or whether the demand for these
programs caused the revenue to be available. The answer is cer­
tainly some of both, although the proportions are uncertain. The
revenue generated by inflation, by the willingness to cut the




Ii8

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

defense program, and by the tolerance of deficits would all have
been there even if there had been no demand for social pro­
grams, and their presence encouraged the growth of the programs.
On the other hand, if there had not been such a demand for
social expenditures— partly initiated, as I have said, in ignorance
of the future costs and revenues— there probably would have
been more tax reduction, smaller deficits and, possibly, even a
bigger defense program.
A more difficult question is whether the inflation that gen­
erated the revenues was itself the result of the increased social
spending. The answer to that is probably negative. That is, the
social expenditures could have been managed in ways that would
not have been inflationary— with tax increases if one believes
that deficits cause inflation or, in any case, by sufficient mone­
tary restraint. But the connection might have been less direct.
That is, the government may have followed inflationary policy
as a way to generate tax revenues to finance the expenditures
without having to make an open, and politically unpopular, deci­
sion to raise tax rates. There are people who believe that this
happened. I do not find it plausible, not because it implies cynical
behavior by politicians but because it implies more sophisticated
behavior than is usual. The causes of the inflation lay elsewhere.

The Beginning of Inflation
In the years 1965 to 1968 a basic question about the New Eco­
nomics of Kennedy-Johnson was to be tested. That economics
called for vigorous, positive fiscal and monetary action to push
the economy up to full employment whenever it tended to fall
below the target. But the New Economics prescription had an­
other half also. That was restrictive action when the economy
rose into the inflationary zone. The first half of the prescription
had been followed up until 1965. That was the easy part; that
is, both the policy measure and the results were pleasant. T he
test would be whether the government would have the deter-




Kennedy and Johnson: Activism Exhausted

119

mination to follow this second half of the prescription when the
time came for that.
In 1965 to 1968, the government failed that test. The test, it
is true, came in exceptional circumstances because of the Viet­
nam War. But nevertheless the performance of the government
raises serious doubts about whether the expansion of the econ­
omy would have been curbed before it turned into inflation, even
if the policy situation had not been complicated by the war.
The basic fact was that the government was extremely sensi­
tive to any sign of a slump that would raise unemployment, how­
ever slightly or temporarily, and would not persist in policy to
restrain inflation when such a sign appeared. The administration
was especially reluctant to adopt a restrictive policy in 19651968 because it feared that to do so would require giving up two
efforts to which it was deeply committed. One was the Great
Society program and the other was the Vietnam War. Each had
strong opposition in the country. The logical step for the Presi­
dent when Vietnam War expenditures and budget deficits began
to rise would have been to raise taxes. But the President was
loath to take that step, and did not take it until 1968, because
he did not want to confront a Congress that would prefer to cut
either the Great Society programs or the war expenditures.
But too much weight should not be put on the war. Anti­
inflation measures are always going to be unpopular in them­
selves— tightening money, raising interest rates, cutting expendi­
ture programs or raising taxes. The test is of the willingness to
take these unpopular measures. The Vietnam War versus Great
Society, guns versus butter conflict was only the particular form
the political difficulty took. It is doubtful that the President
would have bitten the anti-inflationary bullet if the political
difficulty had taken some other form, and that doubt is con­
firmed by the similar action of later Presidents in other circum­
stances.
The difference between the economics of the Vietnam War
and the Korean War is instructive. In 1950, taxes were quickly
raised, and after a little lag monetary policy was tightened. Price




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

controls were imposed in 1951, but by that time the inflationary
impact of the war had already been contained. The whole epi­
sode was dominated by the memory of the inflation of World
War II and by the determination not to let anything like that
recur. Vietnam War economics, on the other hand, was more in­
fluenced by the belief that unemployment was the great danger
and natural tendency of the economy, to be resisted at all costs,
whereas a serious inflation could hardly be visualized.
There were signs of inflation even before war expenditures
began to rise visibly in the second half of 1965. A t the end of
the year, concerned about the strengthening boom, the Federal
Reserve raised the discount rate. President Johnson did not,
however, want his recovery snuffed out and invited William
McChesney Martin, the chairman of the Fed, down to his ranch
for a talk. As a result the discount rate increase was postponed.
Early in 1966 the picture of future increases of defense spend­
ing became clearer, although the full size of the probable in­
crease was not revealed for many months. Suggestions that taxes
should be raised became common, but the President resisted
them. In discussions within the White House the President’s
economic advisers argued that he should raise taxes, but in pub­
lic they supported his decision not to do so. The economic advis­
ers supported the decision by pointing out that the full-employ­
ment budget was in balance, or nearly so. But by that time the
balance was itself the result of the inflation that was raising the
revenue. This was the first occasion on which it was demon­
strated in practice that the full-employment budget can give a
misleading picture of the impact of fiscal policy when inflation
is going on. That is, a full-employment surplus, or even a rising
full-employment surplus, may only indicate that policy is insuffi­
ciently restrictive to prevent an inflation that is generating addi­
tional revenues.
As the year 1966 proceeded, the inflation mounted. For the
year as a whole the consumer price index rose by 3.4 percent— the biggest increase since 1951, the first full year of the Korean
War. In response, the Fed did tighten money, raising a big
hullabaloo about a credit crunch depressing housing. The Presi­




Kennedy and Johnson: Activism Exhausted

121

dent took some mild measures to raise the revenue, including a
temporary suspension of the investment tax credit.
When the inflation rose during 1965 and 1966, President
Johnson intensified efforts to restrain prices and wages directly,
by incomes policy, to avoid the necessity for fiscal and monetary
restraint. The use of sanctions against firms that violated the
government’s price guidelines became more overt. Violators
were threatened with the loss of government contracts or with
the sale of materials out of government stockpiles to depress
prices. The prestige and influence of the White House were
brought forcefully to bear in wage negotiations. But a moment
arrived in 1966 when the International Association of Machin­
ists found themselves in confrontation with the President, tested
his power, and found that nothing happened to them if they
defied his wishes. After that the incomes policy was entirely in­
effective as far as wages were concerned. The administration
maintained that it still had some influence over prices, but if so
it was not visible to the naked eye.
By the beginning of 1967 the economy was in a slump. The
slowdown of the economy was so mild that it never became
officially designated a recession. For this year as a whole, the
unemployment rate averaged 3.8 percent, the same as in 1966
and a little under the 4 percent that had been considered full
employment for the preceding twenty years. But although the
President recognized that the Vietnam War, if it continued,
would require higher taxes, he considered that slump a reason
to defer the imposition of the taxes. The full-employment budget
went into a large deficit, about 2 percent of GNP. The Federal
Reserve turned to a more expansive policy.
Consumer prices rose by 3 percent during 1967, the slump
ended, and in 1968 the tax increase was finally proposed by the
President. As he had feared, this precipitated a heated argument
in Congress about his spending programs. In the end, after
months of wrangling, Congress passed a tax increase to last until
June 30, 1969, along with a ceiling on expenditures in the year
that would end on that date. There were many holes in this ceil­
ing, but the combination of the tax increase and the expenditure




122

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

ceiling frightened the administration with the possibility that re­
straint would be overdone. The common term for what was hap­
pening was “overkill.” To avert the feared downturn of the
economy, at a time when the unemployment rate was below
4 percent and falling, the Federal Reserve renewed the mone­
tary expansion it had interrupted earlier in the year. This was
seen to be a mistake before the year was out, and the Fed turned
to restraint again. The Johnson administration, with no more
elections to face, had no reason to object. They could now be
the champions of anti-inflation policy and promise, as they did
in their final economic report, that a little dose of restraint would
solve the problem.
But it was a late conversion. When Johnson left office the
inflation rate was about 5 percent, and no one could be sure
where it was going next.




Economic Indices 1930-1982
For data and sources, see Appendix




sdiions

Chart I GNP Adjusted for Inflation

Chart II Annual Percent Change of GNP
Adjusted for Inflation

124






Chart III GNP (in Current Dollars)

Chart IV M oney Supply (M l)*

125

Chart V Price Index for CN P (1972 = 100)

Chart VI Annual Percent Change in Price Index for GNP

126



Millions

Chart VII Total Employment

% of
Force




Chart V III Unemployment Rate

127

Chart IX Annual Change in Output per Hour
(Business Sector)

%

Chart X Government Expenditures (% of GNP)

128



%

Chart XI Government Receipts (% of GNP)

Chart XII Federal Receipts as a Percent of GNP
40% -

35% -

30% -

25% '




Fiscal Year

129

Chart XIII Federal Outlays as a Percent of GNP

Billions
of

Chart XIV Federal Expenditures in Constant 1972 Prices

130



Chart XV Federal Personal Income Taxes as a Percent
of Personal Income*

•Personal incom e as defined in national incom e and product accounts less governm ent
transfer payments plus em ployee’s contributions for social insurance

Chart XVI Federal Corporate Profit Taxes as Percent
of Profits*

70% -

60% -

50% -

40%

30% -

20% -

10%

-

1930

1935

1940

1945

1950

1955

1960

1965

1970

1975

1980

1985

1) Negative corporate profits in 1932 and 1933
*A s defined in national in com e and product accounts




131

Chart XVII Government Surplus as a Percent of GNP

Chart XV III Federal Debt Held by the Public as a P ercen t
of GNP*

132



5
Nixon: Conservative Men
with Liberal Ideas

of a transition
to more conservative economics. It was a stuttering and incom­
plete transition. By many measures the Nixon years were a
period of retrogression from the conservative economic stand­
point. The increase of government nondefense spending accel­
erated greatly. The federal deficit grew. Inflation increased. The
extent of government regulation increased. The Nixon price and
wage controls were an enormous peacetime intervention of the
government in the American economy.
But despite this outcome— dreary from the conservative point
of view— thinking and policy were changing in a conservative
direction. In fact, the Nixon administration went through a con­
siderable change during its not quite six years in office. Basically
those were years of struggle between rising conservative ideas
and the remaining Kennedy-Johnson ideas which, even though
fading, were still dominant in the political process, or were
thought to be. Indeed, the Nixon experience only served to dem­
onstrate, not least of all to the Nixon team, how needed was a
departure from Kennedy-Johnson liberalism.

T

he

N

ix o n a d m i n i s t r a t i o n w a s t h e b e g i n n i n g




133

13 4

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

Economic issues were not prominent in the 1968 campaign.
The country had plenty of other worries— the Vietnam War,
crime in the streets, busing, the new permissive morality. More­
over, the expenses of the war had for the time being put an end
to the invention of new Great Society programs, so that kind of
issue was quiet. The issue appeared in rarefied form as the ques­
tion of the “Vietnam dividend.” What would we do with all the
money that would be available in the budget when the Vietnam
War was over and military expenditures could be cut? This ques­
tion divided the supporters of new social spending programs from
the supporters of tax reduction. But this issue about the future
did not excite the electorate in 1968.
Insofar as there was an economic issue it was inflation. By the
time of the election the inflation rate (consumer price index)
had risen to 5 percent. This was the highest rate since the begin­
ning of the Korean War. But concern over it was not intense.
The administration Democrats were still obsessed by the fear o f
unemployment, although the unemployment rate was only about
3.5 percent in the fall of 1968. As we have seen, when the antiinflationary budget package was enacted in June 1968, the ad­
ministration had become concerned about going so far in the re­
strictive direction as to raise unemployment. The administration
and the Federal Reserve had then agreed on monetary expansion
to offset the “deflationary” effects of the budget package.
On the Republican side, the inflation issue was a convenient
platform for preaching the sermons Republicans always preached.
That is, they blamed the inflation on Johnson’s social spending
and on Johnson’s budget deficits.
Inflation was the key economic issue, but it was not an issue
about which anyone felt deeply. The election was not a mandate
to do anything specific about inflation, and not a mandate to do
anything painful. Still, it was rising in the hierarchy of national
problems, simply because there was more of it, and that would in
time have serious policy implications.
Richard Nixon’s own views when he came into office were
fairly representative of the views in the country, partly because
he was a close student of what the “country”— meaning the elec-




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

135

torate— wanted. Probably the key words to describe these views
are “mixed” and “ambivalent.”
Nixon accepted the priority of the inflation problem, but he
was allergic to unemployment. This became clear to me when I
first met him in December 1968, on the day he announced my
appointment as a member of the Council of Economic Advisers.
He asked me what I thought would be our main economic prob­
lems, and I started, tritely, with inflation. He agreed but immedi­
ately warned me that we must not raise unemployment. I didn’t
at the time realize how deep this feeling was or how serious its
implications would be. He attributed his defeat in the i960 elec­
tion largely to the recession of that year, and he attributed the
recession, or at least its depth and duration, to economic offi­
cials, “financial types,” who put curbing inflation ahead of cur­
ing unemployment. But in this attitude Nixon was not alone. He
was certainly in tune with the conventional wisdom that the
country valued continuous high employment above price stability.
This attitude, of recognizing the importance of price stability
but at heart being committed to full employment, was part of a
more general schizophrenia. Nixon felt that he ought to be for
the traditional virtues. He regarded himself as the champion of
the silent majority. But he wanted also to be a “modern” man
and recognized as such by intellectuals and liberals. He was
impatient with the dull, pedestrian and painful economics of
conventional conservatism. He called that the economics of three
yards in a cloud of dust, whereas he yearned for the long
bomb.1 In an early meeting in 1969 he said that we should have
some “fine-tuning.” He associated that term with sophistication
and expertise, even though in the conventional conservative view
he was praising the devil’s prescription. A more public indication
of his desires to be a modern man came in January 1971 when,
on the occasion of submitting his budget, he proudly announced,
“Now I am a Keynesian.” This brought a flood of angry letters
from conventional conservatives, to which I had to draft answers.
The answer was that the President was recognizing that a reces­
sion would generate a budget deficit automatically and that it
would be folly to try to prevent such a deficit by raising taxes in




136

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

a recession. But he was not advocating an active policy to create
deficits by raising government expenditures, and he was not ig­
noring the inflation problem.
Mr. Nixon “believed” in the free enterprise system. Or, more
accurately, he was skeptical of and cynical about government in­
terventions in the economy. He did not comprehend the econo­
mists* elaborate model by which free markets were shown to
maximize efficiency. But he knew, or thought he did, how in­
competent and venal government managers of the economy
could be. This attitude seemed to go back to his early experi­
ences as a low-level employee of the OPA during World War II.
This OPA experience was the source of one of Mr. Nixon’s
firmest opinions about economic policy. He did not like price
and wage controls. J. K. Galbraith, who was deputy administrator
of OPA, came away from that experience thinking it was a feasi­
ble and valuable program whereas Richard Nixon and I, who
served at much lower levels, thought it was a great failure. This
may reflect a natural tendency to think more of an enterprise in
which one holds a high and responsible position.
In spite of being for free markets— some would say because
of being for free markets— Nixon was no fan of big business.
The big business establishment had never supported him, hav­
ing consistently preferred Rockefeller or Scranton or Romney or
almost anyone else for the Republican presidential nomination.
He thought of them as hypocritical, wrapping themselves in the
mantle of free markets and the national interest while being as
eager as everyone else to use the powers of government for their
own profit.
Partly because of this coolness toward big business, Nixon did
not share the aversion to taxation which had obsessed the R e­
publicans in the 80th and 83rd Congress and was to become a
phobia in the Reagan administration. Of course, when he cam e
into office, taxes relative to GNP were lower than they would be
when Reagan came into office, if one excluded from the 1969
taxes the Vietnam surcharge that was generally expected to b e
temporary.2 But there was more than that involved in explaining
Nixon’s rather indifferent attitude to the tax “burden.” He did




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

137

not accept the standard business argument about the way taxes
were inhibiting investment and production because he didn’t be­
lieve that a big business with a good lawyer would pay those
taxes. Once in 1969 during a discussion of ways to close tax
loopholes he said that whatever we did would not matter because
sophisticated lawyers would find a way to beat the system. He at­
tributed this wisdom to his recent experience practicing law in
New York. He was willing to eliminate the investment tax credit,
which the corporate establishment, having opposed it in 1962,
had come to love by 1969. But he rejected the idea of limiting
the deductibility of home mortgage interest. That would place a
burden on suburban homeowners. They were “his” people, not
only because they had voted for him but also because he sym­
pathized with them.
Not being overwhelmed by the tax problem, Nixon was not
overwhelmed by the spending problem either. He believed that
much government spending was wasteful, his favorite example
being the hordes of State Department cookie-pushers he had en­
countered at his stops at U.S. embassies around the world. But
he did not have high hopes for cutting waste, believing that the
bureaucracy would always defeat efforts to do that. He did not
propose to spend much energy on this vain effort. Moreover, he
didn’t think it was terribly important to do so. He shared the
common view that there would be a Vietnam dividend which,
together with the revenues yielded by economic growth, would
provide room for increases in nondefense expenditures as well as
tax reduction. It was inconsistent with his image of himself as a
conservative man with liberal policies for him to play the role of
Scrooge on social expenditures. He was extremely critical of the
Johnson War on Poverty programs, but not because they cost
money. He thought that the particular programs adopted to carry
on the war against poverty encouraged dependency, family
breakup, idleness, hostility and the development of radical para­
governmental organizations. But he wanted to help the poor, and
the not-quite-poor who were more likely to be his constituents,
and was prepared to spend government money for that purpose.
Nixon understood that being a new conservative implied em­




138

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

phasis on monetary policy, as distinct from fiscal policy, as the
lever which moved the economy. He was in touch with Milton
Friedman, who was a strong supporter, and had been exposed
to Friedman’s line of thinking. He was, moreover, skeptical of
the Federal Reserve, to which he attributed much of the blame
for the i960 recession and, in turn, for his defeat in the i960
election. He always feared that the Federal Reserve was about to
put the economy through the wringer, to the frustration of politi­
cians in office, especially him. But he did not buy Friedman’s
simple and rigid rule for stable monetary growth.
One extremely important aspect of Mr. Nixon’s initial attitude
toward economic policy was that he did not want to have much
to do with it. He had a remarkable capacity for retaining and us­
ing economic statistics and for grasping and synthesizing eco­
nomic argument, but he did not consider economics as an area of
his major competence, feeling much more able in dealing with
foreign policy matters. He did not think it was a winning field for
Republicans, because the traditional ideas to which Republicans
were committed would never be popular. Moreover, it was not a
field in which the public would be keenly interested— the subject
being inherently dull and dismal— unless there was a great catas­
trophe.3
Thus, Richard Nixon, like the country, was not greatly ab­
sorbed with economic policy at the beginning of 1969. Inflation
was a problem, but not a source of acute anxiety and not one
to be dealt with by the sacrifice of other goals, especially high
employment. Disillusionment with government “programs” was
growing, but the remedy was reform, not radical surgery. Earlier
enthusiasm about fine-tuning, Keynesian management of the
economy, was fading, acceptance of the key role of money w as
rising, but the result was a call for more eclectic and less ambi­
tious policy. Such a turn to conservatism as was occurring in
public thinking, and as was represented in Richard Nixon, was a
moderating trend, not reactionary or revolutionary.
The officials that President Nixon brought in with him fitted
his attitudes well. His aim to be the conservative man with lib­
eral policies was reflected in his two counselors— Arthur Burns




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

139

and Daniel Moynihan. It was Moynihan who spelled out for
Nixon the concept of the conservative man with liberal policies
and introduced him to the classic models of that man— Lord
Melbourne and Benjamin Disraeli. Moynihan’s influence was to
be seen mainly in Nixon’s welfare and environment policies—
efforts to use government power to serve two of the traditional
purposes of the aristocratic conservative, assisting the poor and
protecting the national heritage. Moynihan was Nixon’s soaring
kite reaching out for the liberal chic Eastern establishment, whose
respect Nixon did not have but wanted. Burns was Nixon’s an­
chor to conventional conservatism, which meant essentially to
holding down government expenditures and trying to cultivate
business confidence. He had particularly endeared himself to
Nixon in i960 by warning him that the Federal Reserve’s tight
monetary policy would worsen the recession and hurt his election
chances.
Moynihan and Burns represented the liberal and conservative
halves of Nixon, but the synthesis of the two was best represented
by his Council of Economic Advisers and by his Secretary of
Labor, George Shultz. The chairman of the Council of Economic
Advisers was Paul McCracken, who had been a member of the
council when Nixon was Vice-President. The other two members,
Hendrik Houthakker and I, had never met the new President be­
fore the day he appointed us. We were all part of the small Re­
publican branch of mainstream economics from which it was in­
evitable that Nixon would choose his advisers. McCracken used
to say that we were the only three Republican economists that
Nixon could find. That wasn’t exactly true. But the number who
would not be considered hopelessly antediluvian, or wildly eccen­
tric and dogmatic, or rigidly committed to business interests, was
not large.
McCracken and I, who would succeed him as chairman at the
beginning of 1972, were of the generation who had been grad­
uate students in 1936 when Keynes’ General Theory was new,
and who had been and remained greatly impressed by it. But we
had been earlier than most of our contemporaries to develop an
immunity to some of the more extreme manifestations of Keynes­




140

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

ianism. We had both come to place much weight on monetary
policy as the key to stabilizing the economy. But when a reporter
asked him early in his term whether he was a Friedmanite, M c­
Cracken answered that he was not, but that he was “Friedmanesque.” He thought that money mattered, but did not think that
only money mattered. He saw and leaned toward Friedman’s
policy of a constant rate of growth of the money supply, but he
could readily conceive of circumstances in which departure from
the rule would be necessary.
Being Friedmanesque left room for believing that fiscal policy
mattered for the stability of the economy as well as for other ob­
jectives. The distinguishing feature of Nixon’s C E A in fiscal
policy was its devotion to the idea of a rule for fiscal policy
rather than the discretionary fine-tuning advocated by their pre­
decessors. I had been the principal draftsman of the CED state­
ments recommending and explaining the rule of balancing the
budget at high employment, and McCracken had been an early
supporter of that idea. But by 1969 we both recognized that the
CED idea of 1947 was not entirely adequate. It was not suffi­
cient in a world of inflation, because a budget that was balanced
at high employment with a serious inflation going on, and bal­
anced by the effect of the inflation itself, was not a satisfactory
condition to aim at, especially if one started from a position
where reducing a high inflation rate required going through a
phase of lowered employment. So there was need for a better
rule than the old CED rule, but this did not mean abandoning
the idea of a rule.
Nixon’s new Council of Economic Advisers was greatly con­
cerned about inflation, and more ready than the President to
recognize that reducing inflation would involve an increase o f
unemployment, at least temporarily, and more willing to accept
that increase— if it was up to the council to accept it or not,
which it wasn’t. But it did not think the necessary rise of unem­
ployment was very large or would have to last very long.
The CEA was influenced by Milton Friedman’s theory of the
natural rate of unemployment, which he had expounded in his
presidential address to the American Economic Association in




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

141

December 1967. Friedman was answering the common notion
that high inflation causes low unemployment and vice versa.4
His basic point was that only an unexpected high inflation rate
would make unemployment low, because an unexpected high in­
flation rate would yield prices that were high relative to wages,
and that would hold unemployment down. But if the inflation
rate remained high it would become expected, wages would
adapt to it and unemployment would rise to its “natural” rate.
The natural rate was the rate that would prevail when the actual
inflation rate was equal to the expected rate.
The concept of the natural rate of unemployment, which would
exist when the inflation rate was constant and fully anticipated,
and the difficulty of estimating the natural rate were to be im­
portant for economic policy in the Nixon administration and
continue to be important today. The concept meant that unem­
ployment could not be durably reduced below its natural rate
by inflationary policy. The inflation would become expected and
would lose its effectiveness. How long it would take for the in­
flation to become expected was unknown, but there was reason
to think that this period would shorten as people in the private
sector became more sensitive to the inflationary consequences of
expansionist policy. The concept did not imply that nothing
could be done about the rate of unemployment. The natural rate
would depend upon many factors, such as the suitability of work­
ers for available jobs and the ability of workers to find and move
to the available jobs. Thus, policies to train workers, to increase
their mobility and to improve information about the labor mar­
ket could reduce the natural rate of unemployment.
Even aside from policy measures intended to change it, the
natural rate of unemployment would not be constant. It would
change, for example, with changes in the composition of the
labor force by age and sex. Young people and women tend to
have higher unemployment rates than adult men. Therefore,
even if the unemployment rates of young people, women and
men are constant, the average unemployment rate will rise if the
proportion of young people and women in the labor force is
rising. Also, the natural rate of unemployment depends on the




142

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

amount of time workers spend looking for the most suitable em­
ployment. Increases of unemployment compensation, and other
improvements in workers’ financial condition, would increase
the ability of workers to spend time looking and so would raise
the natural rate.
Since no one could be sure what the natural rate of unemploy­
ment was at any time, a policy of trying to achieve the natural
rate by demand management policy was subject to error. If fiscal
and monetary policy aimed at an unemployment rate that was
below the natural rate, inflation would result, and if the policy
persisted, the inflation would accelerate. On the other hand, if it
aimed at too high an unemployment rate, the economy would be
unnecessarily depressed. But the latter error was unlikely. A ll the
political temptations would be in the direction of an overly am­
bitious unemployment goal and therefore in the direction of in­
flation.
The significance of the natural rate theory in 1969 was that
reducing the existing inflation rate would entail a period in which
unemployment would be above its natural rate. For example, if
inflation had been running at 5 percent and that rate was ex­
pected to continue and was embodied in wage contracts, a reduc­
tion of the actual rate would mean for a while that inflation
would be below its expected rate. During this period, unemploy­
ment would be above its natural rate. So the Nixon C E A ac­
cepted the proposition that its effort to reduce inflation would
have the transitional effect of raising the unemployment rate.
The problem was that no one knew what the natural rate of un­
employment was in 1969 or how far or for how long the unem­
ployment rate would have to stay above it to reduce inflation by
any specified amount.
When Richard Nixon came into office the unemployment rate
was 3.3 percent. With no hard evidence the CEA accepted the
conventional wisdom of the time that the natural rate was 4 per­
cent.5 It believed that the inflation could be cured by a policy of
demand restraint that would keep the unemployment rate only
slightly above 4 percent, although possibly for a considerable
period. It believed that this “gradualism,” as McCracken called




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

143

it, was not only feasible but also the policy with least economic
damage and greatest political viability. The council was sur­
prised and unhappy when the President, early in his term, sent a
message to the AFL-CIO, via his Secretary of Labor, promising
to control inflation without a rise of unemployment. But the
council did not think the rise of unemployment would have to
be large. As it turned out, this was a serious underestimation of
the problem.
The CEA shared Nixon’s deep aversion to price and wage
controls. Indeed, the C E A was “purer” than Nixon in its aver­
sion to “incomes policies”— efforts of government by persuasion
or threat but without mandatory or comprehensive rules to re­
strain the wage- or price-raising decisions of companies and
unions. The CEA regarded these measures as wicked in them­
selves and steps on the slippery slope whose logic led inevitably
to controls. Nixon’s attitude was more “pragmatic.” As VicePresident he had negotiated some price restraint with the steel
companies. He did not regard these companies as chips floating
on a tide of market forces but thought they were powers to con­
tend with. He did not like “incomes policies” and knew they did
not fit with his basic ideological position, but he was prepared to
think about the subject.
The CEA, from the beginning, considered incomes policies to
be a critical issue for the Nixon administration. Even if our
rather optimistic estimate proved correct there would be a rise
of unemployment in the disinflationary process. As this appeared
there would certainly be demands for incomes policies to ease the
pain and hold unemployment down. This recourse to incomes
policies had become part of the standard doctrine of liberal in­
tellectuals during the Kennedy-Johnson years, despite the evi­
dence of the apparent failure of such policies to prevent the
inflation accompanying the Vietnam War. The Council of Eco­
nomic Advisers of the Johnson administration had helped to as­
sure that this would be a continuing issue by including in its final
report, in January 1969, a statement on the need for incomes
policy to reconcile high employment and price-level stability.
Nixon’s C E A therefore felt an obligation to keep the President




144

PRESIDENTIAL ECO N O M ICS

informed of the various forms that incomes policy could take
and of the arguments for and against them.
What some critics— such as J. K. Galbraith— called the C E A ’s
“theological” aversion to price and wage controls was only the
most obvious expression of its devotion to free market solutions.
This was, it should be noted, more a desire for the government
to perform its functions by market methods, or quasimarket
means, than a desire to circumscribe the functions of govern­
ment, although there was some of the latter in their position also.
For example, the council believed that the government had a
responsibility to try to prevent or correct poverty. It had no ob­
jection in principle to a War on Poverty. But, like Nixon, it was
very dissatisfied with the Johnson way of conducting that war. It
thought that the Johnson programs interfered too much with the
lives of poor people. The programs gave poor people food stamps,
housing subsidies, or medical care, whereas the C E A would have
preferred to hand out money and leave the recipients free to
spend it. Also it thought that the programs needlessly injected
social workers into the lives of the poor.
Similarly, the CEA accepted the government’s responsibility
to clean up the environment, although it was concerned with the
danger that this cleanup might be carried beyond the point where
it was worth its cost. But the CEA’s main interest was in utiliz­
ing pricing methods to reach the goals of environmental policy.
Thus, it supported the use of effluent charges, which would im­
pose a fee upon those who dumped pollutants into the water or
air, rather than regulations which would limit pollution. Simi­
larly, the council preferred a market solution— the volunteer
army— to a draft as a way of providing military manpower, and
another market solution— floating exchange rates— to capital or
trade controls to bring international payments into balance.
The council shared the general view of the time that economic
growth in the United States would continue at a high rate— 4
percent per annum— for the next decade. It believed that public
policy would have something to do with achieving this growth,
but did not think that the public policy was critical. That is, it




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

145

did not think that radical departures from existing policy were
necessary to get that rate of growth. Believing this, of course, re­
lieved the council of many problems. It could count on growth
to raise the revenue sufficiently to avoid a fierce competition be­
tween claims for more government expenditure and for tax re­
duction. It was not necessary to cope with an insistent demand
for reducing business taxes in order to stimulate economic growth.
The council could and did also emphasize the need to do some­
thing for the very poor.
The most important people in Nixon economic policy, aside
from the President himself, were not Bums or Moynihan or the
members of the Council of Economic Advisers. They were George
Shultz and John Connally. Connally was not on the scene at the
beginning, and we will come to him later. Nixon had never met
Shultz before the 1968 election. He had been recommended by
Burns, on whose staff he had served when Burns was chairman
of the Council of Economic Advisers. A t the time he was ap­
pointed, he was dean of the Graduate School of Business of the
University of Chicago. Few people, if any, appreciated the quali­
ties Shultz had for high public office. These qualities developed
greatly when he was in office and led Nixon to promote him from
Secretary of Labor to director of the Office of Management and
Budget to the combined position of Secretary of the Treasury
and Special Assistant to the President for Economic Affairs. In
this last position he was as much a czar over economic policy as
anyone has ever been in this country.
Shultz was within himself the best representation of the range
and ambivalence of Nixon’s economic ideas. He was a close
friend, admirer and disciple of Milton Friedman. His thinking
was devotedly monetarist. He was also attached to the idea of
balancing the budget at high employment. In both of these re­
spects he was even “purer” than the Council of Economic Ad­
visers, which was more impressed with qualifications to the basic
rules. Shultz was also in principle a rigorous free marketeer and
free trader.
A t the same time his main field of specialization was labor




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

economics, he was on friendly terms with George Meany, the
president of the AFL-CIO, and other labor leaders, and he was
a former colleague and student of John Dunlop’s and later
brought Dunlop into the government. Dunlop’s view of the econ­
omy was miles away from Friedman’s. Friedman saw the econ­
omy as organized by exchange relations among individuals seek­
ing to maximize a private goal— usually income. Dunlop saw the
economy as organized by relations of power, status, rivalry and
emulation. Shultz lived with both of these views, in different con­
texts and time periods.
There was a time when a free market economist of the Uni­
versity of Chicago would have had difficulty reconciling the exis­
tence of labor unions with his vision of a good economy. By the
late 1960s that was no longer true. The free market economists
had come to regard the power of government as the main, per­
haps the only, obstacle to achievement of the competitive ideal.
Large unions, like large corporations, were considered to cause
only minor deviations from the optimum path of the economy.
This view, of course, helped to reconcile the Friedman and Dun­
lop elements in the Shultz outlook.
Shultz’s outstanding characteristic, however, which distin­
guished him from all the others I have named here, was his strong
operational, managerial sense and skill. He knew that the object
was to translate ideas into action. And he knew that this process
would not be easy. If the conditions for doing it had been favor­
able it would probably have already been done. Therefore he
was concerned with changing the conditions where he could, and
where he could not, adapting the ideas so as to get as much as
the unchangeable conditions would permit. This gave his action
a malleability that his ideas might not have had.
Thus, both the Council of Economic Advisers and Secretary
Shultz acknowledged some deviation from the straight and nar­
row path of academic conservative economics with its devotion
to monetary and fiscal rules and competitive markets. But there
were differences between them. The economists on the C E A
were more impressed by the uncertainties of the strict conserva­




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

147

tive case; they accepted qualifications where they were not sure
of the validity of the case in particular circumstances. Shultz was
more impressed with the practical difficulty of carrying out the
ideas in their pure form.
This was a team, from Nixon on down, that wanted to move
economic policy in a conservative direction, but it was not a
team that felt destined to make a conservative revolution. Nixon
did want to leave his mark on history, but did not think that
economics was the field in which he would make his mark. His
economists, especially the CEA, considered themselves far apart
from their liberal Democratic predecessors, but in fact they were
only at the other edge of a rather narrow spectrum that was
mainstream economics. Other advisers, Burns and Moynihan,
had a little less eclectic view, but they were divided. Shultz had
a fairly clear ideology, but he was continuously involved in
adapting that ideology to the practicalities of life. A t a critical
point the team would be joined by a new, dominant player, John
Connally, who wanted action to be decisive and dramatic but did
not have firm convictions about the content of the action other­
wise.
This mixed, ambivalent, eclectic character of the Nixon eco­
nomic policy was much in harmony with the mood of the coun­
try in 1969. There were beginning to be complaints about the
performance of the economy, but these were not very loud. The
fact of inflation was beginning to seep into the popular con­
sciousness, but not very deeply. Indeed, the Nixon CEA was
troubled because the public generally was not sufficiently con­
cerned about inflation. The Nixon administration was not in the
position of having to meet a demand for solutions to widely felt
problems. Instead it had to prescribe remedies, and painful ones
at that, for a problem which the public— the patient— did not
take seriously. That was not likely to encourage the doctor to
prescribe radical therapy. Some questions were being raised
about the validity of the pragmatic, fine-tuning, interventionist
approach to economic policy. But this questioning was still con­
fined to a wing of the economics profession. It had not reached




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

other intellectuals or the media even to the extent that it would
by the time of Reagan. Certainly it had not reached far into the
political establishment.
Richard Nixon was the first President in the twentieth century
to enter office without a majority of his own party in either
house. And the Democrats in the Congress were no longer pre­
dominantly the Southern conservatives with whom Eisenhower
had worked so congenially. Many of them were beneficiaries of
the Goldwater debacle in 1964. Even though the intellectual
basis of the Kennedy-Johnson economics was shaking, the con­
ventional Democratic Senator or Congressman still regarded it
as a great political and economic triumph. He was still moving
in its direction— for more of everything: more ambitious goals
for employment, more fine-tuning, and more government pro­
grams, such as comprehensive health insurance. The Republi­
cans in the Congress were still shell-shocked by the Goldwater
debacle and not eager to lead a conservative charge.
The timid movement of Nixonian conservative economics may
have come into office at just the wrong time. If started in 1961,
after Eisenhower’s era of restraint had set the stage for an era of
noninflationary expansion, a Nixon moderately conservative pol­
icy might have earned the credit for several good years— and de­
served the credit at least as much as the Kennedy-Johnson policy
that was actually followed. If started in 1981, after the failures
of the old liberalism were clear, a moderately conservative Nixon
policy might have had greater political acceptance and greater
economic success than the Reagan policy did. But Nixon eco­
nomics came into effect when the country was not yet prepared
for the change of policy it required, and even the Nixon team
was unprepared for the austerity that it would involve.

Tiptoeing Around the Inflation-Unemployment Dilemma
Throughout his term, President Nixon’s economic policy was
haunted by the inflation-unemployment problem. He had to




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

149

struggle against inflation, and could not stand, or felt he could
not stand, any significant increase of unemployment.
Everyone on the Nixon economic team was aware of this
problem from the beginning, although, as I have noted, with
somewhat different perceptions of its severity; no one thought
that the problem could be escaped by settling for the inflation
rate then prevailing. But no one thought that it would be impos­
sible to manage. They believed that there was some combination
of fiscal and monetary policies that would bring the inflation
down with a rise of unemployment that would be moderate in
size and direction. “Moderate” implied several things. It meant
that few people would be seriously hurt. But it also meant that
the transitional pain would be over before demand for incomes
policy to cure the pain would become irresistible. And it meant
most specifically that the pain would not be a critical factor in
the 1972 election, or probably even in the 1970 election.
The Council of Economic Advisers believed that psychologi­
cal preparation of the country would be helpful in getting through
the transition to price stability. The American people needed
education in the evils of inflation. Although they— or many of
them— were being hurt, few of them appreciated that they were
being hurt by inflation. The CE A initiated a study to pinpoint
those groups of the population that were most injured, but the
study was inconclusive. If anyone was being severely hurt, the
available statistics were too crude to reveal it. The American
people also needed, in the C E A ’s opinion, warning of the transi­
tional costs of unemployment that would be involved in ending
the inflation. The administration was not, however, inclined to
make this warning very 'strongly, fearing the knee-jerk reaction
that associated Republicans with unemployment.
The main requirement for a successful transition to price sta­
bility would be delicacy in the management of fiscal and mone­
tary policy— meaning basically monetary policy. There had to
be sufficient restraint of demand to get the inflation down but
not so much as to push the economy into a serious recession.
The numbers involved seemed to suggest that there would be




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

some optimum path along which the inflation rate could be re­
duced without severe or prolonged unemployment. The inflation
rate was about 5 percent at the beginning of 1969. It did not
have to be reduced very far. Unemployment was only 3.3 per­
cent. There seemed considerable room for an increase of unem­
ployment without reaching a level that anyone could consider
unusually high.
The administration had an ideal picture of the way in which
the situation might develop. Unemployment would rise to a little
over 4 percent, which was thought to be the rate of unemploy­
ment at which inflation would be stable. With a slight excess of
unemployment above the 4 percent level the inflation would de­
cline. This would occur gradually, but with increasing momen­
tum as the expectation of a return to price stability gained force.
When the inflation rate had declined sufficiently, and the expec­
tation of price stability had become sufficiently strong, the econ­
omy would return to full employment (4 percent unemployment).
But to accomplish all this required getting the monetary policy
just right— tight enough to slow down the economy to just below
4 percent unemployment but not tighter.
(The CEA did not initially appreciate the importance of the
rise of the natural rate of unemployment that was occurring as
the proportion of young people and women in the labor force in­
creased. Therefore we did not appreciate how far the unemploy­
ment rate would have to rise in order to end the inflation. In our
January 1972 Economic Report we presented calculations show­
ing that if the unemployment rate had remained constant at its
1956 level for each age-sex group of the population, the average
unemployment rate would have risen from 4.1 percent in 1956
to 4.5 percent in 1971 because of the increase of women and
young people in the labor force. The administration considered
a public report to try to alter the conventional notion that “full
employment” was 4 percent unemployment. The idea was dis­
carded on the ground that it would be interpreted as an effort to
conceal the true economic situation. Later administrations would
be more free to alter the target, as 4 percent unemployment was
left farther behind in history. By 1983 a common view among




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

151

economists was that the natural rate of unemployment was be­
tween 6 and 7 percent.)
Monetary policy had turned in a restrictive direction before
the Nixon administration came into office. As noted earlier, the
Johnson administration’s big move against inflation had been
the temporary tax surcharge enacted in 1968. The Johnson
Council of Economic Advisers, in its farewell report, predicted
that the combination of tighter fiscal policy and tighter monetary
policy would slow down the economy in the first half of 1969
enough to give a decisive check to inflation. Thereafter the econ­
omy could revive quickly to full employment without inflation.
The new Nixon CE A regarded this as too optimistic, probably
having been intended to paint the picture of an economy in
which all steps had been taken by the Democrats for a painless
transition to stability— thus leaving to the Republicans blame
for all difficulties that might arise. In its first official statement
the McCracken council said that fiscal and monetary restraint
would have to be continued all year before the inflation could
be licked and expansion renewed. This was thought by the coun­
cil to be a realistic, even pessimistic statement.
Although the administration’s public concern was with infla­
tion, its continuing internal worry was that the Federal Reserve
would be too tight for too long, causing a recession. This was the
President’s natural fear, left over from his i960 experience.
He was encouraged in this by Burns. (Burns would take over as
chairman of the Federal Reserve when William McChesney Mar­
tin’s term ran out in January 1970.) Shultz also expressed con­
cern that the Fed had slipped into a depressive phase— following
the argument of Milton Friedman, who believed that the Fed
was always too tight when it wasn’t too loose and saw in 1969
signs of excessive tightness. McCracken joined this position,
warning the President that by the time it became obvious that
policy had to turn in an expansionist direction it would be too
late and that the turn had to be made earlier.
The administration went through 1969 in a state of increasing
nervousness about monetary policy. The increase of the money
supply had slowed down substantially, especially in the second




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

half of the year, and interest rates had leaped. Some of the pre­
liminary steps in the disinflationary process were occurring. The
rise of total spending (nominal GNP) was abating. The rise of
real output was also slowing down. Unemployment rose a little.
(In September the unemployment rate rose to 4 percent, leading
the C E A to think the necessary condition for lower inflation was
reached, but the rate then fell again to 3.4 percent by Decem­
ber.) The administration was unable, however, to find any con­
vincing evidence that the inflation rate itself was diminishing.
This did not necessarily contradict the general strategy, in which
the decline of inflation only came at the end of the disinflationary
process. But the delay was worrisome. There was fear that the
Federal Reserve would keep tightening the monetary screw and
put the economy into a recession before the evidence of lower
inflation gave the signal to relax.
Throughout this period the question naturally and repeatedly
arose whether there was something less painful that could be
done to check the inflation. This was, of course, a question about
“incomes policy.” The CEA prepared several reports on this sub­
ject for the Cabinet Committee on Economic Policy,6 fulfilling
its duty to give the President all his options. The general tenor
of these reports, and the conclusion of these discussions, was that
incomes policies didn’t work, that they were not consistent with
the general philosophy of the Nixon administration, and that an
attempt to use them by that administration would be particularly
incredible and ineffective.
And yet there remained in the administration a group of offi­
cials who were eager to do something less abstract and general
about inflation. Their attention focused on construction costs,
primarily on construction wage rates but also on lumber prices.
These costs were rising more rapidly than the general price level,
and there was fear that the rapid rise of construction costs would
spill over into the rest of the price level. These concerns were
most pronounced among some Cabinet members of the outer
circle— remote from the White House— such as the Secretaries
of Commerce, Transportation and HUD and the Postmaster
General. Two of these— Volpe and Blount— came from the con­




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

153

struction industry. The most significant member of the group,
however, from the standpoint of later influence, was Arthur
Burns, who was close to the White House.
The outcome of the concern with construction costs was prob­
ably harmless and ineffective. In September, a tripartite Con­
struction Industry Collective Bargaining Commission was estab­
lished as a forum for discussing labor problems in the industry.
John Dunlop— the non-Friedman side of Shultz— was named its
secretary. Steps were taken to increase the training of construc­
tion workers, to slow down federally financed construction work
and to expand lumber output from federal lands. The main im­
portance of this development was as a sign of the emergence
within the administration of a group who wanted a “direct” attack
on inflation.
By the beginning of 1970, the economy was clearly slowing
down more than the administration had expected or desired—
although the administration did not then acknowledge the exis­
tence of a recession. The administration view was that the slow­
down would not necessarily be long or severe. It would probably
continue moderately through the first half of the year. But if
monetary policy would relax from the extreme tightness of 1969
the economy could begin expanding at midyear. Moreover, after
the slowdown of the first half, output could expand and the in­
flation rate could decline simultaneously, because, although out­
put would be rising, there would still be sufficient slack in the
economy to keep inflation falling.
The CEA had essentially moved its earlier forecast forward by
six months. The lull in the economy that had earlier been fore­
cast to occur in the second half of 1969 and to set the stage for
noninflationary expansion was now to occur in the first half of
1970. During 1970 and the first half of 1971 the C E A went
through a series of recalculations of the disinflationary path. The
C E A would estimate a level of output below which the inflation
rate could be expected to subside. Actual output would then fall
below that level without any significant decline of the inflation
rate. Another econometric calculation would then be made, taking
account of this new information. From this the C E A would draw




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

another picture of the necessary disinflationary path, in which
output would have to fall a little further in order to begin reduc­
tion of the inflation rate. The successive estimates never gave
sufficient weight to the effect of the continuing inflation in hard­
ening inflationary expectations and so making it more difficult
to get inflation down. Thus, the CEA saw the inflation as getting
more and more stubborn, but never quite as stubborn as it would
turn out to be.
Each time the administration looked at the problem its strat­
egy called for a gradual expansion of demand at a pace that
would raise output but not interfere with the reduction of infla­
tion. This management of demand was to be primarily the re­
sponsibility of monetary policy. (The role of fiscal policy in this
period will be discussed subsequently, but it may be pointed out
here that this “fine-tuning” management of demand was not
mainly to be carried out by fiscal policy.) By February 1970 the
control of monetary policy was in the hands of Arthur Bums,
President Nixon’s friend and appointee. Burns, however, turned
out to be no less independent than his predecessor— in fact, if
anything he was more independent. He did not share the “Friedmanesque” ways of looking at monetary policy espoused by the
C E A and Shultz. That is, he did not believe that it was desirable
to fix the path for the rate of change of the money supply for a
considerable period of time— either in obedience to a long-term
rule or in conformity to a medium-term objective such as reduc­
ing the inflation rate. Instead he believed in continuously look­
ing at all the evidence and continuously adjusting the instru­
ments of monetary policy in the light of all the evidence.
In any case, Burns did not accept for monetary policy the
primary responsibility for bringing about a noninflationary expan­
sion. He thought that the role of monetary policy would be facili­
tating only— permitting an expansion when other conditions were
ripe to bring it about but not actively generating a recovery. Like
all his predecessors as chairman of the Federal Reserve he placed
great weight on fiscal policy and was a tireless advocate of hold­
ing down government spending as a way to inspire business con­
fidence and, therefore, recovery.




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

155

During 1970 and 1971 the Federal Reserve did in fact provide
an increase in the money supply which would have been sufficient
for the recovery the administration desired, if the average rela­
tion between money and economic activity had prevailed. But this
average relation is subject to a good deal of variability, and in
this period the growth of the money supply did not yield as much
expansion as might have been expected.
The critical role of Arthur Burns in this period, 1970-1971,
was the encouragement and legitimacy he gave to the push for
“some kind of incomes policy.” Burns had been opposed to the
Kennedy-Johnson guidepost policy for holding down price and
wage increases. But shortly after he became Fed chairman he
revealed in a speech that he had come to the conclusion that the
economy was no longer operating as it used to.7 Restraint of
demand would not suffice to slow down increases in wages and
prices, which were being driven up by powerful unions and cor­
porations. Something more than fiscal-monetary policy would be
required to curb inflation. In a number of speeches Burns indi­
cated what that would be. He suggested the establishment of a
wage-price review board of distinguished citizens who would give
their judgment on the appropriateness of major wage and price
decisions. These judgments would have no legal force but pre­
sumably they would exert moral suasion on businesses and unions
and gradually establish standards to which others would conform.
Burns was not the only advocate of ideas like these. The cir­
cumstances made the idea of incomes policy naturally attractive.
The Nixon administration’s promises that the slowdown of the
economy would soon bring a reduction of the inflation rate were
being disappointed month after month. The President’s critics,
who were numerous, for reasons not connected with the econ­
omy as well as because of his economic policy, were claiming
that the country was suffering “the worst of both worlds”— high
unemployment and high inflation. (The unemployment rate in
mid-1970 was 5 percent and the inflation rate was also around 5
percent.) The political opposition had a great interest in point­
ing out that there was another, less painful, route to price sta­
bility, which Mr. Nixon was too ideological to follow. Incomes




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

policy filled this bill very well. It was identified with the KennedyJohnson economics. Moreover, it appealed to the naive idea that
the simple and direct way to deal with inflation is to ask or tell
businesses and unions not to raise prices and wages so much.
The idea of incomes policy was particularly appealing at this
time to many business leaders. They were under pressure from
their labor unions for large wage increases, following the pattern
of increases begun with the inflation in 1966. But with the econ­
omy in recession their ability to pass the wage increases on in
higher prices had diminished. So the business leaders wanted the
government to help them withstand the demands of their unions,
which they did not think they could do by themselves.
Thus, there would have been a clamor for incomes policy even
if Bums had never said anything. But his position was important.
He was well known as a “conservative.” He was obviously wellinformed. And he was a friend of Nixon’s. Every editorial writer
who wanted to recommend some kind of incomes policy could
say that “even” Arthur Burns was in favor of it. Incomes policy
could not be dismissed as the idea of liberals or ignoramuses.
Moreover, Burns’ position encouraged some people within the
administration who also leaned toward an incomes policy. These
people included some economists in the Treasury and the Budget
Bureau, who wanted to distinguish themselves from the “purist”
ideology of the CEA. The whole situation was awkward for the
White House.
From this point on, from the spring of 1970 until August
1971, the administration and the economy were engaged in a
race. The question was whether the administration’s disinflation
program would be seen to be succeeding before disappointment
with its failure made the demand for incomes policy irresistible.
A generally recognized deadline hung over this race. The ad­
ministration could not enter the active period of the 1972 elec­
tion with an economic policy that was not working and that did
not utilize all measures that might make it work. In the spring of
1970 this did not seem a very rigorous deadline. But still it
would not be desirable to go through the next two years con­




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

157

tinuously in the position of resisting ameliorative measures for
which there was a great popular demand.
This raised a difficult strategic question. On the one hand it
might be desirable to make some concessions to the calls for di­
rect measures, to blunt the charges of obstinacy. On the other
hand there was danger that concessions would only be taken as
admission that the basic demand-management policy was inade­
quate and so serve to intensify the clamor for more direct mea­
sures. The policy adopted— as it played out— was to make a se­
ries of concessions at intervals. As I described it at the time, the
administration was like a Russian family fleeing over the snow
in a horse-drawn troika pursued by wolves. Every once in a
while they threw a baby out to slow down the wolves, hoping
thereby to gain enough time for most of the family to reach
safety. Every once in a while the administration would make an­
other step in the direction of incomes policies, hoping to appease
the critics while the demand-management policy would work. In
the end, of course, the strategy failed, and the administration
made the final concession on August 15, 1971, when price and
wage controls were adopted.
To say that the demand-management policy did not work and
that the general strategy failed is, of course, to say something
about what the standards for success were. In fact, appraisals of
the success of the policy were mixed at the time and remained
mixed subsequently. The recession in 1970 was not very deep—
in fact, it was the most shallow of the postwar period. There
were already signs of recovery by the end of the year before the
economy was knocked down again by a long strike at the Gen­
eral Motors Corporation. The ending of the strike was accom­
panied by a sharp spurt of output in the first quarter of 1971,
but that spurt contained temporary elements and the rate of in­
crease of real output subsided again. Although the unemploy­
ment rate fell during the post-strike months it then rose and was
flat during the spring and summer at around 6 percent. Mean­
while, the inflation rate had fallen and then risen again, but even
after the rise, inflation was below its earlier levels.8 The fluctua­




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

tions in the inflation rate also had transitory elements, like varia­
tions in food prices connected with the weather, so that it was
difficult to be sure of the trend.
Probably a reasonable judgment of this policy— which can
never be firm because the policy was not carried through to a
final test— was that it was working in the sense that it was get­
ting the inflation down at the price of a recession which, at least
by later standards, seems moderate. The course of the economy,
however, was so irregular that it was impossible to project any
trends and thus to establish any confidence that the policy
was working. Moreover, performance was measured against a
set of expectations which, in retrospect, seem unrealistic. These
expectations were in part the residue of the extraordinary per­
formance of the economy in the Kennedy and early Johnson
days. That experience had left the impression that the com­
bination of low unemployment and low inflation through which
we passed briefly in the transition from Eisenhower’s restraint
to Johnson’s expansionism was par for the course— not only
in the long run but also in the transition in the other direction.
The Nixon administration reinforced these expectations by
promising a speedy return to full employment— still meaning
about 4 percent unemployment— and price stability. Moreover,
as time passed and the 1972 elections drew closer, the admin­
istration’s goals and forecasts became more demanding. The
administration felt obliged to describe a path of the economy
which would deliver fairly high employment and low inflation
by the summer of 1972. Although a case could be made for
the feasibility of such a path there was always a considerable
risk of falling behind this optimum path. This happened re­
peatedly. And when it did it provided ammunition for those who
mistrusted the whole strategy and wanted something more— .
namely, incomes policies.
Although Nixon, and the CEA and Shultz, never had any
confidence in incomes policies, the President felt the need to ap­
pease the demand for such measures from time to time— to
throw a baby to the pursuing wolves, in the simile cited above.




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

159

The first of these steps was taken in the President’s speech of
June 17, 1970.9 Much hope was invested in this speech. An ear­
lier speech on the Vietnam War was regarded by the White
House as highly successful in turning around public attitudes on
the war. There was hope that a speech could also turn around
public attitudes on the economy. The drafting of the speech— by
William Safire— became a major arena for struggle on incomes
policy within the administration. The outcome was superficially
impressive, ambiguous and in the end ineffective. Aside from the
restatement of the basic demand-management policy there were
three concessions to the incomes policy position.
First, the President established a National Commission on
Productivity, with members from government, labor, manage­
ment and the general public (code term for professors). This
was a Shultz idea. It had the advantage of meeting the need for
some kind of labor-management forum but for using it on a sub­
ject to which labor could not object, productivity. There were
people who hoped that when the representatives of the four par­
ties sat down around the table they would begin to talk about
wages and prices and gradually evolve into a wage-price review
board to execute a voluntary incomes policy. A t the first meet­
ing, however, George Meany, president of the AFL-CIO, made
clear that this was not to be. From that time the National Com­
mission on Productivity and its successor bodies, which survived
for many years, settled into irrelevance.
Second, the Council of Economic Advisers would issue peri­
odic “Inflation Alerts,” calling attention to economic develop­
ments that were causing inflation. Again there were people who
regarded this as the entry into a more ambitious incomes policy.
They thought that the C E A might be drawn into commenting on
the appropriateness of pending major wage and price increases
and that these comments might in time reveal a common set of
standards or guidelines. The Council of Economic Advisers had
no intention of establishing a system of guidelines, however. The
reports the council issued were general, statistical and analytical
and contained no recommendations about specific wage and




i6o

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

price decisions. This disappointed the proponents of incomes pol­
icy but still served for some months to give the impression of action.
Third, the President established a Government Procurement
and Regulations Review Board to try to correct government ac­
tions— like import controls— that tended to raise costs and prices.
This was one of a long series of such committees that would be
set up. They dealt with a real but not large problem. They were
not very effective, because the price-raising measures they tried
to correct had much political support. That was why they ex­
isted. Economists called such measures “sacred cows”— suggest­
ing how much resistance there was to exterminating them.
The actions announced in the June 17 speech blunted the at­
tack on the administration’s economic policy for a while, but by
fall the President felt the need for another move. The rise of gas­
oline and heating-oil prices was getting much attention. So the
President made a speech in which he announced steps to increase
importation of oil from Canada and to relax limits on the pro­
duction of oil on federal offshore lands.10
In January 1971 the administration went through what had
become a ritual process with the steel industry. Some of the ma­
jor steel companies announced a big price increase. The admin­
istration denounced this action and said that it would initiate
studies of what was wrong with the industry. The companies then
cut the size of the price increase in half. There was suspicion
that the initial price increase had been set in the expectation that
the government would complain and there would have to be a
rollback.
From January to March 1971 the administration launched its
most serious venture in incomes policy before it went all the way
to controls in August. Wages in the construction industry were a
subject of great concern. Some local unions were getting wage
increases that were far above the national pattern. That was
beginning to worry the national leadership, partly because they
feared the rising popularity of the local union heads who were
getting the big increases. The President temporarily suspended
the Davis-Bacon Act, which required the government to pay
prescribed wages (usually union wages) on government con-




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

161

struction contracts. A month later, the national leadership of
the construction industry agreed to participate in a Construc­
tion Industry Stabilization Committee which would pass on wage
increases in the industry. It would also do something, never
clearly spelled out, about the fees charged by construction con­
tractors. This operation was only getting under way when it was
folded into the comprehensive price and wage control system in
August.
These steps did not visibly affect the course of the inflation
and were not expected by the White House to do so. They were
intended to divert and defer the popular pressure for stronger
measures of incomes policy while the demand-management strat­
egy was working. If evidence of the success of the demandmanagement strategy had been forthcoming in time this might
have been an effective approach. But evidence of the decline of
inflation remained at best ambiguous through the summer of
1971. It is therefore uncertain whether the steps the administra­
tion took strengthened the administration’s hand or weakened it.
The steps taken were an admission that there was something in
the argument for a direct attack on inflation, but the steps did
not satisfy the critics for long. There were always more possible
steps to take, like a wage-price review board, which the Presi­
dent had not taken but which, it could be claimed, would solve
the inflation problem painlessly.
In August 1970 the Congress (which was, of course, Demo­
cratic) made certain that the President could not escape the sole
responsibility for failing to stop the inflation by direct means and
so avoiding unemployment. Legislation was enacted which gave
the President discretionary authority to impose comprehensive
wage and price controls. From that moment the decision not to
impose controls was the President’s alone; he could not claim
lack of authority.
Congress was not at that time recommending that controls be
imposed. A motion in the House of Representatives to impose
controls received only eleven affirmative votes. In fact, among
“responsible” people there was a considerable reluctance to rec­
ommend mandatory controls, especially comprehensive and du­




PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

rable ones. Sophisticated people were supposed to know that du­
rable comprehensive mandatory controls were beyond the pale
in a society like ours. So their call was for something more vol­
untary and selective. As I said at the time, the call was for a
nonfattening hot fudge sundae— a policy that would have all the
good effects of controls but none of their disadvantages.
A new and critically important character entered the story in
December 1970 when the President appointed John Connally
Secretary of the Treasury. This appointment signaled the desire
of the President to change the image of his economic policy. He
was tired of being on the defensive all the time, of the “ threeyards-in-a-cloud-of-dust” strategy. He wanted a more aggres­
sive, dramatic and leading role. But he didn’t think he could pro­
duce that himself, and he didn’t find that he got much help in
that direction from his scholarly and low-keyed team of eco­
nomic advisers and officials.
Connally, whom Nixon met for the first time in April 1969 as
a member of a commission on executive organization, filled Nix­
on’s bill perfectly. He was tall, handsome, forceful, colorful,
charming, an excellent speaker in small and large groups and
political to his eyeballs. The facts that he was a Democrat, had
been Secretary of the Navy under Kennedy and had been wounded
when Kennedy was assassinated were to his advantage, further
signs of breaking out of the gray, Republican rut.
The appointment of Connally did not imply a decision by
Nixon to work his way to controls. He wanted to change the im­
age of his economic policy but not necessarily to change the pol­
icy itself. Connally did not take office with any preconception in
favor of controls. In fact, he did not seem to have any precon­
ception in favor of any particular policy. One of his favorite ex­
pressions was: “I can play it round or I can play it flat, just tell
me how to play it.”
Nevertheless, the arrival of Connally contributed greatly to
the probability that the Nixon administration would end with
controls. For the first time there was an important member of
Nixon’s economic circle— indeed, the most important member—
who had no strong philosophical aversion to controls. Moreover,




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas
with the coming of Connally the most critical issues of economic
policy were no longer decided by a process of discussion in
which a number of people participated. This kind of committee
process tended to caution, compromise and gradualism. But for
a time the decision-making process moved inside, into a oneon-one relation between Connally and Nixon. In this atmosphere
Nixon’s ideological aversion to controls could be more easily
overcome by his desire for the big political gesture, a desire in
which Connally would fortify him.
Connally found himself the head of a Treasury that already
included a number of officials who had a leaning toward “in­
comes policies” and who were in conflict with the purists— the
CEA and Shultz— on that subject. He was determined to assert
the primacy of the Treasury in economic matters, and this natu­
rally made him the champion of a more active direct approach
to inflation.
Whether Nixon would ever have moved to mandatory, com­
prehensive controls without Connally is doubtful. The President
was not disposed to take big unconventional actions without
strong support from inside his own team. The imposition of con­
trols is sometimes compared to the opening of relations with
China or detente with the Soviet Union as a step that would not
be expected from a Republican but that only a Republican could
take. But Nixon felt more confident of his own judgments in for­
eign policy than in economics. His turns toward the USSR and
China were not so strange for him; he had floated such ideas
before he became President. He had Kissinger to tell him they
were the things to do. But the turn to controls was alien to him,
not only on general principles but also personally because of the
way he had interpreted his wartime experience with the OPA. He
probably could not have brought himself to so radical a step if
his only inside advice had come from the likes of Shultz and Mc­
Cracken. But he probably would not have brought Connally into
the Cabinet if he had not wanted to liberate himself from such
advice.
Connally was the link between Nixon and controls in another
respect— in addition to personal style and politics. As Secretary




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

of the Treasury he was primarily responsible for the interna­
tional financial position of the United States. That position had
been deteriorating for over ten years. That is, the United States
had been running deficits in its balance of payments. We were
spending more dollars abroad, for imports, for military opera­
tions, and so on, than we were earning abroad by our exports
and the income on our foreign investments. As a result, foreign
treasuries and central banks were accumulating large quantities
of dollars, and, under the system then in force, the United States
had an obligation to convert those dollars into gold on demand
at a price of one ounce of gold for $35. But the amount of foreign-held dollars outstanding had become far larger than the
value of the U.S. gold stock at that price. Everyone knew that
if the foreign holders presented their dollars for conversion there
wouldn’t be enough gold to go around. So there was a tacit un­
derstanding among foreign treasuries and central banks not to
ask for gold lest doing so precipitate a run. But the situation was
unstable. Every country had to be concerned that some other
one would get to the gold window first and draw out the gold
while it lasted— or while the United States remained willing to
keep the window open.
The obvious remedy for this situation was for the United
States to declare that it would no longer pay out gold, or no
longer pay it out at the price of $35 an ounce. If that was done
the value of the dollar would decline and might float freely—
being determined by supply and demand in the market. Foreign
governments could not be expected to continue to hold dollars
and to buy them from their citizens at a fixed price if the United
States rejected any obligations to convert them into anything.
On this subject there had been a significant development in
“conservative” thinking. For a long time the standard doctrine
of free market economists, led by Friedman, had favored float­
ing, or free, exchange rates. They regarded the exchange rate—
the price of pounds or marks or yen in dollars— as a price like
others to be determined in the market. They also observed that
the effort of governments to maintain a fixed exchange rate for
their currencies often took the form of interferences with trade




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas
and capital movements. Thus, a free exchange rate seemed to be
a necessary condition for freedom in other international eco­
nomic transactions. On the other hand, as recently as i960, con­
ventional conservative thinking on these matters, the thinking of
the Wall Street banking community, was all for fixed exchange
rates. This was partly because the bankers thought that they
would have great difficulty doing business with variable rates.
But they also believed that the obligation to maintain fixed ex­
change rates served as a discipline on governments, keeping them
from inflationary policy in general and from big expenditures in
particular.
By 1970 and 1971 the attitude of the banking community had
changed considerably and had become much more receptive to
variable rates. This was in part a concession to the intellectual
argument. But it was also a reflection of experience with what
the government actually did in an effort to defend the exchange
rate. Specifically, the government was limiting the outflow of
capital by a tax on interest earned abroad and by ceilings on
foreign lending by banks. In other words, the Wall Street finan­
cial community was bearing part of the burden of maintain­
ing fixed exchange rates. This did much to convince the conven­
tional conservatives of the virtue of free exchange rates.
By 1971 there was an immediate application of the principle
that free exchange rates were the necessary condition for free­
dom in other aspects of the international economy. The govern­
ment was becoming greatly exercised over the “Japan” problem.
The United States was running a deficit in its balance of trade
with Japan, and, more significant politically, a number of indus­
tries were complaining about Japanese competition. Ideas of
quotas or other restraints on Japanese imports were being seri­
ously considered. To the free market people in the government,
closing the gold window and allowing the dollar to decline in
value relative to the yen was a much better solution.
There were, however, difficulties with ending gold convertibil­
ity and allowing the dollar to depreciate. The decline in the value
of the dollar would itself be inflationary in the United States, be­
cause it would raise the dollar price of imports. Also, there was




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

a danger that people at home and abroad would regard the end­
ing of gold convertibility as a sign that the United States had
given up on the fight against inflation and was cutting the last
link to price stability. Finally, to abandon the gold standard
would look like a confession of failure, of inability to meet our
commitments, and the failure would be mainly a failure of the
U.S. Treasury— which meant of John Connally.
Ending gold convertibility would go down better if it was
packaged as part of an independent, positive American eco­
nomic policy, especially one that looked strongly anti-inflationary.
In a word, ending gold convertibility was a natural partner of a
move to mandatory price and wage controls. In the spring,
Nixon and Connally agreed that if a foreign demand for gold
should force them to close the gold window they would at the
same time impose price and wage controls. There was still a
good deal of discussion in the government, as in the country, of
an intermediate step, such as a wage-price review board. But
Nixon knew that if he took any intermediate step he would al­
most immediately be criticized for not having done more. There­
fore he decided that if he moved he would, as he said, “leapfrog
them all.” He would move so far that no one could complain
that he hadn’t gone farther. That meant the mandatory, compre­
hensive freeze.
The Nixon-Connally decision was in turn communicated to
Shultz and McCracken but not to others. Of course, the decision
was still contingent on international financial developments. It
was imperative that the program not be known before it went
into effect. Otherwise all the gold would have gone out before
the window was closed and prices and wages would have been
raised before the freeze was imposed.
(The secret was well kept. In July the Washington Post ran
an article by J. K. Galbraith recommending the imposition of
controls and then asked Shultz to write a reply. Shultz demurred
and suggested that I do it. But the Post had just published an ar­
ticle by me and did not want another one so soon. So it was ar­
ranged that the reply would be by McCracken but that I would
draft it since McCracken was too busy. Before we sent in the




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

167

article, McCracken and I discussed the possibility that Nixon
would decide to impose controls, which would leave us like out­
siders— the worst fate for a White House employee. We con­
cluded that as long as the President was publicly committed not
to impose controls our obligation was to make the best possible
explanation of that position. If he decided to change his mind
he could easily disown his advisers who had been out of step.)
As June and July passed, conditions combined to push the ad­
ministration into activating its contingent decision. The econ­
omy was not getting worse. The unemployment rate was stable,
and it was not clear whether the inflation rate was going up or
down. But the economy was clearly not on the track of rapid
improvement that the administration had promised. Republicans
in Congress, becoming worried about running in 1972 with the
economic issue against them, petitioned the President for action.
Business leaders asked for help in resisting union demands. The
national media kept up a drumfire of complaint about the Presi­
dent’s stubborn ideology. (The White House, constantly im­
mersed in Time, Newsweek, CBS, the New York Times and the
Washington Post, could not help thinking the media represented
a popular demand for direct action, but in fact that was probably
an exaggeration of the public attitude. Polls almost always show
that the public is “for” price and wage controls, just as they al­
ways show that the public is “for” balancing the budget and cut­
ting government expenditures. But the public apparently does
not care very much in any of these cases.)
Finally, in the week of August 9, the British representative
came to the Treasury and asked for $3 billion of gold. On Fri­
day, August 13, the central economic officials of the admin­
istration helicoptered to Camp David, and returned on Sunday,
bringing a New Economic Policy, which included a mandatory
comprehensive freeze on prices and wages.
Clearly, to explain how this “conservative” administration—
the administration of Nixon, Shultz, McCracken and Stein— got
to such a radical departure from conservative, free market phi­
losophy involves a combination of factors. It must be recognized
that the number of people who had any strong aversion to “some




PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

kind of incomes policy” was small. The President had very few
allies in a strong policy of resistance. Even conventional conser­
vatives, including business leaders, were for something in that
direction. Most of them would have denied that they were for
mandatory controls. But their failure to defend the free mar­
ket approach helped to undermine the President’s position and
to leave him exposed to continuous demands for more action.
Possibly the President’s step-by-step concessions to these de­
mands only weakened his position and encouraged demands
for more. This pressure on him would, of course, not have been
great if the demand-management policy had seemed to be suc­
cessful. But on this point the administration contributed to its
own frustration. By its optimistic predictions for the simultane­
ous reduction of inflation and unemployment the administration
helped to create expectations that it could not meet. The con­
dition of the economy was not so bad as to explain, let alone
justify, such drastic action except by contrast with unrealistic ex­
pectations which the administration itself fostered. Some respon­
sibility must be assigned to Nixon’s personality. He had a great
longing for the dramatic gesture, for which he found a perfect
supporter in John Connally. He also tended to worry exceed­
ingly about his reelection prospects and so to feel impelled to ex­
treme measures to assure his reelection. Finally, as we shall see,
no one involved in the decision to impose controls foresaw how
long they would last or how rigorous they would be.
We shall come next to the experience with the controls. But
before turning to that we must report the evolution of fiscal pol­
icy, which also moved a long way, although less dramatically,
from the traditional conservative position.
Richard Nixon had run for President on the standard Repub­
lican position that Lyndon Johnson’s deficits had been a primary
cause of inflation and that balancing the budget should be a ma­
jor object of policy. Mr. Nixon did not, however, have a strong
feeling about this, and neither did his economists. Being “Friedmanesque,” his economists put much more weight on the money
supply as cause of the inflation. They did not, however, feel suf­




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

169

ficiently confident of this position to go against the combination
of conventional wisdoms— both Republican and Keynesian. The
Nixon team encountered a test on this matter even before it took
office. Lyndon Johnson was preparing his final budget message,
and the question was whether he would recommend extension of
the Vietnam War tax surcharge, due to expire on June 30, 1969.
He was reluctant to do this if Nixon would immediately repudi­
ate the idea, leaving him solely responsible for this unpopular
suggestion. The issue was brought to Nixon’s newly chosen eco­
nomic officials, who were not yet installed. There was some in­
clination among them to say that the temporary tax surcharge
was irrelevant to the inflation problem and there was no reason
to continue it. But in the end the decision was not to take so un­
orthodox a position, which would have been hard to explain
either to those Republicans who believed in balancing the budget
for its own sake or to all those people who had been taught
by the new Keynesian economists that tax increases were antiinflationary. At that point, in January, all that Mr. Nixon had
to say was that he would consider continuing the surcharge in
the light of the budget as it looked in the spring.
The issue became more acute in the spring, when the decision
was Nixon’s to make. Efforts to cut expenditures had not turned
up much. If the budget was to be balanced in fiscal 1970 the
surcharge would have to be continued. Moreover, there was still
no sign of the inflation abating. Again, the President’s economic
advisers recommended continuing the surcharge, out of defer­
ence to the possibility that their confidence in the power of mon­
etary policy might be mistaken.
TTie Nixon CEA did not share the traditional conservative de­
votion to budget balancing as a moral principle— a devotion
which in any case was more honored in rhetoric than in action.
Neither did it share the confidence of its Kennedy-Johnson pre­
decessors in fine-tuning the budget to stabilize the economy. It
did, however, want a rule of fiscal policy and saw an important
place for balancing the budget in such a rule. A t an earlier stage
it had supported the CED rule that the budget should be set to
balance or yield a moderate surplus at high employment, a rule




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

that I had helped to formulate and explain. The C E A saw in
this several advantages. When the economy was operating at its
desirable level the government would not be absorbing private
savings to finance a deficit but would be augmenting private
savings with a surplus, which would be good for private invest­
ment and economic growth. Expenditure decisions would be dis­
ciplined by the requirement to provide revenues equal to ex­
penditures. And insofar as there was any stabilizing effect in
variations in the size of the deficit or surplus this effect would be
automatically obtained to a considerable degree by the natural
response of the deficit or surplus to the level of employment and
economic activity, without the government’s being required to
take deliberate actions.
In the early months of the administration this line of thinking
was not critical. There was high employment and inflation. A ll
lines of thinking— traditional, Keynesian or high-employment
balance— pointed to the desirability of balancing the budget or
coming as close to that as the situation would allow.
By 1970, however, with the economy falling into recession
and the budget deficit climbing, the rationale for fiscal policy did
become critical. The high-employment balance rule would per­
mit, and even welcome, a deficit up to a certain size. But the
C E A was grappling with problems in that rule which had be­
come more and more apparent with the Vietnam War inflation.
This experience had demonstrated that with the economy at high
employment, inflation would generate more and more revenue.
If the policy was to keep the budget in balance inflation would
permit an increase of expenditures without an increase of taxes—
undermining the disciplinary effect of the budget-balancing rule.
Also there was no stabilizing effect against the inflation because
the rule did not require a surplus under inflationary conditions
unless unemployment was below the target rate, then considered
to be 4 percent. The whole system was asymmetrical. It per­
mitted deficits when the economy was below full employment
but did not require surpluses when the economy was in an infla­
tionary state.
Pursuing this question led the C E A to a more sophisticated




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

171

view of the underlying rationale of the high-employment balance
rule. The basic principle was that the budget should be in bal­
ance when the economy was in its desirable and achievable con­
dition— when it was on what the C E A called the optimum feasi­
ble path, or OFP. It would be the goal of monetary policy to
keep the economy on the OFP, and while that goal would not be
constantly achieved, the OFP would be the most probable path
of the economy, because monetary policy would be seeking to
achieve it. Consequently, if the budget was set to yield a surplus
when the economy was on the OFP the most probable result over
a period of time would be a surplus, satisfying the interest in pro­
moting private investment. Fluctuations of the economy around
the OFP— fluctuations both in the price level and in output—
would generate variation of the deficit or surplus that would
tend to restrain the fluctuations of the economy. As contrasted
with the high-employment balance rule, the OFP balance rule was
also stabilizing against inflation. That is, additional revenue gen­
erated by inflation was not to be spent but was to be added to the
surplus. This had the further advantage that inflation would not
permit the government to raise expenditures without having to
raise tax rates.
The OFP would not always be at high employment. Specifi­
cally, in the conditions of 1970 the OFP would run through a
period in which unemployment would be high, because that was
temporarily necessary to get the inflation down. The earlier CED
formulations had not visualized the possibility that in some cir­
cumstances “high employment” might not be the optimum con­
dition of the economy. As the Council visualized the OFP in 1970
there would be a period in which the unemployment rate was
rising, say to 5 percent, after which it would decline to reach 4
percent in 1972. During this time the inflation rate would decline
to, say, 2 percent, also by 1972. After that the unemployment rate
would be stable at 4 percent, output would grow at its normal
rate, thought to be 4 percent a year, and inflation would be sta­
ble at a low rate.
This scenario made the achievement of budget balance on the
optimum feasible path in 1970 and 1971 more difficult than




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

achievement of budget balance at high employment in those
years, because the OFP involved a higher level of unemploy­
ment and less inflation. Higher taxes or lower expenditures would
have been required to balance the budget on the OFP.
But, the council’s notion of the optimum feasible path was too
complicated to explain to other members of the administration,
including the President. And even if they had accepted it they
would have been unable to explain it to the public. Moreover, as
these ideas were developing in the council, time for decision was
growing short. With the recession deepening, the actual and pro­
spective deficits were increasing. To try to eliminate these deficits
by raising taxes or cutting expenditures made sense to hardly
anyone and was probably not feasible.
Some explanation of this situation was necessary that was not
a surrender to the fine-tuning, no-holds-barred expansionist poli­
cies of the Democrats and which retained some link to traditional
Republican budget balancing. To meet this need, Shultz, who
had become director of the Office of Management and Budget
on July 2, 1970, persuaded Nixon to adopt the high-employment
balance standard. The idea that the budget should be balanced
at high employment had, of course, considerable currency before
Nixon adopted it. As we have pointed out, officials of the Eisen­
hower, Kennedy and Johnson administrations had used it as an
explanation or rationalization of their budget policies. But still
the idea had remained somewhat exotic, part of the language
economists and other experts spoke to each other. Before the
budget that Nixon submitted in January 1971 no budget docu­
ment had ever contained estimates of the high-employment bud­
get, although annual reports of the C E A had contained such esti­
mates since 1962. No President before Nixon had endorsed the
high-employment budget standard as conspicuously and as defi­
nitely as he did.11
The President’s State of the Union Message in 1971 listed a
noninflationary recovery as one of the President’s main goals and
the full-employment budget as the major instrument for achiev­
ing it. The message said:
“To achieve this, I will submit an expansionary budget this




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

173

year— one that will help stimulate the economy and thereby
open up new job opportunities for millions of Americans.
“It will be a full employment budget, a budget designed to be in
balance if the economy were operating at its peak potential. By
spending as if we were at full employment, we will help to bring
about full employment.”12
The President probably, and his speechwriters certainly, tended
to exaggerate the effect of balancing the budget at high employ­
ment. They seemed to regard it as a “self-fulfilling prophecy,”
with the idea that acting “as i f ’ we were at full employment
would bring us to full employment. This was claiming too much.
But still the President’s pride in what he had done was legitimate.
He had adopted a policy which was both innovative and conser­
vative— conservative in that it incorporated a rule which set a
limit to fine-tuning and expansionism.
It was in the euphoria of this announcement that the President
said, in an interview with Howard K. Smith after the message was
delivered, “Now I am a Keynesian,” as I have already noted.13
In general, Nixon’s espousal of the idea that the full-employment budget should be kept in balance received little praise.
That the liberals would scoff at it was natural enough. They
regarded it as a limit on the increase of spending or reduction
of taxes to pump the economy out of the recession, and they
were not prepared to accept any limit. That the traditional con­
servatives— the leaders of the business and financial commu­
nity— should reject it was a little more surprising. They did not
recognize or accept it as a restraint on more expansionist pol­
icy— on even bigger deficits— that prevailing ideology and poli­
tics would have delivered. And they ridiculed the idea of balancing
the budget with phantom revenue— the revenue that would have
been collected under conditions that didn’t exist. (That was, of
course, a caricature of the idea. There was no claim that the bud­
get would be balanced. Deficits of a certain size were recognized
as acceptable when the economy was below full employment.
The function of the full-employment balance rule was to tell how
big an actual deficit was acceptable— namely, as big an actual
deficit as would result if the expenditures did not exceed the reve­




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

nues that would be yielded at full employment. A main point of
the whole exercise was not to pretend that the budget was bal­
anced but to keep deficits from exceeding this size.)
Ten years earlier the notion of balancing the budget at full
employment had been a major item in a conservative-liberal con­
sensus. By 1971 it was acceptable to hardly anyone. What had
happened in the interval? In the 1950s, full-employment balance
had widespread acceptance as second-best. The liberals and thor­
oughgoing Keynesians regarded it as the best they could get out
of an old-fashioned conservative establishment. The conserva­
tives, or some of them, regarded it as an acceptable limit on what
they saw as a strong intellectual and political tendency to endless
deficits and limitless expenditures. The CED had not seen the
policy in this light. It did not like to call it a compromise. It pre­
ferred the term “synthesis,” believing that the policy retained the
best elements of functional finance and budget balancing and
was the first-best, not the second-best. But others were for the
time willing to accept the full-employment balance rule as the best
they could do, while their hearts were elsewhere.
By 1971 no one was willing to settle for second-best. The
thoroughgoing Keynesians had their appetites whetted by the ap­
parent success of their policies in the Kennedy-Johnson days and
saw no reason any longer to make concessions. The conserva­
tives, on the other hand, felt that the Kennedy-Johnson people
had used the full-employment balance idea as an entering wedge
for a more activist fiscal policy, and didn’t like to have their man,
Nixon, endorsing it. There was probably another factor at work
as well. By 1971 there was a new generation of business leaders
who had not been so much affected by the depression and had
less firsthand experience with the unrealism of the conventional
budget-balancing doctrine.
In any case, the failure of Nixon’s venture into “modem” fiscal
policy— the rule of balancing the budget at high employment— •
to win any support in the country greatly diminished its force
within the administration. From the President’s standpoint, the
high-employment balance rule was a limitation upon his own
freedom of action that he accepted in an effort to reestablish




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

175

some discipline and responsibility in fiscal policy. It was a rule
that in 1971 was keeping him from raising expenditures or cut­
ting taxes and possibly speeding up the economic recovery. If he
was to get no credit for this self-restraint, and especially if the
self-proclaimed custodians of fiscal responsibility dismissed his
proposal, there was little incentive for him to be bound by it. The
full-employment budget remained something for the Nixon econ­
omists to look at, and it might be used as window dressing when
convenient. But it would not be a governing standard of budget
policy.
By August 13, 1971, when the Nixon economic team went up
to Camp David, there had been radical and surprising changes
from the conceptions of economic policy with which they had
entered office. The role of “conservatives” in bringing about
these changes is interesting evidence of the diversity of attitudes
which is covered by the term “conservative.”
The administration was about to impose mandatory, compre­
hensive price and wage controls. From the standpoint of the free
market conservatives, a group consisting mainly of economists,
nothing could have been more distasteful. But more conventional
conservatives, including many business leaders, participated in
the demand for direct action which led to the controls.
The administration was about to cut the last link of the dollar
to gold. This was a move that free market economists had wanted
for a long time. It was a move that the business and financial
community had only recently come to accept.
The standard Republican conservative notion of balancing the
budget as the rule of fiscal policy had not survived the recession
of 1970 any better than it had survived other recessions of the
previous forty years. The conservative economists had hoped that
some more realistic version of the balanced-budget rule, like bal­
ancing the budget at high employment, could be established.
Nixon had tried this. But the idea had not caught on, partly be­
cause of the coolness of the business and financial community.
So the government was left without any guiding principles of fis­
cal policy.
Although the administration placed great weight on monetary




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

policy as an instrument of economic stabilization, the manage­
ment of that instrument was in the hand of a friend and a con­
servative who did not share the administration’s views of the way
that instrument should be used. This forced the administration
into more reliance on the manipulation of fiscal policy than it
would have preferred.

The Price Control Interlude
The meeting at Camp David on the weekend of August 13 -15 ,
I i, was one of the most exciting and dramatic events in the
history of economic policy. That was not only because the par­
ticipants knew they were making extremely big and starring
decisions. It was also because of the atmosphere in which the
decisions were to be made. The group in attendance was small— .
sixteen people— and they had the feeling that being there was a
sign of their importance. They were on a mountaintop— even
though it was not a very high mountain. The Camp David estab­
lishment was arranged to give the participants the sense of their
unique value. Although the physical structure and furnishings
were not luxurious but simple, every provision was made for the
wishes of the participants— any choice of food and drink, tennis,
swimming, skeet shooting, bicycle riding, horseback riding and so
on. Moreover, the Navy personnel in attendance were unfailingly
helpful and courteous, treating everyone as if he were a full ad­
miral.
Most of this was part of the “usual” Camp David atmosphere.
Probably the distinctive thing about the August 13-15 weekend
was the secrecy. The group was totally cut off from communica­
tion, in or out, with the world below, in recognition of the dam­
age that could result from any leaks of the deliberations.
The whole atmosphere, and particularly the isolation from the
outside, served to separate the group from the realities of eco­
nomic and political life. They acquired the attitudes of a group
of scriptwriters preparing a T V special to be broadcast on Sun­
day evening. The announcement— the performance— was every­

97




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

177

thing. It had to be as dramatic and smooth as possible, with no
loose ends trailing. But it was not regarded as a step in a con­
tinuing process of government. After the special, regular pro­
gramming would be resumed.
(The analogy of the T V scriptwriting conference was made
especially pertinent by the attention that some of the partici­
pants— notably Nixon and Haldeman— gave to the mechanics of
the TV speech that the President would make announcing the
program. The President was at first reluctant to make his speech
on Sunday evening because he did not want to irritate a large
part of the public by preempting Bonanza, which was then one
of the most popular programs. He was, however, persuaded that
the announcement had to be made before the markets opened on
Monday morning.)
This suspension of realism enabled the participants to over­
look a number of questions that would have been considered at
length if the decision had been made in a less exotic environ­
ment. It was agreed that there would be a freeze of up to ninety
days on prices and wages. The OMB and the C E A had done a
small amount of thinking, on a contingent basis, about the op­
eration of such a system— staffing, regulations, enforcement and
so on. But this revealed only a small fraction of the problems
that would be encountered. More important, there was little con­
sideration of what would happen after the freeze, which obvi­
ously could not last for long. There was a general assumption
that after the period of the freeze the system could be greatly re­
laxed, turning into some variant of a voluntary wage-price review
board limited to a few large corporations and unions. What
would happen during the ninety-day freeze to make that possible
at the end of it, when it was not possible at the beginning, was
not thought through very rigorously. Insofar as there was any un­
derlying theory it was that the inflation was persisting stubbornly
because of the inflationary expectations which had developed
during the previous six years. A period of price stability would
dispel these expectations and allow the economy to proceed at
high employment without inflation. But even if the theory was
correct no one knew how long the price stability would have to




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

last in order to dispel the inflationary expectations. And the re­
sult was especially uncertain if the period of price stability was
brought about by a process— direct controls— that did not change
the underlying conditions and that would surely be temporary.
The imposition of the freeze was a jump off the diving board
without any clear idea of what lay below.
There was also agreement at Camp David that the United
States would close the gold window— that is, that we would no
longer be committed to converting dollars into gold, even for
foreign treasuries and central banks. But there was no agreement
on what was going to happen next. There were two possibilities.
One was that the exchange value of the dollar would decline and
be fixed at a new level, which we would try to maintain. If this
was the course the question of the desirable new level of the dol­
lar had to be faced. The other possibility would be that the dol­
lar would float, with the exchange rate determined in the market.
Little consideration was given at Camp David to the alterna­
tives.
Finally, there was agreement at Camp David on a fiscal policy
intended to stimulate the economy. The policy was dressed up to
consist of equal expenditure reductions and tax reductions, so
that it did not seem to increase the deficit. There was a reason­
able expectation that the actual tax reductions would exceed the
amount proposed by the President— the natural tendency of the
Congress being to cut taxes more than the President proposed.
Also, the nature of the expenditure cuts and tax cuts was such
that the stimulative effect of the tax cuts might be expected to
exceed the restraining effect of the expenditure cuts.
But there was no careful calculation of the desirable amount
of fiscal stimulus. One of the arguments the Nixon economists
had regularly made against controls was that they seduced gov­
ernments into excessively expansionary fiscal and monetary poli­
cies which overran the controls and caused new inflation. Now
that they were about to impose controls they thought they had
room for more stimulus. In fact, the CEA had wanted more
stimulus even without the controls. But nothing was done to
establish guidelines that would keep our government from falling




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

179

into the same expansionist error which had helped to undermine
previous controls systems.
And although the future course of monetary policy would
have a major effect on the success of the New Economic Policy,
monetary policy was one subject not considered at Camp David.
The New Economic Policy would temporarily suppress infla­
tionary forces by price and wage controls and would remove one
conventional limitation on inflation, gold convertibility. Whether
the result would in the end be more inflation would depend on
monetary policy more than on anything else. But no attention
was paid to this critical monetary component of the policy.
Despite these deficiencies in the preparation for the future
they were opening up, the participants at Camp David accom­
plished a great deal in forty-eight hours and returned to Wash­
ington on the afternoon of August 15 in a state of exhilaration.
This was true even for those participants— probably a majority
of those present— who did not like the controls. As my son said
to me after the program was announced, “Ideologically you
should fall on your sword but existentially it’s great.” Something
of the high spirits with which the participants came down from
Camp David was reflected in the mock “Fact Sheet” that I wrote
to accompany the President’s August 15 speech.
“Fact Sheet”
On the 15th day of the 8th month the president came down
from the mountain and spoke to the people on all networks, saying:
I bring you a Comprehensive Eight-point Program, as follows:
First, thou shall raise no price, neither any wage, rent, interest,
fee or dividend.
Second, thou shall pay out no gold, neither metallic nor paper.
Third, thou shall drive no Japanese car, wear no Italian shoe,
nor drink any French wine, neither red nor white.
Fourth, thou shall pay to whosoever buys any equipment ten
percent of the value thereof in the first year, but only five percent
thereafter.
Fifth, thou shall share no revenue and assist no family, not yet.




i8o

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

Sixth, whosoever buyeth an American automobile, thou shall
honor him, and charge him no tax.
Seventh, thou shall enjoy in 1972 what the Democrats promised
thee for 1973.
Eighth, thou shall appoint a Council of Elders to consider what
to do for an encore.
(The eight commandments referred to the price-wage freeze,
the closing of the gold window, a surcharge on imports, an invest­
ment tax credit, deferral of certain proposed expenditure increases,
elimination of the excise tax on automobiles, and a new Cabinet
Committee, the Cost of Living Council, to manage the program.)
The country apparently shared the excitement and instant
satisfaction with the new program. The imposition of the con­
trols was the most popular move in economic policy that anyone
could remember. The President had been concerned that the
closing of the gold window might be interpreted as a confession
of national bankruptcy. But he had presented the move as an
attack by the United States on international speculators, and
the public cheered him on. The daily quotations on the dollar
were closely watched, and declines of the dollar were regarded
as signs of success. The Dow-Jones Average rose 32.9 points on
Monday after the President’s announcement— the biggest oneday increase up to that point. Most important, the man and
woman in the street felt great satisfaction and relief. They be­
lieved that at last the government was entering the market on
their side— to defend them against landlords, grocers and other
scoundrels. Only a few economists— and those mainly from the
University of Chicago— objected.
This reaction is important to the history of economic policy
in America. It shows how shallow was the general support in
principle for the basic characteristics of a free market economy.
This situation did not change, moreover, during the nearly three
years when the controls were in effect. Complaints would multi­
ply, of course, but these were almost all complaints from par­
ticular interests— particular industries and unions— about the
way in which they were treated. There would be some public




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

181

indignation about what seemed one or another especially shock­
ing consequence of the controls, like the drowning of little
chicks when ceilings were placed on chicken prices. And in the
end there was disillusionment about the controls, because prices
were rising rapidly, but there was no clear public impression of
whether that was an inherent defect of controls, or was due to
the particular attitude of the Nixon administration, or was due
to the accidents of the Soviet crop failure and OPEC aggressive­
ness. Enthusiasm for controls had vanished but there was still
no strong opposition to controls in principle.
The popular enthusiasm for the controls in August 1971 had
a major effect on the administration’s planning for the period
that would follow the ninety-day freeze. (That period immedi­
ately became known as Phase II, and in the materials prepared
for public distribution at the end of the ninety days it was so
described. The President decided, however, that the public would
not understand the word “phase,” so all the documents were
rewritten, using “Stage II” or various circumlocutions. The press
and the public nonetheless continued to say “Phase II,” and the
government soon returned to that designation also.) When the
team returned from Camp David, I volunteered to work on the
transition out of the freeze. My main interest was in getting out
of the controls promptly and in orderly way, and I believed that
my experience, especially with World War II and Korean de­
control, qualified me. I was made chairman of a little task force
to analyze and prepare options for Phase II to be considered by
the Cost of Living Council— the Cabinet committee set up to run
the controls— and then by the President. The Phase II task force
began with a range of options from total decontrol, through vari­
ous kinds of voluntary incomes policy, to continued mandatory
controls with relaxed standards and limited coverage to continua­
tion of the freeze. But it became clear at once that the public
atmosphere would not tolerate either immediate decontrol or a
severely limited and voluntary system. The public shock of be­
ing so suddenly returned to the tender mercies of the market after
the comfort of the freeze would have been too great.
Only two general alternative standards could be seriously con-




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

sidered by the Cost of Living Council. One was to stay close to
the freeze for a longer period. The other was to allow wage in­
creases of a moderate amount— which turned out to be up to
5.5 percent— with the expectation that productivity growth
would keep the rise of unit labor costs and of prices to some­
thing less than that— specifically, 2 to 3 percent. Even the more
relaxed system would require a compliance staff of three thou­
sand people, regular reporting by hundreds of thousands of
firms, and elaborate Washington organization to pass on excep­
tions and appeals and penalties lurking in the background.
The President chose the more relaxed system. It was the one
that had at least a chance of inducing the labor unions to co­
operate for a while, and it was also a step into getting out of
the controls entirely. But even the more relaxed system was an
embarrassment to President Nixon that he felt the need to ex­
plain, at least to the free market ideologues of his team. He
would explain that much as he disliked imposing the controls, if
he didn’t do it the Democrats would win the presidency and they
would impose permanent controls. Or, as he said to Shultz and
me when he approved the Phase II plan, it was fortunate that
the controls were imposed by people who didn’t really believe in
them because they would strangle the controls in their cradle if
they threatened to live too long.
But it was not going to be easy to get rid of the controls, even
though the administration was determined to work its way out of
them. The administration’s theory, in 1971 and 1972, was that
the inflation was being propelled by expectations and by long­
term wage contracts rather than by any current pressure of de­
mand. That is, the inflation was not proceeding at an equilibrium
rate but was a lagged response to earlier demand conditions.
The controls would hold the actual inflation down until these
lagging factors were outgrown, after which the controls could
be removed and the inflation would remain at its low equilibrium
rate. But the story did not work out like that. If the expectation
of inflation was a major factor in the inflation, the expectation
was not corrected by the controls, which seemed only to gen­
erate the expectation that prices would rise sharply when the




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

183

controls ended. And if the inflation was not an equilibrium con­
dition in 1971— that is, if it was not required by an excess of
demand then— it became an equilibrium condition in the latter
part of 1972 and 1973. Thus, instead of entering a situation in
which the controls would be redundant and could be phased out,
leaving the inflation floating freely at a low level, the ceilings
became more and more the effective limits, holding prices below
their equilibrium levels, and the probability of a big price explo­
sion when controls were removed became greater and greater.
There were three reasons for the rise of the equilibrium infla­
tion rate— i.e., the rate that would have prevailed without the
controls. The first and most important was the revival of de­
mand, partly brought about by fiscal and monetary policy and
partly spontaneous. Of course, some revival of demand was part
of the exercise; that was what would raise employment while in­
flation stayed low. But it was also part of the exercise that the
revival of demand should be restrained. The Nixon team prided
themselves on being alert to the error which other governments
had fallen into and assured themselves and others that the con­
trols would not seduce them into excessive expansionism.
But they did fall into the trap. During the freeze and up to the
end of 1971, unemployment remained at 6 percent while infla­
tion was negligible. The administration became uneasy about the
failure of unemployment to fall and believed that there was
much room for increasing demand without reviving inflation,
especially since the controls had, as the administration thought,
favorably affected inflationary expectations. The President, on
the advice of his economists, decided that government expendi­
tures should be rapidly increased during the first half of calendar
1972— the last half of fiscal 1972— after which they would be
restrained. The deficit for fiscal 1972 was going to be large any­
way, and there would be no complaints about making it larger,
as long as the budget for next year, fiscal 1973, would be in bal­
ance, at least on a high-employment basis. This was an old FDR
trick, to combine expansionism with the appearance of fiscal
prudence by making this year’s deficit so large that future defi­
cits would look moderate by contrast.




PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

President Nixon explained this policy with amusement to the
Cabinet at a meeting early in January 1972. He told the Cabinet
members that whereas he had regularly in the past urged them to
be economical in their expenditures he was now urging them to
get out and spend. He recognized that this instruction would
seem strange to them, as it did to him, but he passed on the
assurance of his economists that it was the right thing to do. A s
it turned out, most of the Cabinet members were no better at
spending money than at saving it and only the Defense Depart­
ment managed to carry out the President’s expansionist policy
for the first half of 1972.
At the same time, at the beginning of 1972, the Federal Re­
serve began to increase the rate of growth of the money supply,
which had been quite low in the second half of 1971. Its reason­
ing was like that of the administration. Unemployment was high
and steady, inflation was low, there was room for expansion.
The Fed was encouraged in this move by the administration.
For a time everything worked beautifully. In the early part
of 1972, real output rose strongly, unemployment began to fall,
and inflation remained low. This pattern of rising output and
low inflation is not unusual in the early days of a recovery when
unemployment is still high and productivity is rising. But the
combination was extraordinarily favorable, perhaps because of
the controls.
The economic expansion would, however, be quite strong.
This was partly because the money supply continued to grow
rapidly through the middle of 1973 and partly because the rest
of the world was entering a boom at the same time. And as hap­
pened again and again during the Nixon administration— and
subsequently— the government continued at least until the end
of 1972 to think that there was so much slack in the economy
that demand could increase a great deal before inflationary con­
ditions would be encountered. This mistake was shared by many
others. In fact, during 1972 the standard criticism of the gov­
ernment’s fiscal-monetary policies was that they were too restric­
tive too early.14 And at the beginning of 1973 the common view
of business economists was that there was much excess capacity




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

185

in the basic industries. By the middle of 1973 at the latest, and
possibly earlier, the United States was in the grip of a classical
demand-pull inflation against which the controls were powerless.
Two other more special factors tended to raise the rate of
inflation, both operating from the supply side. One was crop
failures, notably in the Soviet Union, which raised world food
prices sharply. The other was the rise of world petroleum prices,
which began slowly early in 1973 but escalated steeply after the
Arab oil embargo was instituted in the fall of that year. The
controls could not keep the prices of food and oil from rising
without causing severe shortages. And once food and petroleum
prices were rising, other prices and wage rates could not be kept
from rising without causing shortages and strikes. If demand
had been rigorously controlled by tight fiscal and monetary policy,
the rises of food and petroleum prices might have been absorbed
by an offsetting decline of other prices, but demand was not rigor­
ously controlled. Moreover, such a process would have required
forcing other prices down below the levels authorized by the con­
trol system.
Although the administration’s early hope was that the ending
of controls would be accompanied by the stabilization of infla­
tion at a low level, its determination to phase out the controls
was not dependent on the realization of that hope. Even when
the hope was seen to be vain the administration proceeded with
the decontrol process. It had no stomach for a continuing effort
to hold the rate of inflation below its equilibrium level.
There is no need to trace the process of decontrol through its
succession of steps and phases leading up to the final abolition
of the system in April 1974. It is sufficient to say that almost
every step of decontrol until mid-1973 was widely criticized as
being premature and as reflecting the ideological obsessions of
President Nixon and his free market economists. There were,
of course, always people who wanted some specific decontrol on
relaxation. Landlords wanted rents decontrolled, unions wanted
the 5.5 percent guidelines for wages raised, businesses wanted
bigger profit margins. But hardly any interest was expressed out­
side the administration in gradually getting rid of the system




i 86

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

until the second freeze in 1973 demonstrated the futility of the
whole effort.
The second freeze was an exception to the continuous push
for decontrol. In the spring of 1973, with food prices rising
rapidly, the President, under mounting personal attack in con­
nection with Watergate, began to long for the euphoric days when
he had imposed the first freeze. I warned him, citing Heraclitus,
that you can’t step in the same river twice. Nixon replied that
you could, if it was frozen. He tried for months to get his eco­
nomic advisers to recommend the reinstitution of the freeze but
did not succeed. Finally, in June, he decided to do it anyway.
The effort this time was a total disaster. There were all the visi­
ble symptoms of a price control system gone wild. Cattle were
being withheld from market, chickens were being drowned, and
the foodstore shelves were being emptied. The freeze was then
lifted in steps, beginning within a little more than a month after
it had been imposed. From then on, everyone knew that the sys­
tem could not last much longer. The controls ended on April 30,
1974, when authority for them expired, and the President did not
ask for their renewal.
There was another exception, not so big but more lasting and
probably more important in the end, to the continuous process
of decontrol. That was the treatment of oil prices, which I dis­
cuss below (pp. 190-193).
Whether the controls reduced the inflation, if one considers
the whole period of their life plus, say, six months thereafter, no
one will ever know. From the middle of 1971 to the end of 1974
the general price level rose by an average annual rate of 6.6
percent, much more than in the years before the controls were
imposed. But we don’t know what would have happened without
the controls. The answer depends primarily on what fiscal and
monetary policy would have been like if there had been no con­
trols. One possibility is that in the absence of the controls, fiscal
and monetary policy would have been more restrictive because
the inflation would have been more obvious and direct means
to deal with it not available. This is the standard answer and
probably the correct one. But it is not the only possibility. Per­




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

187

haps if the administration had not achieved its popular, though
temporary, triumph with the imposition of the controls in 1971
it would have felt the need for even more expansionist policies
before the 1972 election, and that might have been even more
inflationary than our actual experience. There was also a more
admirable alternative, which would have been to recognize and
accept the necessary pain of the transition to price stability and
stick with tight fiscal and monetary policy until the transition
was over. But then one would have to ask, as Nixon would
surely have asked, whether McGovern would have been elected
and how inflationary that would have been.
Still, to say one doesn’t know whether the controls succeeded
in their primary mission of restraining inflation is a considerable
indictment, in view of the national travail, the administrative
costs, public and private, the interference with investment in
basic industries and economic distortions they caused. No one
objected to the end of the controls. But the experience did not
leave the country with a strong commitment to the free market,
monetarist way of restraining inflation. The attraction of the
direct approach remained. Comprehensive mandatory controls
were discredited, at least for the time, although some people be­
lieved that they would have worked if they had been administered
by officials who “believed” in them more than the Nixon team did.
But the idea that “some kind” of controls, but usually not called
controls, had a major contribution to make remained a part of
standard liberal, intellectual doctrine and, according to polls, re­
mained acceptable to a majority of the public.

The Old-Time Religion

When the President launched his big push to increase expendi­
tures in the first half of calendar 1972, he announced that in the
next fiscal year he would return to balancing the budget at high
employment. The administration, especially the economists,
wanted to get to the discipline of some budgetary rule. More­
over, they were anticipating the arrival of the day when policy




i 88

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

would have to turn in a more restrictive direction if it was to
become possible to get out from under the controls without an
inflationary explosion.
The case for a turn to more restrictive fiscal policy became
stronger as 1972 proceeded. The economy was rising sharply,
and although there was a general belief that considerable room
existed before inflationary pressures would be encountered, plan­
ning for a fiscal year that would end on June 30, 1973, had to
take account of that. There was, moreover, a political argument
as well. The good behavior of the economy took the President off
the defensive on the political issue. And since he had an oppo­
nent who was engaged in irritating the American people on all
traditional values, it was convenient for Nixon to emphasize his
own devotion to the traditional values, including fiscal prudence
and balancing the budget.
The President’s drive for fiscal restraint was obstructed for a
while by the political ambitions of Wilbur Mills. The Congress­
man visualized himself as a possible presidential candidate. A s
chairman of the Ways and Means Committee the best thing he
could do to further his ambition was to sponsor and push
through a big increase in social security benefits. This he did,
tying it to an extension of the federal debt limit which the Presi­
dent could not veto even if political considerations in an election
year would have permitted him to do so.15 Mills did not, of
course, get the nomination but he did defer the reduction of the
deficit.
But still by calendar year 1973 the budget deficit had been
substantially reduced. The President had proposed an expendi­
ture ceiling of $246 billion for fiscal 1973, and despite overruns
in some categories the total actually came in at $246 billion.
The best picture of the tightening of fiscal policy in these years
is probably given by the movement of the high-employment defi­
cit— that is, the changes of the deficit which were not due to the
fluctuations of the unemployment rate. On this basis the deficit
went from 1 percent of GNP in calendar 1972 to 0.7 percent in
calendar 1973 to zero in calendar 1974. Much of this move was
due to the inflation. That is, the inflation was raising the rev­




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

189

enue, but expenditures were not raised to match and there was
a shift from deficit to budget balance.
Monetary policy did not turn to restraint until about the mid­
dle of 1973. This delay was not unusual. The common experi­
ence has been that as the economy expands, interest rates tend to
rise, and the Federal Reserve tries to moderate this rise by in­
creasing the supply of money, until inflation has gathered mo­
mentum, at which time— sometimes too late— the Fed shifts to
restraint. In 1972 the turn to monetary restraint may have been
impeded by a repeated Congressional threat to impose ceilings
on interest rates.
But in any case by mid-1973 the government— the administra­
tion and the Federal Reserve— was in the third stage of its fiveyear struggle with the inflation-unemployment problem. The
first, which lasted until August 1971, was an attempt to find the
narrow path of fiscal and monetary policy which would reduce
the inflation rate gradually, permanently and substantially while
unemployment rose only slightly and briefly. The second, which
lasted from August 1971 until the second freeze broke down in
July 1973, was an attempt to make the earlier policy succeed by
supplementing it with initially strong and gradually relaxing
controls intended to overcome the inflationary expectations and
contracts that had defeated the first approach. The third reflected
a recognition that the controls were not going to serve that pur­
pose and that there was not going to be any painless way out of
the inflation. Demand would have to be restrained by fiscal and
monetary policy and the resulting unemployment and other pain
would have to be accepted until the inflation was substantially
eliminated.
This was not a masochistic policy. The pain was not desired
for its own sake. And efforts could be made to cushion the pain.
But the emphasis had shifted to a much more determined ap­
proach to the fight against inflation and a much greater willing­
ness to recognize and accept the costs. This was the lesson that
all in the government, from the President down, had drawn from
their previous efforts, whether delicate or strenuous. It was this
lesson that I called the old-time religion. The President and his




190

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

advisers lived by this rather stoically through the remainder of
his shortened term.

Nixon on Regulation
Richard Nixon regarded himself as an opponent of government
regulation of the economy. His economic advisers and most of
his economic officials were even more strongly of that view. The
outcome was disappointing. Probably more new regulation was
imposed on the economy during the Nixon administration than
in any other presidency since the New Deal, even if one excludes
the temporary Nixon foray into price and wage controls. But the
administration did succeed in removing some regulations and in
furthering a process that would lead to more deregulation later.
There were two main areas in which the Nixon administration
extended federal regulation: energy and the bundle of matters
that economists call “externalities,” including the environment,
occupational health and safety, and consumer product safety.
The energy regulations had at their core control of the price
of most domestically produced oil. They were a textbook exam­
ple of the regulatory system which develops, almost inevitably,
in an effort to compensate for the distortion and irrationalities
that result from price control. By 1973, under the control system,
there were two prices of oil (later there were many more); there
was a controlled price on some of the domestic supply and a
free market price for the imported oil and the rest of the domes­
tic oil. The free market price was variable but always higher
than the controlled price. Within any market, however, gasoline
at the pumps had to sell at the same price, regardless of the
source of the oil, and that was true of all other sales of petroleum
products to the final purchaser. But different refiners had access
to controlled and free market oil in different proportions, and
therefore at widely different costs. So a complicated system was
required to equalize the costs of different refiners. Moreover, the
situation obviously required conservation of energy, but the price
controls frustrated what could have been the most effective force




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

191

for conservation— a high price. Therefore the need was felt for
direct regulatory measures to effect conservation, such as gas
mileage requirements for automobiles, various tax incentives and
innumerable appeals for voluntary cooperation. Also the price
mechanism for assuring efficient allocation of oil products among
different distributors and different regions did not work, so a
direct bureaucratic allocation system was imposed. This worked
poorly, and as a result from time to time Americans in various
parts of the country found themselves lined up for hours at their
gas stations seeking a few gallons of the precious fluid.
Thus, we had managed to produce a shortage of energy in the
richest country in the world. We had made “energy” one of the
great national problems— at a level with national security and
inflation. President Carter would later say that the effort to deal
with the energy problem was the “moral equivalent of war.” An
immense Rube Goldberg structure of controls was erected sim­
ply to deal with the problems created by unwillingness to let the
prices of oil rise to a free market level, and the structure was
dismantled only when Ronald Reagan freed oil prices.
This system was the most obvious and irksome legacy of the
Nixon price-wage controls. The whole thing began innocently
enough, or naively enough, in 1973, when world oil prices began
to rise significantly above the domestic price control level. We
could not control the import price— at least not without giving
up the imports. And it seemed obviously irrational to refuse to
give domestic suppliers the price we were willing to pay Arabs,
Venezuelans and other foreigners. The “energy experts” of the
Cost of Living Council devised the two-price system. The idea
was not to raise the price for “old” oil, which came from existing
wells, on the theory that such oil would be supplied anyway and
did not require any price increase to attract it. The price of “new”
oil would be allowed to rise freely, so that production of it would
not be limited by the price ceiling. In fact, the price of “new” oil
would rise to the import price level. The authors of this plan were
not in fact energy “experts.” Within a few months, when the Arabs
imposed the oil embargo, we all became energy experts. As I said
in a speech at that time, an energy expert was a person who knew




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that Abu Dhabi was a place and Qaddafi was a person. They had
the energy desk at the Cost of Living Council only at a time when
that did not require any special knowledge. Also they were not
economists, and were disdainful of the a priori reasoning of
economists which warned against the plan. No one involved
foresaw the full consequences of the policy. No one foresaw how
big the difference between the controlled price and the free
market price would be. And no one foresaw how long the energy
controls would last— well beyond the duration of the other price
controls.
There was a moment, in December 1973, when there seemed
to be a real possibility of getting out from under the energy con­
trols. The Arab oil embargo and the rise in the world oil price
had underlined how counterproductive the oil price control was.
By keeping a ceiling on the price of domestic oil and by selling
petroleum products in the United States at a price which aver­
aged the controlled domestic price and the free import price, we
were encouraging oil imports, increasing our dependence and
making it easier for OPEC to charge us a high price.
In the near-hysteria that accompanied the oil embargo and
the OPEC price increase the President had established a Federal
Energy Office and given it authority to control oil prices, an
authority that, by subsequent legislation, would not expire on
April 30, 1974, as the general price control authority would.
This transfer of authority from the Cost of Living Council to the
Federal Energy Office was to take place in December at a mo­
ment when the Council of Economic Advisers and many econ­
omists in the Treasury were urging decontrol of oil prices or, if
that was not possible, an increase in the ceiling big enough to
make the control nugatory.
Secretary of the Treasury Shultz called a meeting in his office
on December 18 to discuss this issue. The director of the Cost of
Living Council, John Dunlop, the head of the Energy Office,
William Simon, and I were present. There was general recognition
of the case for a large increase in the ceiling prices. But the group
present could not agree on taking the step. The difficulty was partly




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

193

economic— unwillingness to heighten, even temporarily, the ris­
ing tide of inflation. But the main problem was probably politi­
cal— fear of being accused of sacrificing homeowners and com­
muters for the profit of the oil companies.
Being unable to reach agreement, Shultz adjourned the meet­
ing and took the issue up to Nixon that evening. The President
approved a small increase in the ceiling, from $4.25 a barrel to
$5.25 a barrel. As Shultz explained it to me the next morning,
the President was also afraid of the Congressional reaction, es­
pecially since Congressmen opposing the price increase would
have been able to quote Nixon’s own Cost of Living Council on
their side. What the President thought would be the real effect
of Congressional anger was unclear. His relations with Congress
were already about as bad as they could be. Perhaps Congress
would have passed legislation establishing a ceiling of $4.25 or
even less. That would have been an unusual step, since Congress
is commonly reluctant to enact such specific numbers into law.
But even if that had happened it might have been a worthwhile
education.
In saying that the oil price controls, and the myriad of auxil­
iary regulations put into place to support them during the years
1973-1981, were a legacy of the Nixon general wage and price
controls I am suggesting that there would not have been oil price
controls if the general system had not been in effect at the time
of the 1973 oil shock. That is not certain, of course. Other in­
dustrial countries did not impose price controls at that time, but
they did not have significant domestic oil production whose price
they could control. We might have imposed price controls any­
way in 1973, but the fact that we had the law, the machinery
and a staff quite prepared to manage oil price controls made
the controls inevitable and, as we have seen, their termination
difficult. The energy regulation experience is an example of the
unforeseen consequences that can result from changes in the
ideological, political and bureaucratic atmosphere produced by
general price controls.
Unlike the general price controls or the oil price controls, the




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environmental regulations imposed by the Nixon administration
had a traditional and legitimate role in conservative, free market
economics. Regulations against dumping garbage in the streets
of English cities went back several hundred years. The argument
that some government intervention was appropriate when the
costs of private decisions were not borne by the private decision­
maker, as when the steel mill emits pollutants into the air, was
standard classical doctrine. A similar although less clear case
could be made for interventions to protect worker and consumer
safety on the ground that workers and consumers could not effi­
ciently obtain the information needed to protect themselves.
So in establishing and developing the Environmental Protec­
tion Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administra­
tion, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission, President
Nixon was not only playing his part as a modern man, following
up the movement that had started in the Kennedy administra­
tion. He was also being consistent with free market ideology.
The problem, however, was how far the policy should be pushed
and by what means it should be implemented. The “externality”
argument does not say that no pollution should be emitted from
the stacks of steel mills. Beyond some point the cost of reducing
the pollution is more than the benefit of doing that. And there
are generally several different ways of achieving any desired
degree of environmental purification. Policy should seek to get it
done in the most economical way. There is a considerable body
of economic analysis to support the view that the most efficient
way to reduce pollution is by charging the polluters a fee per
unit of pollutant, which would bring home to them the cost of
pollution and induce them to seek the most economical way of
reducing pollution.
The Nixon administration tried to establish limits to the re­
quirements for environmental purification that would conform to
the balancing of costs and benefits, and to use regulatory instru­
ments that provided an incentive for efficiency. But its efforts
foundered on a tide of Congressional demagoguery and senti­
mentality plus bureaucratic zeal. The Council of Economic Ad-




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

195

visers argued that making the nation’s streams 99 percent pure,
rather than 98 percent pure, would have a cost far exceeding its
benefits, but Congress was unmoved. The argument that stan­
dards for permissible pollution might be different for Idaho than
for New York was considered an insult to Idaho, and suggestions
for emission fees were regarded as the sale of licenses to infect
babies with deadly diseases. The juggernaut of environmental
regulation proved not to be controllable by the Nixon adminis­
tration.
On the other hand, significant steps toward deregulation were
taken in several areas.
The free market economists of the Nixon administration, and
the President himself, regarded the draft for military service in
peacetime as an intolerable infringement of personal liberty and
an extremely unfair tax. One of the President’s early acts was to
establish a commission to study the matter. In April 1970, on
the recommendation of the commission, he sent a message to
Congress proposing an end to the draft, and it did end on June
,
.
In August 1971 the administration stopped the presumed con­
vertibility of the dollar to gold and allowed the exchange value
of the dollar to fall. In March 1973 it moved to a “floating” ex­
change rate, under which the value of the dollar was determined
by market forces. Thus it deregulated this key price in the eco­
nomic system, which had long been a goal of many economists.
This move made others possible. When the Nixon administration
came into office the export of capital was under control as a
means of supporting the dollar. These controls were gradually
relaxed and then ended when the dollar was devalued. Also it is
clear that if the gold window had not been closed there would
have been restrictive measures against imports, especially from
Japan, because of national anxiety about our adverse trade bal­
ance. Undoubtedly other restrictions on trade and capital move­
ments would have been imposed if the effort to sustain the ex­
change rate of the dollar had continued.
During 1972 and 1973 all controls limiting the production of

30 1973




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

food crops were removed. These controls had been in force for
almost all of the preceding forty years. Their elimination was
made politically possible by exceptionally high world food prices,
resulting from poor crops around the world. And their elimina­
tion was made economically necessary by the administration’s
price-wage control program, since the rise of food prices threat­
ened to undermine die effort to restrain wages.
In 1973 the administration proposed legislation authorizing
renewed negotiations for reduction of tariffs and other barriers to
international trade. The act, which was passed in 1974, did
broaden the range of circumstances in which U.S. producers
might obtain protection against imports, and these provisions
of the act were later used in a restrictive way. But on the whole
the negotiations permitted under the act, the Tokyo Round, led
to trade liberalization.
Early in his administration the President set up an interagency
task force— of which I was chairman— to study the federal
regulation of interest rates paid by banks, savings and loan as­
sociations, and other financial institutions. As might have been
expected, the task force recommended that these regulations
should be ended. As might also have been expected, the Trea­
sury recommended that steps to end the controls be taken slowly.
More time and argument would be needed to persuade or wear
down or bypass the lobbies of the financial institutions, espe­
cially the savings and loan associations, which could be expected
to object. So, in the classic government style, a commission was
set up to study the matter. Then there were hearings and more
discussion. The process dragged on for years. Finally, by 1983,
almost complete decontrol was achieved, and the efforts made
in the Nixon administration had been a step to accomplishing
that.
Much work was done in the Nixon administration, as, indeed,
in the Johnson administration, looking to deregulation of air,
truck and rail transportation. Studies were conducted, legislation
was drafted, and hearings were held. This work came to fruition
only later, mainly in the Carter administration, but the earlier
efforts were useful in the end.




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

197

Spending and Taxing
As I have said earlier, Richard Nixon did not come into office
with great zeal to reduce either the expenditure or the revenue
side of the budget. He did not think that the country was suffer­
ing from excesses on either side. He was, however, confronted
with a number of specific problems on both sides of the budget.
He expected to get rid of the temporary tax surcharge that had
been enacted in 1968 to help finance the Vietnam War. Thus,
he expected to run the government with a somewhat smaller tax
system than the one in place when he entered office. The decline
of Vietnam War expenditures was counted on to make that pos­
sible.
The Johnson administration also left Mr. Nixon a ticking time
bomb in the form of a demand for “tax reform,” meaning mea­
sures to assure that rich people paid more taxes. In testimony
three days before Lyndon Johnson left office his Secretary of the
Treasury, Joseph Barr, presented evidence showing that twentyone people with incomes of $1 million or more and 155 with
incomes above $200,000 paid no federal income taxes in the
previous year. This fact caused a sensation in the country, and
it became the battle cry of the Congressional Democrats who
thought that Richard Nixon could be skewered as resisting tax
reform that would hit the rich people who were presumed to be
his friends. The Nixon administration would have to deal with
that for political reasons, if for no other.
Mr, Nixon also inherited a number of programs with strong
built-in tendencies for expenditure increases— even without any
further legislation. The leading case was social security, where
the aging of the population and the increase in their earnings
records were continuously raising outlays for benefits. Medicare
outlays would also rise rapidly as the existence of the program
attracted more and more claims and also raised medical costs.
Also there seemed to have been a breakthrough in public attitudes
toward government benefit programs, nourished by Johnson’s
War on Poverty, which led potential beneficiaries increasingly




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

to seek every dollar they might claim, and that was ballooning
the costs of the programs. But even beyond the cost increases
built into the programs themselves, the Johnson programs had
demonstrated their political effectiveness and strengthened the
tendency of ambitious politicians to exploit the popularity of
bigger and bigger benefit programs.
When Richard Nixon came into office there was national antic­
ipation of the Vietnam dividend, which would permit large
expenditure increases or tax reductions once the war expendi­
tures ended. During his first month in office the President set up
a Committee of the Domestic Policy Council to examine the
Vietnam dividend. I was chairman, and there were members
from the Treasury, the Bureau of the Budget and other agencies.
We discovered that the cupboard was bare, or, rather, that the
funds that would be made available by the ending of the war
expenditures would be fully absorbed by the built-in increases
in the costs of programs already on the books. We reported this
in a meeting with the President in San Clemente in August 1969,
after which Patrick Moynihan, director of the Domestic Policy
Council, told the press: “The Vietnam dividend is as evanescent
as the clouds over San Clemente.”
So even if the President had no strong desire to cut govern­
ment expenditures, he had a major problem in trying to limit
their increase and keep them within the bounds of the available
revenue. This was made especially difficult because he did have
some definite desires about the composition of the budget, de­
sires that were not shared with many in Congress and elsewhere.
Therefore he found himself bargaining to get what he wanted in
the budget, and often what he had to pay was acceptance of
expenditure increases that he would have preferred not to make.
A major plank in a “modem” Republican platform when
Mr. Nixon came into office was revenue sharing. The basic ratio­
nale for this in Republican thinking was that the efficiency of
the federal government as a revenue collector should be used
to supplement the resources of the states and localities but that
the federal government should not intrude in state and local
decisions as it did under several hundred specific grant-in-aid




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

199

programs. Revenue sharing was intended as a substitute for part
of the existing grant programs, to increase the freedom and
responsibility of the lower levels of government without depriv­
ing them of funds. But the existing “categorical” programs all
had their supporters in the Congress and in the country. More­
over, it was impossible to devise a way to substitute revenue
sharing for categorical grants that would not reduce the pay­
ments to some local governments, unless the total expenditure
was increased. So general revenue sharing turned out to be
largely an addition to the budget. Similarly, the President’s ob­
jective in reform of the welfare system was to make it more
objective in giving support to poor people on the basis of their
poverty, with less intrusion by social workers into their lives and
less discouragement of work effort and family solidarity. The
intention was to hold down total outlays as much as possible and
to redirect the existing funds. But this turned out to be politically
impossible, because every beneficiary and every unit of govern­
ment had to be “held harmless.” That is, nobody could lose. In
that case redirection could occur only with an increase of total
expenditures.
The disagreement between the President and the Congress on
the division of the budget between defense and nondefense pur­
poses was another force tending to propel the total budget up­
ward. The President was constantly trying to get bigger defense
appropriations than the Congress was willing to provide and
trying to resist nondefense appropriations that the Congress
wanted. The net result was a compromise in which the President
accepted more nondefense spending than he wanted and the
Congress accepted more defense spending than it wanted and
total spending was larger than either wanted. Each party was
willing to subordinate its preference about the total size of the
budget to its preference for particular expenditures.
From time to time in an effort to hold down nondefense spend­
ing, the President “impounded” funds— that is, declined to spend
amounts that Congress had appropriated. President Lyndon John­
son had done that frequently, and the practice had a still longer
history. It had always raised complaints, from Congress and




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

from program beneficiaries. The complaints were especially loud
against President Nixon’s impoundments, partly because they
were larger than the earlier ones and partly because in the sec­
ond term he seemed vulnerable. In fact, the impoundments were
cited as an example of Nixon’s grasping for power that was cov­
ered by the term “Watergate.” Many suits were brought against
the President to require him to spend the money that had been
appropriated.16
The impoundment issue would not be settled by the courts,
but would be settled by legislation. The basic fact was that Con­
gressional procedures did not provide any way for making and
carrying out a decision about the total amounts of expenditure
and revenue. Separate decisions were made in a large number of
appropriation and revenue bills without assurance that they added
up to totals on each side of the budget that anyone preferred.
TTie President, therefore, was the only person who could impose
an explicitly chosen limit on total expenditures, and to do that
he had to be able to refuse to spend some of the Congressional
appropriations. If he was to be denied that power a Congres­
sional procedure to limit the totals would be needed. Recogni­
tion of this dilemma led to the Congressional Budget and Im­
poundment Control Act of 1974. This limited the President’s
authority to withhold expenditures except in conformity to pro­
cedures that required Congressional approval. It also established
new Congressional procedures and institutions intended to en­
able Congress to make decisions about the totals in the budget
and force the specific decisions about appropriations and taxa­
tion to conform to those totals.
Mr. Nixon’s initial consideration of taxation concentrated on
the question of the extension of the Vietnam surcharge, which
was due to expire in 1969. He decided within a few months that
he would have to ask for the extension, since there was no im­
mediate way to cut military spending and efforts to cut nonde­
fense expenditures had yielded slight results. Beyond that the
administration only planned some steps to respond to the furor
that had been raised by the revelation that a few people with
high incomes had been paying no income tax. These necessary




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

201

steps were not expected to have any important budgetary or eco­
nomic impact. Shortly after the Nixon administration took office
I called the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury who handled tax
matters and told him that the Council of Economic Advisers
would like to participate in discussions of tax policy. He assured
me that the Treasury was only contemplating some technical cor­
rections and that he would let us know if any economic questions
arose. (Many months passed before the Treasury recognized that
economic questions were involved.) When the discovery was
made that there would be no Vietnam dividend, a new element
came into the tax picture. It would be necessary to protect the
revenues. There would be no room for tax reduction after the
temporary surcharge expired.
These three elements— extension of the surcharge, tax reform
and preservation of the future revenue— were entangled in a
struggle between the administration and the Congress that went
on all year. Although the tax surcharge was President Johnson’s
idea, and he had recommended its extension, the Democrats in
Congress wanted a price from Richard Nixon if they were to
agree to its extension. The Treasury’s Congressional liaisons in­
formed Nixon that he would gain one hundred votes in the House
in favor of extension if he would agree to ending the tax credit
for business investment. This was also ironic, since the tax credit
was a John F. Kennedy initiative that had at first been opposed
by business leaders. By 1969, however, the Democrats were tak­
ing an anti-corporation, anti-wealthy line in opposition to a Re­
publican President who they thought was on the other side.
As Paul McCracken was out of Washington when the issue
arose, I wrote the memo for the President on the economics of
the investment credit. I argued that the credit should be elimi­
nated, mainly on the grounds that the stimulation of business in­
vestment was then less important than obtaining more revenue to
provide assistance to the poor and to states and localities and
to reduce the budget deficit, which we considered an impediment
to housing finance. The President complimented me on the memo,
perhaps because he found it refreshing to get such an argument
from a Republican economist and perhaps because it rationalized




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

what he wanted to do anyway— make a deal with Congress in
which the surcharge would be extended in exchange for repeal
of the investment tax credit. The President’s message supporting
the repeal made the priorities arguments that had been in my
memo.
Congress was not satisfied with repeal of the investment credit
as the price for extension of the surcharge. The President had
proposed a minimum income tax designed to make sure that very
wealthy persons did not entirely escape federal income tax. Con­
gress wanted to go much further than he in raising taxes on in­
vestment income. The President had also proposed a low-income
allowance that would have relieved from federal income tax per­
sons whose income was below the poverty line. Congress wanted
to give more relief than that to low- and middle-income people,
including an increase in the personal exemption to be phased in
over a three-year period. The President’s tax proposal would
have raised the revenue in the long run, because of the elimina­
tion of the investment credit. The Congressional revisions con­
verted the package into one that would reduce the annual revenue
substantially by the time all the scheduled exemption increases
were phased in.
The administration and the Congress struggled over the shape
and size of the tax package during the last months of 1969. The
President tried to get the future revenue loss reduced while also
relieving investors and businesses of some of the additional tax
burdens involved in the Congressional program. To some extent
he succeeded in this. But still the tax bill that Congress passed
and sent to him in December was unsatisfactory in both respects.
From his standpoint it reduced future revenues too much by cuts
in the income tax on low-income and middle-income individuals
and raised burdens too much where they would hurt saving and
investment. On the other hand, the bill did extend the tax sur­
charge, at a reduced rate, into 1970 and so eased the immediate
deficit problem. The President had to choose between signing the
bill, which would obtain the revenue he wanted for 1970, and
vetoing the bill, which would avoid the revenue loss in the future.




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

203

After much discussion in which his advisers were divided, he
signed the bill, with a message indicating his reluctance to do so.
The irony is that after all the dispute with the Congress and
the agonizing debates within the administration, the President
changed his mind in less than two years. When the President
decided— at Camp David in August 1971— to adopt a new eco­
nomic policy, part of that policy would be to cut taxes in order
to stimulate employment. The President then recommended that
the investment tax credit, which he had helped to repeal in 1969,
should be restored. He also proposed that part of the rise of in­
dividual income tax exemptions scheduled to take effect on Jan­
uary 1, 1973, should be advanced to take effect on January 1,
1972. Thus he now welcomed the main revenue-reducing mea­
sure at which he had balked in 1969 and undid his main reve­
nue-raising measure of that time.
The course of taxation during the Nixon administration was
influenced less by the President’s struggles with Congress in 1969
and his abrupt turnaround in 1971 than by two developments
that passed almost unnoticed. One was the effect of the inflation
on the tax burden. The other was the gradual rise in social secu­
rity taxes that was quietly accepted by everyone as the counter­
part of the rising benefits.
Although there were substantial increases of personal income
tax exemptions and allowances, the ratio of personal taxes to
personal income rose from 10.8 percent in 1967 to 11.8 percent
in 1974, as the inflation raised taxpayers into higher brackets.17
This entailed a considerable shift of the income' tax burden, as
the exemption increases mainly relieved low-income persons
whereas the inflation mainly increased the burden on middleand upper-income people— except for the very-highest-income
people. At the same time, changes in the tax law were reducing
the tax burden on the book profits of corporations, but the infla­
tion was substantially reducing real profits relative to book profits,
so that the burden on real profits increased a great deal. Total
profits taxes relative to GNP fell substantially, because real profits
fell substantially relative to GNP. Social security taxes rose over




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

35 percent relative to GNP, as a result of increases in rates and
coverage.
In sum, if we compare 1974 with 1967— to take the year be­
fore the imposition of the Vietnam tax surcharge— federal re­
ceipts rose from 18.8 percent of GNP to 20.1 percent. But fed­
eral receipts other than social security contributions fell from
14.2 percent of GNP to 13.8 percent. This small decline resulted
from two conflicting tendencies. On the one hand, changes in the
law tended to reduce both individual and corporate burdens, and
the decline of corporate profits relative to GNP was also holding
down receipts. On the other hand, the inflation was raising the
revenue, relative to GNP, by pushing individual income taxes
into higher brackets and by artificially raising the corporate tax
base.
Most of the increase of the revenues, relative to GNP, between
1967 and 1974, went into reducing the deficit, and little of it
was used to finance an increase in the expenditure/GNP ratio.
While revenues as a percent of GNP rose by 1.3 percent the deficit
fell by 0.9 percent, from 1.7 to 0.8 percent of GNP. (This is even
clearer on a high employment basis, if we factor out the effects of
the 1974 recession. The receipts that would have been collected
at high employment rose by 1.4 percent of GNP as the highemployment deficit fell from 1.9 percent of GNP to zero. Highemployment expenditures fell relative to GNP.18) Behind this
stability of the ratio of expenditures to GNP there was a marked
shift in the composition of the budget. Total expenditures rose
only from 20.5 percent of GNP to 20.9 percent, but defense ex­
penditures dropped from 9.0 percent to 5.4 percent and non­
defense expenditures rose from 11.5 percent to 15.5 percent.
Most of the increases of nondefense expenditures were in social
insurance programs, for retirement, disability, medical care and
unemployment, which rose from 4.1 to 6.3 percent.
Superficially the budget seemed to be reaching a stable and
satisfactory situation during the Nixon administration. Expendi­
ture growth was slow and revenues were rising rapidly enough,
despite some tax decreases, to cover the expenditure increases
and approximately eliminate the budget deficit. But, of course,




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

205

the development had major unsustainable, even explosive, ele­
ments. The growth of total expenditures was held down only be­
cause defense expenditures were declining, not only relative to
GNP but also absolutely when adjusted for inflation. That could
not continue. When defense expenditures stopped declining, and
especially if a time came when the need for more defense was ac­
cepted, the total budget would rise dangerously unless the trend
of nondefense expenditures changed radically. A t the same time,
the rise of revenues could not be projected into the future. That
rise depended on the inflation, which could not continue. And
even if the inflation did continue, the taxpayers could not be
counted on to sit still for the surreptitious increase in their tax
burdens that the inflation was yielding.
So there was a looming conflict among the prospective ex­
penditure commitments and needs, the apparent unwillingness of
the country to tax itself explicitly, and conventional notions of
the requirement to balance the budget. The administration had
a foretaste of this conflict when its earliest budget projections
showed that there would be no Vietnam dividend. That had ac­
counted for Mr. Nixon’s effort to defend the revenue in 1969.
But that attitude toward the budget was submerged in the at­
tempt to deal with the economics of the 1970-1971 recession
and the politics of the 1972 election. In 1973 and 1974 the ad­
ministration, in what I have called its old-time religion phase,
returned to active concern about the budget situation, now fo­
cused on the expenditure side. Great anxiety was building up
about commitments to future transfer payments. But the ad­
ministration was unable to attack the problem effectively. It was
bargaining, as I have already noted, for higher defense appro­
priations from Congress. The President’s influence was not great.
And the situation did not yet seem critical to many people, per­
haps because the deficits were not large. So the problem re­
mained when the Nixon administration left in 1974, and remains
— and is more obvious— ten years later.




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Summing Up
Mr. Nixon did not come into office to make a conservative revo­
lution in economic policy. He had certain conventional leanings
in that direction but did not feel strongly about it and it was not
his main interest. Moreover, the economic situation in 1969 did
not call for a revolution— only for moderate reforms and cau­
tions.
Mr. Nixon’s economists regarded themselves as conservatives
and were very conscious of differences between themselves and
their predecessors— the Hellers, Ackleys and Okuns of the Kennedy-Johnson regime. But in fact, the differences between them
were not great.
So there was no reason to expect a conservative revolution
from the Nixon team. But still the actual developments were
surprisingly different from what might have been expected. One
might have expected:
1. More emphasis on inflation and some success in getting the
inflation down.
2. More emphasis on monetary policy, and particularly on
stable growth of the money supply.
3. Reliance on a stable rule of fiscal policy.
4. Moderate reduction of government regulations, or at least
slowing down their proliferation.
These things did not happen. There are several reasons why
they did not. Probably the most important is that everything
turned out to be more difficult than it seemed in advance. That
was notably true of the effort to check inflation. No one knew
how much the anti-inflation fight would cost. When they got
some inkling of the cost, they— the President and his advisers—
were unwilling to pay it and also thought the public was unwill­
ing to pay it. So they all went chasing off after panaceas.
The idea of a “Friedmanesque” policy of stable monetary
growth ran into a number of difficulties. The policy may be the
most appropriate one for keeping an economy stable when it is




Nixon: Conservative Men with Liberal Ideas

207

in a position where it should be kept stable. But the problem of
1969 was not to stabilize the economy; it was to reduce the on­
going inflation. That called for a reduction in the rate of mone­
tary growth, but the “stable money” rule provided no guidance
about the speed with which monetary growth should be de­
celerated. Moreover, the Federal Reserve did not share the “sta­
ble money” view of monetary policy and was not inclined to
follow such a policy, even if its quantitative meaning had been
clear. Finally, even if the ideal monetary policy had been known
and followed, it would not have guaranteed a painless transition
from inflation and subsequent return to high employment. The
prolonged, even though not very deep, recession encountered in
1970, and the eagerness to regain high employment diverted the
Friedmanesque economists in the administration from the inten­
tions with which they had entered office.
Inability to achieve the desired results from monetary policy
tended to push the administration in the direction of attempts to
manipulate fiscal policy as an instrument of economic stabiliza­
tion. There were two other reasons for frustration of the hopes to
establish a “modern” rule of fiscal policy. Such rules have the
merit, if they are good ones, that they yield better results on the
average over long periods than ad hoc fine-tuning, but Presidents
do not live or get reelected on the average over long periods and
they cannot resist the attempt to beat the averages in their par­
ticular short run. Also, the traditional conservatives from the
financial and business world who might have been expected to
support a disciplinary rule of policy spurned the administration’s
proposal.
Finally, the great paradox of the Nixon administration, and
by its own standard the great sin, was the price and wage con­
trols. The reasons for falling into this were numerous and have
been recited earlier in this chapter. But the critical failure was
the failure to recognize that all things conspired to drive the
country into controls. A positive and active program would have
been needed to resist. The tide was not running toward freedom,
but the administration did not foresee or imagine what would
happen and did not build dikes against the tide.







6
Ford and Carter:
The Uncertain Transition

y e a r s 1974-1980, the Ford and Carter years, were a time
of turmoil, anxiety and dissatisfaction in the economy. The domi­
nant, continuing factor was the inflation. In 1974 the inflation
rate zoomed to the highest level seen in the United States since
1919 at the end of World War I. This spike in the inflation rate
was heightened by the big increase in the OPEC oil price, by the
end of price and wage controls and by bad crops depressing the
world food supply. After 1974 the inflation rate subsided, but it
began to rise in 1977 and reached another peak in 1980, again
heightened by the oil price increase. Despite the occasional abate­
ment of the inflation rate, the concern about inflation never sub­
sided but the fear of inflation as a threat to the stability of every
household became stronger and stronger.
In the midst of this inflation the country suffered the worst re­
cession of the postwar period up to that time. In May 1975 the
unemployment rate rose to 9.2 percent— two percentage points
higher than the previous postwar high.
During this period also the American people encountered the
first real shortages they had ever met in peacetime. At various

T he




209

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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

times during these six years they lined up for gasoline and were
reminded of what a totally disorganized economy could be like.
And as the years passed it became clear that productivity was
rising at an exceptionally slow rate compared to our previous
experience. This threatened the increase of living standards to
which Americans had become accustomed.
As is usually the case, these problems dominated perceptions
of the economy and thinking about economic policy, even though
in some respects the economy was performing well. There was a
large rise of employment, as the number of young people reach­
ing working age increased rapidly and more and more women
entered the labor force. Because of this rise of employment, total
output increased at about its usual rate despite the slow growth
of output per worker. These two developments, the rapid increase
of employment and the slow rise of productivity, were connected.
The increase of employment meant that a larger fraction of the
work force was inexperienced and relatively unproductive. Also,
the increase of employment held down capital per worker. With
an increasing fraction of the population employed, output and
income per capita increased about as rapidly as ever.
Still, the inflation, the recession, the slowdown of productivity
growth and the actual and potential energy shortage were real
problems with which public policy was expected to cope. By and
large the government’s effort to cope during this period, 1974 to
1980, relapsed into the form of conventional, ad hoc, pragmatic
fine-tuning. And it was dissatisfaction with the results of such a
strategy that led to a movement in a more conservative direction
even before Reagan— that is, in the last years of Carter.
As we have pointed out, by the beginning of 1974 the Nixon
team itself was disillusioned with its effort to achieve noninflationary high employment by a combination of fiscal-monetary
variable expansionism with price and wage controls. Their alter­
native— perhaps their atonement— was the “old-time religion.”
They would stick by fiscal and monetary restraint to control in­
flation, would not be diverted by recession and unemployment
and not be seduced by the idea of direct controls over inflation.
The main ingredient in this prescription was holding down gov-




Ford and Carter: The Uncertain Transition

211

emment expenditures. What it meant for budget policy— for the
size of the deficit or surplus— was less clear. In early 1974, in
discussion of the fiscal 1975 budget among the Nixon officials,
there was general agreement that the policy should be to balance
the budget for that year. That would, presumably, give the coun­
try a “signal” of the seriousness of the intent to mend the old
ways and stop the inflation. It was pointed out that they could
not really promise to balance the budget in fiscal year 1975. If
there was a severe recession there would be a deficit, and no one
would want to take the steps needed to prevent that. All that the
administration could say was that it would balance the budget at
high employment, or some such condition. But the new enthusi­
asts for the old-time religion regarded that as equivocation and
rejected it. Secretary of the Treasury Simon said that their policy
should be “Balance the Budget, Period!” meaning balance the
budget no matter what. Of course, they could not and did not do
that, but the expression indicated the prevailing sentiment.
The old-time religion also implied something about monetary
policy— something like firmness and stability. There was, how­
ever, no articulation of what that meant operationally.
The Nixon team had the opportunity to show their devotion
to the old-time religion as the economy went into decline at the
end of 1973. This decline was mostly, if not entirely, caused by
the oil embargo and price increase. There immediately arose a
demand for fiscal and monetary stimulus to keep the economy
rising. The administration resisted these demands, except for
minor steps to encourage home building. The President said
there would be no recession, although the Council of Economic
Advisers was more cautious, and I said, “We’re going to have
the littlest boom you ever saw.”
The Nixon economists maintained that what was going on was
not a conventional recession because it did not originate on the
demand side of the economy. Output was falling, they said, be­
cause the oil shortage was limiting the ability of many enterprises
to produce. Critics of this analysis claimed that the high oil price,
causing a big increase in the payments of Americans to for­
eigners, was cutting the demand of Americans for American




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

products. But the Nixon economists were unmoved by this. The
argument was not really about this analysis. The basic point was
the determination of the administration to turn over a new leaf
and stay on a steady, disinflationary course— whatever the pass­
ing statistics might show. This attitude was apparent in Richard
Nixon’s last public speech before his resignation. Although not
pure— Presidents’ speeches always have something for every­
body— the speech emphasized the intent to stick to a steady longrun policy.
In fact, the government’s policy during the remainder of 1974
was quite restrictive, probably more restrictive than what the
government might have chosen if it had known precisely what
was happening. The budget moved into surplus as the sharp rise
of prices and incomes raised revenues unexpectedly. The infla­
tion reduced the real value of the money supply. We were getting
the built-in anti-inflation reaction of fiscal and monetary policy
to a degree not expected. Moreover, the available statistics did
not reveal how large was the buildup of inventories during the
early part of 1974 and therefore how great was the possibility
of a severe recession.
Whether the Nixon team’s turn to austerity would have sur­
vived in the face of the recession that was to develop was, of
course, not tested. On the afternoon of the day he was sworn in,
August 9, 1974, the new President, Gerald Ford, met with his
economic officials to review the situation. William Simon was
Secretary of the Treasury, but he was not the Special Assistant
to the President for Economic Affairs, as Shultz had been; that
position was held by Kenneth Rush. I was present, but my depar­
ture had been announced, and my replacement, Alan Greenspan,
was also present. The budget director, Roy Ash, and Arthur Bums
were also at the meeting. Although the discussion at the meeting
was quite diffuse, the memoranda that the participants were asked
to submit afterward showed a clear consensus. Unemployment
would rise, but only to about 6 percent within a year. No strong
action was recommended; there were some suggestions for im­
proving unemployment compensation. No one foresaw that the
unemployment rate would hit 9 percent in nine months.




Ford and Carter: The Uncertain Transition

213

With that view of the economic prospect it was perfectly
natural that the administration should continue its focus on infla­
tion. In September the White House launched the Inflation Sum­
mit— a series of conferences at which economists, bankers, busi­
nessmen, labor leaders and others met, at first separately and
then, through representatives, in joint sessions, to talk about the
ways to fight inflation. The conferences were fully covered by the
media, which explains in part why they consisted mainly of dec­
larations of long-standing positions with little attempt at a meet­
ing of minds. Probably the only memorable utterance in many
days of talk was that of George Shultz, attending as a private
citizen, who said that the whole range of economic forecasts
could be covered by a hat. It was not only the government econ­
omists who did not foresee the depth of the recession that was
coming.
In October, with the unemployment rate rising, the President
went up to Congress and submitted his full-scale economic pro­
gram.1 It presumably reflected the findings of the Inflation Sum­
mit Conferences, but in fact was standard fare— what a group of
government economists, politicians and public relations experts
would have produced without any Summit. The program was
“balanced.” It emphasized the fight against inflation but showed
concern for the rising unemployment by proposing extended un­
employment compensation and moderate jobs programs, assis­
tance for the housing industry and a tax stimulus for business
investment. The employment aids were to take effect when and
if the unemployment rate reached 6 percent— as it did in the
month when the President was speaking, but that was not yet
known. There was, on the other hand, a plea for expenditure
restraint by Congress and a recommendation for a tax increase
to pay for the costs of the antirecession measures. There was also
what later would be called a supply-side element in the pro­
gram— measures to increase food production, conserve energy
and stimulate domestic production of it, promote competition
and get rid of excess government regulation.
But one part of the program was unusual, or at least given un­
usual prominence. That was a call for voluntary cooperation by




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

all Americans to fight inflation by saving, working, conserving
energy and sharing with the less fortunate. This effort was to be
symbolized by a button, saying WIN, for Whip Inflation Now,
that the people were invited to wear. The button immediately
became an object of ridicule and a symbol of vacuity in eco­
nomic policy.
In retrospect, the policy of 1974, aside from the WIN button,
seems to have been consistent with the strategy of a stoical ac­
ceptance of the transitional costs of getting the inflation down
from the 12 to 14 percent rate it reached that year. The puzzling
question about the policy is how much of it was accidental— a
result of failure to appreciate either the severity of the coming
recession or the stringency of the fiscal and monetary position.
Would the policy that did finally contribute to driving the infla­
tion rate down substantially have been continued through 1974
if the government had known what the result would be in un­
employment? No one can answer that, but the administration’s
language did not indicate that degree of determination.
By the end of 1974 the steepness of the decline was evident,
and some positive response was required from the government.
The response was an extreme example of fine-tuning. There
would be a temporary tax cut, designed to give the economy a
shot in the arm in the second quarter of 1975 but not to con­
tinue long enough to imperil a subsequent move to a balanced
budget. There would be a rapid increase in the growth of the
money supply for several months, after which money growth
would subside again. This response may be looked upon as a
departure from the old-time religion of stable, nonexpansionist
policy. But in the light of the severity of the recession the sur­
prise is that the response was so mild. Liberal economists loudly
called for more expansionist policy. But these calls did not gen­
erate much action, even from a Democratic, activist Congress.
The big news of 1975 was that the country reached 9 percent
unemployment with much less complaint, much less excitement
in the streets or in the Congress, much less pressure for expan­
sionist measures, than would have been predicted a year or two
earlier. A t least for the time being the extreme inflationary ex­




Ford and Carter: The Uncertain Transition

215

perience of 1974 had made the government and the public cau­
tious about expansionist policy and content with the prospect of
a more stable price level.
The severe restraint of 1974, however accidental, and the lim­
ited stimulus of 1975 may be counted a success. A t least the in­
flation came down substantially, recovery began and the recov­
ery did not, at least during 1975 and 1976, revive the inflation.
The increase in the consumer price index over the previous year
fell from 11 percent in 1974 to 9.1 percent in 1975 and 5.8 per­
cent in 1976. The decline of inflation was to some degree a tran­
sitory fall from a transitory peak that had resulted from special
oil and food price situations and the end of price controls. The
slowdown of wage increases, which would have been required
for a permanent decline of inflation to a low level, was small, but
there was some.
The country enjoyed, in 1976, the best of conditions, as is
usually the case in the early stages of a recovery. Inflation stays
low while output rises and unemployment falls. The key question
is how long that combination can be maintained. That in turn
depends on whether a demand-management policy can be main­
tained that does not push the economy up too fast and too far.
We do not know whether a Ford administration, if kept in office
after 1976, would have persisted in such a course of moderation.
But we do know that the basis for the persistence of such a
course had not been laid. There was no agreement in the coun­
try on rules of policy that would keep the government on such a
course and little understanding of the need for such rules. A l­
though the public in its first recoil from double-digit inflation
would tolerate a policy of caution in pumping the economy up
again, that patience might not persist as the memory of the infla­
tion peak faded. The Ford administration might have followed a
noninflationary policy. It made little effort to fix upon the na­
tional mind any general principles of policy that would prevent
the return of inflation. Its own actions, however successful in
1975 and 1976, could be interpreted as an unusually skillful or
lucky exercise in adaptation to changing forecasts and develop­
ments rather than as the carrying out of any objective and pre­




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

dictable rules. Certainly the Federal Reserve denied the utility of
such rules. With such a philosophy, the success of the policy
would depend on the good luck or wisdom of the policymakers
who happened to be in office.
After 1976— that is, after the Carter administration came into
office— either the luck or the wisdom departed. The policy of
forecasting the course of the economy and adapting actions to
the forecast did not work so well as the economy approached
the zone where expansion could be inflationary and as policy fell
into the hands of people with overly ambitious goals.
The Carter team did have such goals. They had come to re­
peat the Kennedy achievement of “getting the economy moving
again.” They would do this by fiscal and monetary expansionism,
cutting taxes and speeding up the growth of money to reduce in­
terest rates. When expansionism began to threaten the revival of
inflation they would invoke incomes policy to hold prices and
wages down.
There was, however, a crucial difference between the situation
Kennedy had faced and the situation Carter faced. Upon arrival
in the White House, Kennedy had behind him a period of rea­
sonable price stability that President Eisenhower and Federal
Reserve Chairman Martin had achieved. Carter had behind him
ten years of Johnson-Nixon inflation. Kennedy could exploit the
expectation of price stability, which allowed him to get a great
deal of output increase and only a little bit of price increase by
raising demand. Carter had no such margin. The expectation of
inflation had remained despite the brief Ford interlude. This ex­
pectation would be turned into critical price and wage increases
very quickly by a policy of expanding demand. That is, Carter
would get much more inflation and much less output per dollar
of demand increase than Kennedy got. Moreover, after ten years
of price and wage controls in various forms, all more or less in­
effective, the Carter incomes policy would be a paper tiger.
In January 1977 when Jimmy Carter took office, the unem­
ployment rate was 7.4 percent. The new team regarded that as
much too high and believed that as long as unemployment was




Ford and Carter: The Uncertain Transition

217

in that neighborhood there was no danger of reviving inflation.
The Ford Council of Economic Advisers, in their final economic
report that month, had wrestled with the problem of defining
“full employment.” They estimated that if 4 percent had been
full employment in the 1950s the change in the age-sex composi­
tion of the labor force would have raised the full employment
rate to 4.9 percent by 1977. They pointed to other factors that
might have raised the rate to 5.5 percent, and that even that rate
was highly uncertain. In general, the tendency of the analysis was
to avoid commitment to any number as a target of policy. The
Ford CEA did not, however, positively reject the policy of di­
recting fiscal and monetary policy at achieving a full-employment target. That policy had been responsible for much of the
inflation of the previous decade as the government had aimed at
an excessively ambitious employment target. But to reject the
employment goal clearly would have seemed excessively hard­
hearted, even though aiming at “full employment” had not dura­
bly yielded the desired result.
The Carter administration made the unemployment target a
centerpiece of its policy. That is, they acted as if called upon to
get to this arbitrarily defined full employment in two or three
years. They “accepted” 4.9 percent as the full-employment goal,
attributing it to the Ford Council of Economic Advisers and
without recognition of the numerous qualifications the Ford
council had placed around that number. True, that was a politi­
cally difficult time for trying to educate the American public
about the pitfalls of full-employment targeting. Mr. Carter had
run for election on the promise to lift the economy out of the
Ford doldrums. He could hardly be less ambitious than Ford.
Also, in these years— 1976 to 1978— a conspicuous piece of
legislation, the Humphrey-Hawkins Bill, was moving through
Congress. That would have required the government to attain
all manner of good things, no matter how unattainable or incon­
sistent with each other. One of the good things to be attained
was 4 percent unemployment. Every informed person knew that
the whole idea— including the 4 percent unemployment— was




218

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

nonsense and that the bill could be stomached only on the as­
sumption, which proved to be correct, that it would be forgotten
as soon as enacted. But no political person, certainly not one de­
pendent on the traditional Democratic constituency, found the
courage to say so. Although the Carter administration tried to
moderate the bill in the end, it also had to act as if the 4 percent
goal was in some long-run sense reasonable.
The Carter administration not only participated in but also
took the lead in creating an atmosphere in which rapid move­
ment toward a low level of unemployment was the overriding
test of the success of national economic policy. The predictable
results followed.
The administration began 1977 with a major fiscal program
for stimulating the economy, relying heavily on a temporary tax
cut. The one-shot tax cut was rejected, but most of the other
parts of the program survived. There was a considerable increase
in the budget deficit in the second half of 1977, especially signifi­
cant because it occurred in the face of a rising economy. There­
after deficits subsided for a time, mainly because the rising tide
of inflation was generating revenue faster than the government
was spending it. Deficits rose again in late 1979 and early 1980
as expenditures surged.
But the stronger force at work was the growth of the money
supply. The growth of the money supply (Mj) was greater in
the three years 1977, 1978 and 1979 than in any other threeyear period of the postwar era. The administration was known to
be urging the Fed to greater expansion. In February 1978, Arthur
Burns was replaced by Carter’s own man, G. William Miller, as
chairman of the Fed. The performance of the Fed was not, how­
ever, chiefly a reflection of the personalities involved. It was a
response to a prevailing attitude in the country about the goals
of economic policy.
The rapid increase in the money supply in these years 1 9 7 7 1979 was associated with, and probably caused, an extremely
rapid increase in total spending— nominal GNP— in the same
three years. And this big increase in demand mainly accounted
for the return of inflation to double-digit figures by 1979.




Ford and Carter: The Uncertain Transition

Leading up to the

219

1980 Campaign

By 1979 the time had clearly come for a turn in economic policy.
This was partly because of two objective conditions. The infla­
tion had accelerated again, reaching 13.3 percent from December
1978 to December 1979, as measured by the consumer price in­
dex. And the slowdown in the growth of output per worker, on
which the improvement of living standards ultimately depends,
had persisted for six years. From 1947 to 1973 the average an­
nual rise of output per worker hour had been 3.0 percent; from
1973 to 1979 it was 0.8 percent. One could no longer think that
the slowdown might be a statistical aberration or an entirely cycli­
cal fluctuation.
The objective conditions by themselves do not explain the
intensity of the feeling that policy had to change, or the direction
in which changes were thought to be needed. Perception of the
harm done by inflation bears no close relation to the harm that
is objectively done, although it is hard to tell whether the per­
ceived harm is greater or less than the actual harm. Probably the
answer is that the perception exaggerates the harm currently be­
ing done and underestimates the dangers being built up for the
future. People measure the injury they suffer from inflation by
the rise in the prices they have to pay. They overlook the fact
that most of the prices they pay are received as income by Amer­
icans, including themselves. On the average and in the short run,
incomes do keep up with prices. There is some redistribution as
a result of inflation— some people gain and some people lose.
But cliches about who the gainers and losers are do not have
much foundation. A recent study has concluded that the main
losers are upper-income people, whose assets decline most in real
value during inflation.2 One redistribution to which much atten­
tion has been paid is the transfer of income from taxpayers to
the government as a result of the progressive income tax sched­
ule, which in a time of inflation raises revenue automatically
more than in proportion to the amount of inflation. In the end
this is, of course, not a net reduction in the incomes of private




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

individuals, since the revenue the government gets is paid out
again in government expenditures.
Nevertheless, the fact is that most people feel that they are
hurt by inflation. They are disappointed and offended because
although they are receiving larger incomes, in dollars, than they
used to receive they are not nearly as rich as they think they
should be with such large dollar incomes. Moreover, they are
frightened by the inflation. Even if they realize that they are
keeping up with the inflation they have little confidence that they
will keep up in the future. These disappointments and anxieties
are real— and politically important— even if the objective facts
are misunderstood.
On the other hand, inflation has long-run effects which are not
well understood. Probably most important, a high rate of infla­
tion is bound to be an uncertain rate of inflation, and that un­
certainty depresses long-run investment and retards the growth
of productivity. Moreover, if a high rate of inflation is tolerated
it will probably escalate, but the escalation will not be allowed,
to go on forever, and its ending will almost certainly involve a
recession with increased unemployment.
Despite the inflation, and despite the slowdown in productivity
growth, real per capita income after tax, probably the best sim­
ple measure of economic welfare, increased between 1976 and
1980. Indeed, it increased just about as much in that period as
in the preceding four years. Still, public opinion polls supported
common observation of great dissatisfaction with the state of the
economy. When Ronald Reagan, campaigning for the presidency
in 1980, asked the American people to ask themselves whether
they were better off than they had been four years earlier, he
could count on a negative answer, despite the economic statistics.
Candidates in 1980 promising a change in the economic policy
could take that dissatisfaction for granted; they did not, like
Kennedy twenty years earlier, have to create the problem they
would promise to solve.
The objective circumstances did not dictate that the policy
change would be in a conservative direction. There were expla­
nations of the economic difficulties that, if correct, would have




Ford and Carter: The Uncertain Transition

221

called for solutions requiring more government controls of the
economy. The inflation was blamed on high oil prices, high
prices for medical care and high food prices. And the prescrip­
tion offered was more control of oil prices and medical costs and
specific measures to stabilize food prices. The slowdown of pro­
ductivity growth could be blamed on the lack of government
leadership in economic affairs— by contrast with Japan, for ex­
ample. There were some who regarded the Nixon, Ford and
Carter administrations as representatives of conservative and
monetarist policies and who held those policies responsible for
the state of the economy.
But such attitudes were not credible in 1979 and 1980. There
had been a flurry of interest in economic planning, meaning
much more systematic and detailed government control, in 1975
when the combination of a severe recession, the oil embargo and
recent extreme inflation led some people to believe that the fail­
ure of the free economy had been finally demonstrated. This
turned out to be a brief fad, however. As usual, the American
people were not interested in grand plans to change the system.
By 1979 the case for going in the other direction seemed ob­
vious. We were at the end of two decades in which government
spending, government taxes, government deficits, government
regulation and government expansion of the money supply had
all increased rapidly. And at the end of those two decades the
inflation rate was high, real economic growth was slow and our
“normal” unemployment rate— the rate we experienced in good
times— was higher than ever. Nothing was more natural than the
conclusion that the problems were caused by all these govern­
ment increases and would be cured by reversing, or at least stop­
ping, them.
This attitude was reinforced by a common grievance about
taxes. The inflation had boosted many taxpayers into brackets
that they had thought were reserved for the rich— i.e., for other
people. They didn’t like it. They were not comforted to know
that the government had “offset” this bracket creep by cutting
some taxes or by paying out money to some people.3 The tax
cuts were mainly for the poor, and the spending increases they




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

thought of as being mainly for the very poor. And while they
sympathized with the “deserving poor” they felt that much of
their money was going to support indolence and family breakup.
The shift to traditional, conservative attitudes in economic
policy was part of a more general shift of attitudes. By 1979 the
“liberalism” of the 1960s and 1970s had become associated with
immorality and indifference to America’s interests in the world.
The rejection of liberal economics was reinforced by a wide­
spread desire to come home in other aspects of life.
This popular attitude toward the economic policies of the
1960s and 1970s was, to some extent, accompanied by a shift in
the mainstream of thinking among economists. The basic change
was in the new emphasis on the long run. Keynes had belittled
attention to the long run, saying that in the long run we are all
dead. But by 1979, forty-three years after the publication of
Keynes’ General Theory, we woke up to discover that we were
living in the long run and were suffering for our failure to look
after it.
The earlier emphasis on the short run had two main implica ­
tions. It focused attention on the problem of getting the actual
level of output up to the level that we were capable of produc­
ing. In the short run what could be gained by closing the gap
between actual and potential production was much larger than
what could be gained by raising the rate of growth of potential.
But even what seems a relatively small change in the rate of growth
of potential output per year makes a big difference in the level of
output after many years.
In addition the short-run view encouraged concentration on
the possibilities of raising the level of output, relative to poten­
tial, by demand expansion, even though that might be inflation­
ary. Such a policy would not work in the long run. It worked by
surprise— by the actual inflation rate exceeding what people had
expected, which made employers willing to hire more workers.
But people could not be surprised indefinitely; they would catch
on and then the inflation would lose its power to lower unem­
ployment.
Economists had known for a long time that the prescriptions




Ford and Carter: The Uncertain Transition

223

they were offering were good for the short run only. A t least they
had known it in the back of their minds. It would be wrong to
say that the New Economists had ignored longer-term consid­
erations. But still they gave advice mainly on the basis that the
long run was a succession of short runs.
The second half of the 1970s showed the fallacy of this out­
look. Even though a short-run connection between inflation and
unemployment could still be seen, the dominant fact was that
both inflation and unemployment were trending up. We did not
have less unemployment with more inflation, except for brief
periods. Moreover, the marked slowdown in the growth of pro­
ductivity made clear that the long-run strong upward trend of
potential output could not be taken for granted. It would have
to be nourished. The experience of those years did more than
mountains of journal papers to restore economists to concern
with the long run.
Rediscovery of the long run contributed to many changes of
thinking about economic policy. It strengthened the tendency al­
ready under way to regard control of the money supply as the
essential means of controlling inflation. Although the connection
between the money supply and inflation had been generally rec­
ognized by economists (restoring the pre-depression doctrine),
that connection was also recognized to be rather loose in the
short run. If the rate of growth of the money supply increased
from 5 percent to 10 percent between one year and the next, one
couldn’t be sure that the inflation rate would rise by 5 percent
between the two years, or even that it would rise at all. And if
there was a tendency to more inflation it could be offset by fiscal
measures, such as a cut of government expenditures. But if the
increase in the rate of monetary growth were to last for, say, a
decade, there was little doubt of a significant inflationary effect
which could hardly be prevented by fiscal action. So as our ex­
perience forced us to look at inflation continuing and accelerat­
ing over a long period, monetary policy moved to the center of
the stage.
At the same time, concern with long-run growth changed ideas
about budget policy. One way in which the budget could con­




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

tribute to increasing long-run growth was to run a budget surplus
which would provide funds that could be invested by private
business. This meant that we would have to give up, or at least
deemphasize, reliance on variations of the budget surplus or
deficit to stabilize the economy. Instead of being complementary
or alternative ways of achieving the same objective, fiscal and
monetary policy would have more distinct functions. Monetary
policy would be addressed to achieving a reasonably stable price
level, and fiscal policy would be addressed to assisting a more
rapid growth of real output in the long run.
Moreover, attitudes toward taxes and expenditures had to be
changed. As long as economic growth at a rate around 3 percent
per annum was taken for granted, conservative arguments that
high tax rates on income earners and large benefit payments to
nonearners interfered with economic efficiency and growth could
be disregarded as fanciful ideology. But once a significant con­
tinuing slowdown in economic growth became evident, this argu­
ment had to be taken more seriously.
Two other developments in economics— other than the redis­
covery of the long run— had a major influence on policy think­
ing. One was the increased attention to the role of economic ex­
pectations. In fact, notions about expectations, under the more
common term of “confidence,” had played a part in discussion
of economics for a long time. When Herbert Hoover was faced
with the depression, one of the concerns was with the reestablish­
ment of “confidence,” meaning the expectation that conditions
would improve. The implication of this seemed to be that policies
should be followed which the business and financial community
would find congenial, even though the policies would be counter­
productive aside from those attitudes. Keynes* argument in the
General Theory relied heavily on the influence of expectations.
But the argument about confidence remained the property of
traditional conservatives and was one of their main responses to
liberal proposals. Mainstream economists after Keynes used a
more mechanical line of reasoning in which what people thought
was a reaction to what happened in the economy and not to their
impression of government policies.




Ford and Carter: The Uncertain Transition

225

Interest in expectations revived after Friedman’s presidential
address in 1967, which has already been discussed. His main
point was that unemployment tended to be low when inflation
was high because high inflation tended to be a condition in which
the actual inflation rate was high relative to the expected rate.
What made the unemployment low was not the absolute rate of
inflation but the excess of the actual over the expected rate of
inflation. That was why inflation would not permanently keep
unemployment low. Expectations would catch up to the actual
inflation rate.
Friedman was describing a world in which the expected rate
of inflation depended on experience with the actual rate of in­
flation. If people have experienced 10 percent inflation for some
time they will continue to expect it. That could make reducing
the inflation rate difficult. If, after some years of 10 percent in­
flation, the government tries to reduce the rate, the private sector
will continue to expect 10 percent. Workers will demand wage
increases to match and businesses will try to get price increases
to match. The process of disinflation will entail loss of output
and higher unemployment until a lower inflation rate comes to
be expected. Neither Friedman nor anyone else knew how long
that would take.
The assumption that expectations of inflation depended en­
tirely on the inflation experienced in the past was soon recog­
nized to be too limiting. One might realistically think that people
would take account also of the government’s intentions and poli­
cies, as they interpreted the probable effect of the intentions and
policies. Thus, if a government disinflation effort was believed
to be an interlude to be followed by another surge of inflation,
expectations of inflation would remain high even if the actual
inflation rate should subside for a while. On the other hand, if
the policy was credible, expectations would adapt more quickly
and the disinflationary process would be less painful. This made
commitment, steadiness, perceived durability, clear and enforce­
able rules— all the things that might contribute to the desired
change of expectation— very important.
Finally, developments in the methodology of economics helped




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

to create skepticism about many of the government programs
that had been adopted in the 1960s and 1970s. There was a great
wave of measurement and estimation by economists, who had
some new data plus more sophisticated theories and techniques
to work with. Much of this measurement and estimation was ap­
plied to the costs and benefits of government programs— both
expenditure programs and regulatory programs. The result was
to cast grave doubt on the worth of many of these programs—
whether their benefits justified their costs. In principle, these
studies did not have to come out that way. They could have
showed that all the programs were worthwhile and that there
was, in fact, a long list of additional programs whose benefits
would exceed their costs. The fact that the studies did not come
out that way revealed a bias in the government’s decision-making
process. The benefit expected from programs tended to be direct
and obvious, especially to the beneficiaries. The costs of any
particular program were likely to be more diffused and were ex­
posed only by analysis. Moreover, we had been through a period
of sentimentality about many problems, of extraordinary con­
fidence in the ability of government to do things, and of admira­
tion for activism as a sign of leadership on the part of govern­
ment. Therefore, the wave of cost-benefit analysis, coming at this
particular time, revealed a great deal of unjustified spending and
regulation. This same kind of analysis at a different point in his­
tory might have produced a different result.

H ow Sharp a Turn?

979

By I
>as the country wound up for a presidential election, the
stage was set for a change in economic policy, and the direction
of the change was clear. There would be a shift of national pri­
orities— toward greater price stability, faster growth and greater
freedom for individuals in the use of their own money and man­
agement of their own affairs, and away from higher employment,
the redistribution of income and the promotion of particular in­




Ford and Carter: The Uncertain Transition

227

dustries and uses of the national income as the primary objec­
tives. This shift of priorities called for:
1.
2.
3.
4.

Slower, more stable and more predictable monetary growth.
Reduction of federal deficits.
Slowing down the growth of federal spending.
Reducing some federal tax rates, especially those bearing
heavily on investment and savings.
5. Reducing the burden of federal regulation.

This agenda would have been accepted by all the leading can­
didates for the presidency in 1980— from Senator Kennedy to
Governor Reagan. Nevertheless the agenda raised two serious
problems. One related to the side effects of the process of dis­
inflation.
In the standard view, reducing the inflation rate by slowing
down the growth of the money supply would involve a transi­
tional period in which unemployment would rise. No one knew
how long this period might be or how high unemployment would
go. This obviously was a serious problem for the country, to
which politicians were naturally sensitive. It had become essen­
tial for politicians to say that they would not use unemployment
to cure inflation— a formulation which left little room for accept­
ing unemployment as an unfortunate but inevitable by-product
of curing inflation.
There were a number of possible ways to deal with this diffi­
culty, or at least to seem to deal with it. One was incomes policy.
This notion, that businesses and workers could be induced to
slow down price and wage increases without being forced to do
so by the restraint of demand, and therefore without an increase
of unemployment, had been around in America for over twenty
years and had been tried on several occasions. A t an earlier
stage, such a policy was thought by some to eliminate the need
for monetary and fiscal measures to restrain demand. By 1979
that would not be said anymore. The need for demand restraint
was recognized. But the incomes policy was expected to avoid the




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

need for an increase of unemployment while demand was re­
strained, by bringing down the rate of price and wage increases
quickly.
A t the other extreme was a policy called by some “cold tur­
key” or “sudden death.” Growth of the money supply would be
cut drastically, to get the inflation rate down at once, or almost
at once, to zero. This might be such a shock as to put an end
immediately to inflationary expectations and to force prompt re­
negotiation of all contracts to bring them into line with the new
reality. This idea had more popularity in academic circles than
in political ones.
The other options required some combination of gradualism
and commitment in reducing the growth of the money supply
and restraining demand. The point of the gradualism was to try
to keep the pace of the demand restraint close to the pace of the
inflation slowdown, in order to minimize unemployment. The
point of the commitment— a firm and credible evidence of the
government’s intent— was to bring about a prompt change of in­
flationary expectations, to facilitate the disinflation. The prob­
lem was that the gradualism and the commitment did not go well
together. The more the government emphasized that its policy
would be applied gradually, over a long period and with oppor­
tunities to modulate its pace if unemployment rose, the less
credible the strategy was. And the more the government lashed
itself to the mast and insisted on sticking to a preannounced path
of disinflation, the greater was the danger of being unable to
back off if the policy led to unemployment.
The second problem was how to achieve simultaneously the
various new goals for the budget. Reducing deficits and, if pos­
sible, balancing the budget were important for promoting eco­
nomic growth by keeping the government from absorbing a large
share of private saving to finance the deficit. To some extent—
and there was disagreement about the extent— reducing deficits
would contribute to curbing inflation. At the same time, promo­
tion of growth required cuts of some tax rates. Cutting tax rates
would reduce the revenues, or this was the conventional think­
ing, although a few people were beginning to deny it. This left




Ford and Carter: The Uncertain Transition

229

the need to reconcile eliminating the budget deficits with reducing
the revenues. The obvious answer to this was to cut expenditures
or substantially reduce their rate of growth. As is well known,
however, this is much easier to talk about in general than to do
in particular. The difficulty was compounded by the need, gen­
erally recognized, to raise defense spending, not only absolutely
but also relative to the GNP.
All candidates for the presidency had to decide what to say
about these two problems— the disinflation-unemployment con­
nection and the fact that budgets have to add up, so that expen­
ditures minus revenues equals the deficit. But one candidate had
to do more than decide what to say about these problems. He
had to decide what to do about them. That, of course, was
Jimmy Carter, the President of the United States. Since he was
the President, and was doing things, all the other candidates had
to react to his policies.
Carter did not decide by himself what to do about these prob­
lems. He had a number of associates. The most important of
these was Paul Volcker, the chairman of the Federal Reserve
Board. One should not get the picture of Volcker and Carter sit­
ting down together to devise the new economic policy. Volcker
was the independent head of an independent agency, with impor­
tant although limited functions. He had to take account of Car­
ter’s policy and Carter had to take account of his.
The Carter-Volcker policy of 1979-1980 was an attempt to
feel a way through the difficulties of the transition to a less infla­
tionary world by extremely cautious, tentative and reversible
steps— which were nevertheless steps in the indicated direction.
The first move was Volcker’s. On October 6,1979, he announced,
on behalf of the Federal Reserve, a change of procedures, in
which more attention would be paid to controlling bank reserves
and less to controlling interest rates. That did not necessarily sig­
nify any change of objectives. But in the circumstances there
seemed little doubt that the move reflected a sterner determina­
tion to check the inflation. The money supply had been rising
rapidly— beyond the Fed’s targets— and the inflation rate was
accelerating. The foreign exchange value of the dollar had fallen




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

to a low level. Foreign central bankers had been emphasizing to
Yolcker the need to check our inflation. Volcker returned from
Europe to Washington and almost immediately announced the
new policy, which was generally interpreted as a significant shift
in an anti-inflationary direction.
The Carter administration announced its support for the Fed­
eral Reserve’s new policy. In his January 1980 Economic Report
the President emphasized his conviction that inflation was the
number-one economic problem and proposed a four-part pro­
gram for attacking that problem:
1. Fiscal and monetary restraint, including support for an
anti-inflationary monetary policy and reducing the budget def­
icit. Real federal government expenditure, which had risen at a
rate of 3.6 percent per annum from 1974 to 1979, would rise by
2.8 percent per annum from 1979 to 1983. The annual rate of
increase of nondefense spending would be cut in half— from 4.9
percent to 2.5 percent. The budget deficit, estimated at $40 bil­
lion in the ongoing fiscal year, would be reduced to $16 billion
in the next year and converted to a $5 billion surplus in the year
after. Achieving that would require that tax reduction be forgone.
2. An incomes policy to achieve voluntary cooperation of
business and labor in holding down price and wage increases.
3. Increase of productivity.
4. Insulation of the economy against external shocks, such as
those which from time to time had raised oil and food prices.
This had the look of an orderly and comprehensive program.
It made a decision about what the top priority was— inflation—
and seemed willing to sacrifice at least one popular bit of candy—
tax reduction— in order to curb inflation. But a little reflection
and a little experience revealed that the program was mainly a
facade. The 1980 incomes policy was only the last gasp of an ap­
proach that Carter had been trying without visible result for sev­
eral years. Improving productivity and insulating the economy
against “shocks,” one a good idea and the other one not so good,




Ford and Carter: The Uncertain Transition

231

were not going to contribute significantly to checking inflation for
years to come.
The hard core of the program was this fiscal and monetary re­
straint. But the fiscal part was itself mushy and unconvincing.
The movement toward a balanced budget depended on a num­
ber of unrealistic or unacceptable assumptions. Real output was
projected to grow at a high rate and inflation to continue at a
rate which itself implied that the disinflation effort would be only
minimally successful. By pushing people into higher tax brackets
the inflation would raise the ratio of taxes to GNP by 1982 to the
highest figure since World War II. The allowance for increasing
the national defense expenditures was small. The estimates were
highly suspect at many other points.
The publication of the budget in January 1980 was immedi­
ately followed by cries of “Foul” from the financial community
and by sharp declines of bond prices. The fall in bond prices was
widely attributed to the shock of investors at discovering that the
budget was not coming into balance. Carter’s budget did not in­
spire confidence as a pillar of an anti-inflation program. The
President revised the budget in March to meet some of the criti­
cisms, but that was taken to indicate lack of steadfastness.
The monetary restraint was the real element in the program.
But in 1980 one could not be sure how real it was. The Federal
Reserve made no long-term commitments about the money sup­
ply or about the price level. The administration had announced
its support for the new monetary policy in October 1979, but the
historical record made such support seem unreliable. The new
policy called for concentrating attention on the supply of bank
reserves, rather than on the level of interest rates. But when in­
terest rates rose, after the budget came out in January, the Fed­
eral Reserve, at the initiative of the administration, imposed
credit controls. This threw a monkey wrench into the machinery
and made it impossible to interpret the course of monetary pol­
icy for the remainder of the year.
Thus, Carter by 1979-1980 had assumed the look of a con­
servative in economics. He had elevated inflation to the top of




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

his list of economic problems. He had endorsed a new antiinflationary monetary policy, proposed a slowdown of govern­
ment expenditures and laid out a path to a balanced budget. For
the sake of fiscal responsibility he was resisting the politically
popular move of tax reduction. But the policy was not accept­
able or credible, especially to people who considered themselves
conservatives.
One possible alternative to Carterism, in 1979-1980, was
“Thatcherism.” Mrs. Thatcher had become Prime Minister of
Great Britain in May 1979 on a platform which had as its dis­
tinctive characteristic the willingness to tell the public that a pol­
icy to correct the ailments of the economy would be painful for a
considerable period before its benefits appeared.4 There were
people here who thought this was the truth and who were en­
couraged by Mrs. Thatcher’s election to think that telling the
truth would be politically tolerable and possibly even attractive
in the United States. Moreover, this appeared a peculiarly “con­
servative” outlook. The liberal policies of the preceding two de­
cades had gone to excess by failure to recognize limits to the po­
tentialities of even as strong and flexible an economy as ours,
and by unwillingness to accept the short-term pains required for
long-term health. A conservative program should try to avoid
and if possible correct these errors. Two touchstones of conser­
vative economics are the Long Run and No Free Lunch. Both
might lead to the conclusion that redirecting economic policy
would not be painless but would be worthwhile.
In the circumstances of 1979-1980, Thatcherism in the United
States could have taken the form of a position like this:
“Inflation is the primary problem, and progress against other
problems will have to be deferred where there is a conflict. To
get the inflation rate down significantly, the rate of growth of
the money supply will have to be slowed down. In the process of
reducing the inflation rate, unemployment will rise for a while,
and no one can say how far or for how long. The rise of unem­
ployment will be smaller and shorter if the government’s com­
mitment to reducing the inflation is clear and firm, and it will be
our intention to stick by this commitment and by the monetary




Ford and Carter: The Uncertain Transition

233

policy required to implement it. This time we will not turn to
pump the economy up again at the first sign of trouble.
“The budget deficit will be gradually reduced and eliminated
over the course of the next five years or so as the disinflation pro­
ceeds. This program is important for two reasons. First, although
there is disagreement about whether deficits cause inflation, con­
fidence in the anti-inflation effort will surely be strengthened if
there is a credible plan for eliminating the deficit. Second, elimi­
nating the budget deficit will assist in promoting economic growth
by making more funds available to finance private investment.
“In order to reduce the budget deficit while making necessary
increases in defense expenditures, two things will be required.
First, tax reductions will have to be deferred except in a few
cases where taxation bears most heavily on private investment.
Second, there will have to be cuts of some expenditures that af­
fect mainly middle-income Americans, such as social security.
Aside from defense, that is where most of the money is and most
of the increase of spending in the past two decades.
“This program involves a period of pain for many people.
There will be unemployment, business losses and sacrifice of
some expected benefits from government programs. But that is
the price we must pay to correct past excesses and put the coun­
try on the path to stability and prosperity from which all will
benefit. We will try to protect disadvantaged people from severe
injury, but we cannot promise a painless transition.”
No politician, no candidate, adopted this position. Some, no­
tably George Bush, made a certain bow to it, emphasizing that
there is “no quick fix” and reserving their promises for the long
run. Bush publicly accepted the possibility that ending the infla­
tion would involve a transitional period of higher unemployment.
Although he could not entirely disassociate himself from the
yearning for tax reduction, he was cautious about its proper
amount. But on the whole, practical, political conservatives in
1979-1980 rejected Thatcherism. Instead they chose the eco­
nomics of joy. Ronald Reagan, although not the originator of
that attitude, became its chief spokesman and came into the
presidency with it, if not necessarily because of it.







7
The Reagan Campaign:
The Economics of Joy

h r e e o f t h e m a i n e l e m e n t s in the new conservative ap­
proach to economic policy, by 1979-1980, were to get the infla­
tion down by restraining monetary growth, to balance the bud­
get and to reduce government expenditures or at least retard
their growth. Each of these elements in the approach ran into a
serious problem:

T

1. Reducing inflation, by restraining monetary growth or by
any other feasible means, would raise unemployment for some
period.
2. Balancing the budget would require forgoing or deferring
tax reduction, given any realistic estimate of expenditure limi­
tation.
3. Reducing the growth of total government expenditures,
given the need to increase defense spending, would require cut­
ting into benefits that many Americans, including middle-income
Americans, enjoyed.
There were three ways of dealing with these three difficulties:




235

236

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

1. Carterism— pursuing each element in the approach so ten­
tatively and flexibly that no harm would be done to anyone, but
no significant good either.
2. Thatcherism— recognizing the costs of the objectives being
pursued and being willing to pay them.
3. Reaganism— denying that the objectives being pursued had
any costs.
Reaganism was the rejection of traditional Republican poli­
cies of “ austerity”— sometimes called castor-oil economics or
deep-root-canal economics. But it was more than that. It was
an assertion that these policies could be rejected without also re­
jecting many conservative objectives or totems. This rejection
rested upon three propositions:
1. There is no necessary connection between inflation and un­
employment, even in the short run, and inflation can be reduced
without a transitional period of increased unemployment.
2. Reduction of tax rates will not prevent balancing the bud­
get but will actually contribute to balance, because reducing tax
rates will raise the national income enough to increase revenues.
3. Government expenditures can be reduced significantly with­
out injuring anyone except government bureaucrats, because the
budget is full of waste, fraud and counterproductive programs.
The political utility of these ideas is obvious and was be­
coming increasingly obvious to the Republican Party as the
1970s went on. Goldwater had campaigned on the economics o f
austerity, or at least was so perceived. Although he emphasized
the glory of liberty and economic growth in the long run, what
stood out in his rhetoric was antipathy to Santa Claus and the
free lunch. He was overwhelmingly defeated in 1964. After a
narrow victory over a war-torn Democratic Party in 1968, Nixon
returned in 1972 with a most un-Republican policy of pricewage controls and fiscal expansionism and won by a landslide.
Ford tried to return to the old-time religion in economics and




The Reagan Campaign: The Economics of Joy

237

lost in 1976 to an unknown from Georgia who talked KennedyJohnson economics.

Supply-Side Economics and Politics
The transition from the old-time religion to the economics of joy
came first in Congress and in the Republican National Commit­
tee, spurred and supported by certain movements in the intellec­
tual community. The feeling was developing, in Republican cir­
cles and in some of its intellectual auxiliaries, that with their
economics of austerity conservative Republicans could never
come to power except in a crisis. Once in power, devotion to
their traditional values, even though meritorious in the long run,
gave them a Scrooge-like appearance which assured that their
tenure would be brief.
A group of Republicans in the Congress were determined to
break out of this pattern. The instrument of their escape would
be tax reduction. Jimmy Carter was hemmed in by the inflation
and by standard Keynesian notions of how to deal with it, and
by the deficit and conventional notions of how to deal with that.
He could not be the champion of tax reduction, however popu­
lar or, in some theories, economically useful. The Republicans
would pick up the tax reduction ball and run with it.
This was nothing new for the Congressional Republicans.
They had controlled the Congress twice in the previous fifty
years. On the first of these occasions, 1947-1948, they had
pushed through a major tax cut against the opposition of Presi­
dent Truman. On the second occasion, 1953-1954, they had
pushed through a major tax cut despite the reluctance of Presi­
dent Eisenhower.
These earlier Republican tax cuts did not, however, provide
comforting precedents for the Congressional Republicans in 1977
and 1978. The economic and budgetary conditions were quite
different. On both of the earlier occasions the economy was in,
or thought to be entering, a recession and the Republicans used,




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

rather coyly, Keynesian arguments about curing recession by tax
reduction. Moreover, in the 1947-1948 period the budget was
coming into balance— some people even worried about too large
a surplus— and in the 1953-1954 period the deficits were small
and one could think they were disappearing. In 1978, inflation
was the main problem, not recession, and in any event use of tax
cuts to prevent recession was unfashionable, especially among
Republicans. The deficit was large and there was great skepti­
cism about forecasts that it would decline. The idea of a fiscal
dividend produced by the inexorable growth of the American
economy had become a wry joke.
There was another reason for not relying on the precedent of
the 80th and 83rd Congresses. Truman had campaigned against
the 80th Congress in part on the ground that it had enacted a
“rich man’s tax bill,” and the Republicans lost control of the
Congress. The Democrats had campaigned against the 83rd Con­
gress on the ground that it had enacted a “trickle-down” tax
bill— one from which the people at large would get indirect,
doubtful and trivial benefits as a consequence of big benefits
given to the rich. The Republicans then lost control of the Con­
gress and had not regained it twenty-four years later. The Re­
publican losses in elections were surely not entirely due to their
success in cutting taxes. But cutting taxes, at least cutting them
in the Republican way, did not look like a prescription for
winning.
/ So the Republicans during the Carter administration needed
a tax cut that would be popular and not easily attacked as a give­
away for the rich. That meant that their typical ideas, then being
promoted by a number of Republicans including Congressman
Jack Kemp, would not suffice. That is, it would not do to have a
tax bill which mainly reduced taxation of investment income,
however strong the case might be that such tax relief would be
most beneficial for the economy. It had to be a tax bill that
would give direct, immediate visible benefits to a large propor­
tion of the electorate and that would have a chance to be de­
fended as fair.
This requirement seemed to be met by an equal percentage cut




The Reagan Campaign: The Economics of Joy

239

in all income tax rates, the cut being large enough to be appre­
ciated even by people in the lower rate brackets. The program hit
upon was a cut of 10 percent a year for three years. That would,
for example, cut the top 70 percent rate to 50 percent and the
bottom 14 percent rate to 10 percent. One could still argue, as
some would later argue, that this tax cut was unfair, because the
tax cuts for the rich were not only absolutely larger than those
for the poor but also larger relative to their incomes. Indeed,
there were people who paid no tax and would have to be
satisfied with the benefits that would trickle down. But a
great many people would get enough relief to recognize and ap­
preciate it.
This, however, created a serious problem. If the tax relief was
going to be large enough to be appreciated by all or almost all
income taxpayers, it would seem to cause a large reduction in
the federal revenue. But there was already a large federal deficit.
The feeling that this was a bad thing was evident in the move­
ment for a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced bud­
get, which was sweeping through the states. A large number of
Republican Congressmen and Senators had endorsed the amend­
ment. Aside from that, inflation was recognized to be the num­
ber-one national problem, and many people, including many
conservatives, attributed the inflation to the budget deficits.
A tax cut that would greatly increase the deficit was not ac­
ceptable to the Republicans or salable to the country. It was at
this point that “supply-side economics” came to the rescue. A c­
cording to supply-side economics, a large across-the-board equal
cut of income tax rates would not reduce but would raise the
revenues and so would not increase the deficit but would reduce
it. This wonderful consequence would be produced by a large
increase in the taxable income base— large enough so that the
revenue would be larger even though the tax rates were lower.
The large increase in the taxable income base would come about
mainly because of a large increase in the total national output
and income, resulting in turn from an increase in the quantity of
labor and capital supplied when tax rates were reduced and the
after-tax return for working and saving was increased. This was




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

not the only source of the additional tax base. Some income
would come out of shelters or out of the underground economy.
But mainly there would be more supply of output and more
income.
This idea was just what the “conservative” Republican tax
cutters needed. This was not quite a case of necessity being
the mother of invention. The idea in its late-1970s form had
been invented a few years before the Congressional Republicans
had the need for it, and if it met anyone’s need it was not theirs
but more likely the need of the economists who invented it. But
the idea was quickly bought by politicans because they needed
it. The idea was not foreign to conservatives, who had always ar­
gued that the particular tax cuts they most wanted would raise
the revenue. But this new argument applied to cuts across the
board. Moreover, whereas the earlier trickle-down theories had
been scorned by intellectuals, the present idea was supported and
promoted by certified intellectuals who were most eager and ar­
ticulate in explaining it. This was important protection against
the argument that the idea was only a rich man’s toy. The idea
had the further merit that, unlike the tax-cutting theories of the
Kennedy-Johnson days, it did not rely on an increase of demand
that would result from leaving more income in the hands of tax­
payers. In 1978 that would have been considered inflationary.
Instead, the new idea relied upon an increase in the supply of
labor and capital called forth by lower tax rates. That could not
be made to look inflationary. On the contrary, one could claim
that it was anti-inflationary. For good measure, the whole idea
could be described as an escape from Keynesianism, which by
this time had become a term of disrepute.
The only trouble with the idea was that it was almost certainly
not true. But that would not be generally recognized for some
time.
The term “supply-side economics” has been attached to a
spectrum of ideas— some of them old, conventional and prob­
ably true. Among these are that the capacity of the economy to
produce is very important, the most important determinant of
living standards and a basic subject of economic study. More-




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241

over, the capacity of the economy to produce is not given for­
ever by nature but depends to some extent on public policy, and
is a legitimate object of public policy. Also the “supply-side”
proposition that the level and character of taxes affect capacity
to produce is certainly valid, as is the implication that these ef­
fects should be considered in deciding tax policy. The idea that
a cut in the tax rate on the production, sale or importation of a
certain commodity will increase the amount produced, sold or
imported is as old as economics. Almost as old is the idea that
the increase in production, sale or importation can in some cases
be so large that the total revenue from the tax will rise, even
though the tax rate is reduced.1
The advocates of the supply-side theory could legitimately
claim that in the period beginning with the depression and with
inspiration from Keynes, economics had concentrated too exclu­
sively on the demand side of the economic equation. That em­
phasis needed to be corrected, and the supply-siders were con­
tributing to the correction. Most specifically, economics needed
to get away from the practice of looking at fiscal policy as
mainly an instrument for manipulating aggregate demand. When
I coined the term “supply-side” in April 1976 in a paper de­
livered to a meeting of economists I was classifying economists
in their attitudes toward fiscal policy.2 1 called one group “sup­
ply-side fiscalists” on the ground that they concentrated on the
effects of taxes, expenditures and deficits on the total supply of
output. Although I was later said to have used the term “deri­
sively” that was not the fact. I recognized that as a legitimate
way to look at fiscal policy. By itself, of course, it says nothing
about what the size or even the direction of the effects of fiscal
changes on supply would be.
To slide from these conventional or neutral propositions to the
specific supply-side idea that a general cut of income tax rates
from the rates prevailing in the United States would increase the
revenue was easy. It was, however, also misleading. The supplyside thesis of the 1970s depended upon specific quantitative re­
lations. These could not be demonstrated by any a priori princi­
ples or homely analogies. What was missing was any reason to
believe that these specific quantitative relations between the size



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of the tax rate cut and the change in the tax base held in the
United States in the 1970s and 1980s.
The critical point may be illustrated by a few cases. Take the
case of a person whose whole income is from personal services,
who earns, before tax, for convenience of calculation, $100 an
hour and who has considerable flexibility in determining his
hours of work. He might be a psychiatrist. Let us suppose that
he works thirty hours a week, forty weeks a year, and thus has
gross income of $120,000 a year. His personal exemptions and
deductions amount to $20,000, leaving him a taxable income of
$100,000. At 1980 tax rates he would have paid about $40,000
in federal income tax. He would have been in a 50 percent mar­
ginal tax bracket, since the law set a ceiling of 50 percent on the
tax rate for personal income. That is, for every additional hour
he worked he would have received $100 of which he would owe
the Internal Revenue Service $50.
Now suppose all tax rates are cut 30 percent. Then if he con­
tinues to work the same number of hours and earn the same in­
come before tax, his tax will decline by $12,000 and his after­
tax income will rise from $80,000 to $92,000. His after-tax
income per additional hour of work will rise from $50 to $65—
or 30 percent.
The question is how he will react. He may decide that since
his total after-tax income has increased he will work a little less.
He can live better than he did before and still work a little less.
On the other hand, since he retains more after-tax income for an
additional hour of work he may decide that it is worthwhile to
work more. The supply-side argument implies that he will work
more, although that is not the obvious answer. But it is not suf­
ficient that he should work more. If the tax cut is not to reduce
the total revenue he must work 343 more hours per year. He
must increase his hours of work 28.6 percent in response to a 30
percent increase in his after-tax return per hour of work. (In
fact, the tax program later enacted did not decrease the marginal
rate for most people in the 50 percent bracket, like our sample
psychiatrist, because it did not lower the 50 percent ceiling on




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243

the tax on personal income. The psychiatrist would have had a
reduction of $6,000 in total tax but no reduction in the tax on
another dollar of earnings and no incentive to work more or earn
more.)
We may now consider the case of a taxpayer with about an
average income. He earns $13 an hour, works 1,920 hours a
year and makes about $25,000 a year before taxes. After ex­
emptions and deductions he has $20,000 of taxable income. A t
1980 tax rates he paid $3,225 of taxes and was in a 24 percent
tax bracket. That is, out of the $13 he would make on an addi­
tional hour of work he would pay $3.12 in taxes and keep $9.88
for himself.
If all tax rates are cut 30 percent and he continues to work
1,920 hours a year his tax will decline by $967 and his marginal
tax rate will fall from 24 percent to 16.8 percent. Thus, after­
tax income for an additional hour of work will rise from $9.88
to $10.82— or about 9.5 percent. As in the psychiatrist’s case
he may either work less because he has more income or work
more because he keeps more of his pay for an hour’s work. If he
is going to work more so that his total tax payment doesn’t de­
cline he has to work 381 more hours a year. That is, with a 9.5
percent increase in after-tax income for an hour of work he must
increase the number of hours he works per year by about 20 per­
cent. (All of these calculations start with the progressive rate
schedule of 1980.)
These examples illustrate the basic point about the supply-side
doctrine. Its validity is not a matter of conservative or liberal
philosophy. It is not even a matter of the idea that if you tax
something more you get less of it although that isn’t necessarily
true. The point is that the validity of the doctrine depends on
certain quantities, not on general philosophies or directions. In
the psychiatrist’s case it depended on the percentage increase in
work being 95 percent as high as the percent increase in after­
tax pay. In the case of the middle-income taxpayer it depended
on the percentage increase in work being more than twice as high
as the percentage increase in after-tax pay.
Neither economists nor anyone else knew or yet knows with




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

confidence what these ratios are. It is very difficult to make the
kind of experiment that would be needed to find out. But there
have been a number of efforts to estimate such ratios, by meth­
ods that are necessarily crude. The results have varied, but none
has come close to suggesting that an across-the-board reduction
in the income tax rate on labor income would raise the amount
of labor enough to prevent the revenue from declining.8
The same conclusion holds for the effects of the reduction of
the tax rate on income from capital. Economists have always
been uncertain about whether an increase in the after-tax return
on capital would increase or decrease the amount of saving.
Much saving is done by people who are providing for a specific
future objective, like their retirement or the education of their
children. An increase in the after-tax return would reduce the
amount of saving required to provide for the objective and
could reduce the amount of saving done. On the other hand, the
increase in the after-tax return would raise the benefit from sav­
ing and might increase the total amount of saving done. A t­
tempts by economists to estimate the effect of a cut in tax rates
on saving were inconclusive, even as to the direction of the ef­
fect. And those estimates that produced the largest positive ef­
fects— the biggest increase of saving in relation to the size of the
tax cuts— did not suggest an effect large enough to yield an in­
crease in the revenue until tens of years had passed.4
A large tax cut might nevertheless be defended if it increased
the national income by increasing work and saving even if it in­
creased the deficit. But the Republicans did not want to be the
advocates of larger deficits. Moreover, if the tax cut increased
the deficit one could not be sure that the tax cut would increase
the national income at all. The deficit would have a negative ef­
fect on the national income. Some part of the savings that would
have been available for private investment, which would have
contributed to the growth of the national income, would be ab­
sorbed in financing the government deficit. There would be a fa­
vorable effect on the national income only if the positive effect
from the increase of work and saving was large enough to offset




The Reagan Campaign: The Economics of Joy

245

the negative effect of absorbing more saving in financing the
budget deficit. This was a less demanding test than that the tax
cut should increase the revenue.
Some economists who gave great weight to the positive supply-side effects of tax cuts, and considered themselves supplysiders, nevertheless did not expect those effects to be large enough
to keep the revenue from falling and the deficit from rising. They
argued, however, that the tax cuts would raise savings by enough
to finance the deficit, thus avoiding the crowding out of private
investment. This was, for example, the position of Norman Ture,
who later became Under Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan
administration. While it was more plausible than the all-out supply-side position, there was no empirical evidence for this posi­
tion either.
On some occasions supply-siders described their position as if
the factor that delivered the increase of the national income were
not a tax cut but an expenditure cut. The argument ran like this:
The national income is produced by private individuals and busi­
nesses. Their incentive to produce it is the part of the national
income they receive. This cannot exceed the national income but
it can fall short of the total national income by the amount the
government uses in ways that do not provide an incentive to pro­
duce— for example, in giving income assistance to nonworkers.
The government use of the national income— the government’s
expenditure— is, in the supply-siders* language, a “wedge” be­
tween what the private sector produces and what the private sec­
tor gets. The bigger the wedge, the less incentive to produce and
the less production.5
The wedge argument led directly back to the old-time religion
of cutting government expenditures. But that was not the kind of
argument the Republicans were looking for. They needed to
show that there could be a big tax cut without a big expenditure
cut and without an increase in the deficit. The basic supply-side
proposition provided them with a way to show that.
The early history of the idea need not concern us much. In its
present incarnation it was developed by Arthur Laffer, an econo­




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mist at the University of Southern California, with some inspira­
tion from Robert Mundell, an economist at Columbia Univer­
sity. Laffer explained it to Jude Wanniski, an editorial writer for
the Wall Street Journal, who became its enthusiastic proponent.
He sold it to the editors of the Wall Street Journal, who made it
the constant theme of their editorials. Wanniski also wrote a
long tract explaining and supporting the idea, The Way the
World Works.6 Wanniski, supported by Irving Kristol, a New
York intellectual and leading neo-conservative, brought the idea
to the attention of Jack Kemp, Congressman from Buffalo.
Once the idea entered the Republican Congressional blood­
stream it spread rapidly. Kemp and Senator William Roth of
Delaware incorporated the idea in a bill which called for acrossthe-board 10 percent cuts of individual income tax rates each
year for three years. In September 1977 the Republican National
Committee endorsed the bill, and in the summer of 1978 the
committee decided to make it the highlight of the Congressional
campaign. Teams of supporters would fly around the country to
promote it and the Republican candidates.
The great convenience of the supply-side arguments for Re­
publican politics has already been explained. Still, the question
remains why the idea was so quickly and widely adopted if its
validity is as improbable as has been suggested here.
Part of the answer is that the idea is extremely plausible. A r­
guments can be made for it that are correct and almost, but not
quite, relevant. The leading example is the Laffer Curve, devised
by Professor Laffer to show that a reduction of tax rates could
increase the revenue. Laffer started with the proposition that a
tax rate of zero would yield no revenue and that a tax rate of 100
percent would yield no revenue. But there are tax rates between
zero and 100 percent that do raise revenue. Therefore, reducing
the rate below 100 percent must increase the revenue, but re­
ducing the rate beyond some point, toward zero, must reduce the
revenue.
Laffer illustrated this proposition with a curve showing the re­
lation between the tax rate and the revenue which looked like
this:




The Reagan Campaign: The Economics of Joy

0

B
Tax Rate

247

100 percent

This was intended to show that in the range of tax rates be­
tween B and 100, the revenue would be higher the lower the tax
rate. There were some minor problems with the general idea. It
was not true of all kinds of taxes that they would yield no reve­
nue at a tax rate of 100 percent. A tax of 100 percent on the
price of cigarettes would yield revenue. Presumably the curve
applies only to income tax rates (or to taxes where the base in­
cludes the tax). Also, we do not have one income tax rate in the
United States. There is a schedule of rates, ranging in the late
1970s from zero to 70 percent. What rate is supposed to go into
the Laffer Curve is unclear.
Nevertheless the Laffer Curve does illustrate a relevant ques­
tion. But it does not answer the question. The question is whether
the existing tax rate lies above B or below B. If above B, re­
ducing tax rates increases the revenue; if below B, it reduces the
revenue. To answer the question the shape of the Laffer Curve
must be known. The conventional picture in which the curve is
symmetrical and reaches its high point at 50 percent has only an
aesthetic justification. The curve might look like this:




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

If the curve looks like that, the chance is small that our exist­
ing tax rates lie in the part of the curve where tax rate reduction
raises the revenue. The discussion above of whether rate reduc­
tion increases the supply of labor and savings enough to raise the
revenue is not a denial of the existence of a Laffer Curve. It is a
discussion of the shape of the Laffer Curve. Its usual conclusion
has been that the shape of the Laffer Curve is such that our ex­
isting tax rates lie to the left of B— that is, in the range where
rate reduction reduces the revenue. But many observers jumped
from the fact that tax reduction can increase the revenue to the
conclusion that tax reduction from where we are will increase the
revenue.
Another plausible but not relevant argument relied on experi­
ence of certain limited areas. For example, it was said that
Puerto Rico reduced tax rates on business and so stimulated
the Puerto Rican economy that total Puerto Rican revenue in­
creased. But this only demonstrates that if a certain limited area
reduces its tax rates relative to its neighbors it can attract enough
capital and business from its neighbors to raise its revenues. It is
not evidence that the United States can do the same thing.
A similar plausible but inconclusive argument relates to ex­
perience with particular taxes. It may be that reduction of the
capital gains tax will for a period at least increase the revenue.
People who were holding stocks, for example, until they could
be passed on tax-free in their estates would take the opportunity
afforded by a cut in capital gains tax rates to make some trans­
fers, which would increase the volume of transactions and raise
the revenue. But this kind of tax cut, affecting the timing of
transactions, is different from a cut which depends for its effects
on changing basic work and savings practices permanently.
These plausible arguments made acceptance of the idea, so
convenient in every way, easy for people who were not used to
economic reasoning. There was another consideration which led
to acceptance of the idea. Although the odds on the idea being
valid were low, they were not zero, since the quantitative rela­
tions were not known for certain. There was a chance that an
across-the-board tax rate cut might increase the revenue. Betting




The Reagan Campaign: The Economics of Joy

249

on this chance was a gamble— what Senator Baker later was to
call “a riverboat gamble.” But in the conditions of the years be­
fore 1980 the proponents of the idea risked little on the gamble.
The Republicans did not control either the White House or the
Congress. There was no possibility that the Democratic Congress
or President Carter would allow the Kemp-Roth Bill to become
law. At least for the next few years the proposal would not have
to demonstrate its economic validity. It served, without risk to
the Republicans, as a way to force the Democrats to take the
position of refusing to give the taxpayer the relief he wanted.
There was also little risk, and much possibility of gain, for the
few economists and other intellectuals who originated or en­
dorsed the idea and gave the politicians the scholarly seal of
approval. Mainstream economists or other academics would
scoff at them, but would be unable to “prove” to the lay world
that they were wrong. They would be understood by the public
to be the leaders of one of those many schools of economics or
social science that were always fighting with each other, that all
had an equal chance to be right and that one could choose
among as one’s taste, politics or pocketbook dictated. Important
politicians would appreciate them, as would big taxpayers. They
would be in demand as consultants and lecturers. And if the
supply-side idea should explode or wither away, they would re­
main celebrities and prophets— a status never achievable by liv­
ing within the framework of the standard textbook.
By 1977, supply-side economics had become Congressional
Republican doctrine. It had its political captain, Jack Kemp; its
economic guru, Arthur Laffer; its editorial voice, the Wall Street
Journal; and its chief intellectual, Irving Kristol. It still did not
have Ronald Reagan. Before we come to the connection be­
tween supply-side economics and Reagan we should look at the
other two distinctive economic ideas that were to go into the
Reagan 1980 program.




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

The Inflation-Unemployment Trade-off
The prospect that anti-inflationary policy would increase unem­
ployment had consistently prevented the government from taking
an effective stand against inflation during the 1960s and 1970s.
By the late 1970s no one any longer believed, as many econo­
mists had believed twenty years earlier, that there was a perma­
nent trade-off between inflation and unemployment. That is, it
was no longer thought that the country could choose to have a
low rate of unemployment forever by accepting or creating a
high rate of inflation. Unemployment would be low when infla­
tion was high only as long as the high rate of inflation was un­
expected. But that would not go on forever. Moreover, we had
before our eyes the sight of higher inflation rates than we had
experienced for a long time and also the highest unemploy­
ment rates since the depression. This seemed to confirm the
view that in the longer run inflation did not make unemployment
low.
But it was the standard opinion of economists that the transi­
tion from a high inflation rate to a low one would involve a
period in which the unemployment rates were high. And while
it was true that in 1978 both the inflation rate and the unemploy­
ment rate were higher than in, say, 1973 or 1968 it was also
true that between i960 and 1978 the unemployment rate had
risen in every year when the inflation rate had fallen with only
two exceptions, 1972 and 1976. One of these exceptions was a
year of price and wage controls.
Politicians needed a formula which would allow them to
promise a cure for inflation without a transitional period of high
unemployment. President Carter’s formula was “incomes policy,”
but that was, of course, unacceptable to the Republicans— as
well as being ineffective. Here again, as in the convenient asser­
tion that cutting taxes would increase the revenue, economics
provided a useful, or at least a plausible, answer. Indeed, it pro­
vided four different answers, all serving the same purpose.




The Reagan Campaign: The Economics of Joy

251

1. Some answers simply ignored the short-run experience.
They looked at the long-run connection of high inflation rates
and high unemployment rates— for example, both being higher
in the 1970s than in the 1950s— and concluded that this was a
causal relation, which applied in the short run as well as in the
long run, and in the disinflationary direction as well as in the
inflationary ones. Therefore they were prepared to assert that
unemployment would fall, not rise, as inflation came down.
2. There was a theory, expressed, for example, by the Joint
Economic Committee of the Congress, that supply-side econom­
ics held the key to painless reduction of inflation.7 The argu­
ment started with the proposition that inflation was caused by
an excess of the demand for output over the supply. This led
to the assertion that the conventional method of fighting infla­
tion, which had for one consequence a reduction of output,
could not cure inflation. On the other hand, tax rate reduction,
which would stimulate the supply side of the equation, would
reduce the excess of demand over supply and so check the infla­
tion. Moreover, supply-side measures would increase produc­
tivity— output per hour of work— which would slow down the
rise of labor costs and therefore of the price level.
This line of argument was quantitatively unrealistic. With the
demand for output rising by 12 percent a year, productivity ris­
ing by 2 percent and total output by 3 percent, there was no way
of getting results on the supply side that would make a significant
dent on the inflation rate.
3. Some supply-siders denied the notion, conventional by then
in mainstream economics, that a high level of unemployment
was due to the expectation of a rate of inflation which was high
relative to the actual rate. On this theory, the expectation of high
inflation made workers demand wages too high for employers
to pay, and that caused unemployment. Therefore, when the
actual inflation was forced down by demand restraint, unemploy­
ment would rise until expected inflation fell as much as the actual
inflation, which would take some time.
Extreme supply-siders rejected this explanation. They held




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

that people were unemployed because high tax rates made it un­
profitable for them to work, or because high welfare benefits
made it profitable for them not to work. Reduction of tax rates
and of welfare benefits would cause unemployment to go down,
whatever was happening to inflation. This argument, however,
mixed up the long-run effects of changing tax rates and benefits,
which might be favorable, with the effects of disinflation, which
would dominate in the short run.
4.
As already noted, the prevailing explanation for the tem­
porary rise of unemployment during a disinflationary process
was that wage increases would continue to be high because of
previous experience of high inflation. If wage increases slowed
down step by step with inflation there would be no rise of unem­
ployment. But it was unrealistic to assume that workers and
employers based their expectations solely on past experience
with inflation. They would also be influenced by what they per­
ceived to be the firmness of the government’s intention to stop
inflation and the probable effectiveness of its policies. If people
in the private sector believed that the government would really
stop the inflation the expectations acquired during the previous
inflationary period would disappear. Inflation could then be
reduced with little or no increase of unemployment.
This line of thinking led to a great deal of interest in ways by
which a government could generate credibility. But few econo­
mists believed that after fifteen years in which promises of gov­
ernment had been repeatedly broken a new government could
immediately establish complete credibility for a promise to end
inflation. The difficulty of establishing credibility was com­
pounded by the general realization that the reason for past fail­
ure to stick to anti-inflationary policy was government fear of
unemployment. There was a Catch-22 situation in that the only
way the government could achieve credibility and thus be able
to reduce inflation without causing more unemployment was to
make quite clear that it would not be diverted from the disinfla­
tionary path by an increase of unemployment if that occurred.
None of these arguments created a convincing case for the




The Reagan Campaign: The Economics of Joy

253

possibility of reducing the inflation rate substantially without a
transitional increase of unemployment. But taken all together
they provided a plausible if superficial case. Again, as in the
extreme supply-side theory, one couldn’t be 100 percent sure
that the case was invalid. And this slight probability was enough
for politicians to buy and sell it.

The No-Fault Expenditure Cuts

For many of the supply-siders there was no need for the Republi­
cans to recommend a substantial cut of federal expenditures.
Congressman Kemp, for example, warned the Republicans
against trying to repeal the New Deal and the welfare state. It
was precisely to avoid the image of the party of castor oil that
they had embraced supply-sidism.
But on the whole, the Republicans could not abandon the
expenditure-cutting posture, even though they believed that taxrate reduction would raise the revenue. In one respect, cutting
expenditures would be an extension of the supply-side principle.
Giving benefits to people who didn’t work was a kind of tax on
working. Cutting the benefit would not only reduce expenditures;
it would also raise the national income as a consequence of the
former beneficiaries’ going to work, and that would raise the
government revenue.
There were other reasons for the Republicans to cling to their
expenditure-cutting stance. Even if they accepted the supply-side
effects on the revenue side, some had their fingers crossed and
liked the idea of expenditure-cutting as insurance against the
possibility that the revenue increases might not emerge. Some
didn’t like particular expenditures, quite aside from the budget­
ary consequences. And there was a desire not to shock the tradi­
tional Republicans by omitting the usual call for cutting ex­
penditures.
The Republicans needed to be able to recommend large ex­
penditure cuts without leaving themselves open, any more than
necessary, to the complaint that as usual they were enemies of




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the people. This was an especially dangerous charge because by
1978, 60 percent of the budget, excluding defense and interest,
was going to social security and Medicare, whose beneficiaries
no one wanted to offend. There was no elaborate theoretical
construct for getting the Republicans out of this dilemma, as
there was for the tax cut-budget deficit conflict or disinflationunemployment conflict. Instead reliance was placed on the
proposition that the budget was filled with waste and extrava­
gance, from which large amounts could be cut without loss to
anyone.
If the concept of “extravagance” was broadly interpreted, a
good deal of it was being revealed by analysis of programs in the
budget. This analysis often concluded that particular expendi­
ture programs did not, in the long run, yield benefits that were
worth their costs. Programs aimed at poverty, including training
and welfare programs, seemed especially vulnerable to such
evaluations. This was not, of course, the same thing as saying
that these programs were not worthwhile to their beneficiaries,
and even less as saying that their beneficiaries did not think them
worthwhile or would not feel aggrieved by their elimination.
Nevertheless, for the time being, and while the Republicans
did not have the responsibility for preparing a budget or specify­
ing where cuts were to be made, the argument that large savings
would be obtained by eliminating waste and extravagance was
sufficient.

Reagan Comes to the Economics of Joy
In 1982 and 1983 some of his supporters— from the radical
right and extreme supply-side edges of the spectrum— became
alarmed at what they considered moderating or softening influ­
ences on President Reagan. “Let Reagan be Reagan!” became
their battle cry. But Ronald Reagan had not always been “Rea­
gan.” And even after he became “Reagan” the meaning of that
was not constant or clear.
Until the late 1940s or early 1950s— that is, until he was




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255

about forty years old— Ronald Reagan was a conventional New
Deal, FDR liberal, although at the end of this period becoming
more and more distressed by the Communist influence on Holly­
wood “liberalism.” He voted for Harry Truman in 1948 and
Helen Gahagan Douglas in 1950. His conversion to conserva­
tism became clearest after he went to work as spokesman for
the General Electric Company in 1954. In its economic aspects
the brand of conservatism he embraced was about what has been
called here the “old-time religion.” It has also been called, by
people who consider themselves true Reaganauts, “deep-rootcanal economics.” This promised a great future for America, but
only if we went through a purge of all our easy and soft policies
first. Its distinguishing credo was “No Free Lunch.”
The political leader of this school of conservatives was Barry
Goldwater. During most of his political life Reagan was a Goldwater Republican, as distinguished from a Nixon Republican or
a Rockefeller Republican. A speech he made for Goldwater
during the 1964 campaign brought him his first national political
attention. On the subject of great interest for Reagan’s economic
policy, Goldwater had made his position clear in i960:
“While there is something to be said for the proposition that
spending will never be reduced so long as there is money in the
federal treasury, I believe that as a practical matter spending
cuts must come before tax cuts. If we reduce taxes before firm,
principled decisions are made about expenditures, we will court
deficit spending and the inflationary effects that invariably
follow.”8
When Reagan made his own first big drive for the presidency,
before the 1976 election, he was clearly still in the “austerity”
school. He made one speech proposing that federal expenditures
should be cut $90 billion a year, as the precondition for a tax
cut. There was no suggestion that the tax cut could raise the
revenues. In another speech he raised the idea of making social
security voluntary. Both of these speeches, especially the one
about the $90 billion expenditure cut, were used by his opposi­
tion within the party as evidence that Reagan was another Gold­
water, who would have no chance to win if nominated. These em­




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

barrassing statements, probably contributed to Reagan’s failure
to win the nomination.
Even after his frustration in 1976, Reagan’s natural responses
tended to the austerity philosophy. He told friends that the na­
tion faced a big “belly ache” of unemployment and recession as
punishment for its inflationary binges. Still in 1978 he was say­
ing, “Frankly, I’m afraid this country is going to have to suffer
two, three years of hard times to pay for the binge we’ve been on.”
But by 1978 Reagan was beginning to move from the aus­
terity position. As noted above, the Republican National Com­
mittee had already moved in that direction, motivated partly by
political considerations and partly by conviction. The RNC at
that time, since the Democrats were in the White House, was
mainly the Congressional wing of the party. And that wing of
the party was used to advocating tax cuts first, no matter what.
It had done that in 1947-1948 and in 1953-1954. The presi­
dential wing of the party had been more cautious. Both Eisen­
hower and Nixon, as Presidents, had felt obliged to resist Con­
gressional pressure for tax reduction.
In 1978 Reagan was the first of the prominent candidates for
the Republican nomination to endorse the Kemp-Roth tax cut
bill. Although the economics of joy was clearly to be the Re­
publican position in the two years before the 1980 election,
Regan was the major candidate who took that position earliest
and most vigorously. He was led in that direction by his political
managers, notably John Sears. His managers saw the proposal of
the big tax cut and the optimistic promises of the results that
would follow from it as ways to appeal to the ordinary voter.
They also saw this position as permitting Reagan to neutralize
the appeal of Jack Kemp who was attracting attention from the
right wing of the Republican Party by his dynamic campaign for
supply-side economics. It might even be possible to add Kemp
to the Reagan team.
The political attractiveness of the economics of joy must have
been just as obvious to the other candidates as it was to the
Reagan camp. There were several reasons why the position may
have been more congenial to Reagan than to the others— Bush,




The Reagan Campaign: The Economics of Joy

257

Baker, Anderson and Connally. Reagan needed this position
more than the others, because he had greater need to separate
himself from the Scrooge-like, and disastrous, image of Barry
Goldwater. Also, unlike the others he had no experience in the
federal government. He was less inhibited by what might be
called either the realism or the defeatism that comes with Wash­
ington experience. Moreover, he had a strongly optimistic tem­
perament and tended to believe that things would work out
despite the obstacles that lesser people might foresee. He also
believed that presidential optimism was good for the country.®
To say that Ronald Reagan’s conversion began for political
reasons is not to deny that the conversion was genuine. As far
as anyone can see, it was genuine. Politicians generally believe
what they say. One of the main ways by which politicians learn
what they think is through listening to what they say. In any
case, the question of “sincerity” is of little importance. What a
candidate says during the campaign has effect if he is elected,
whether he meant it or not, because what he says creates expec­
tations and commitments.
The real question about Ronald Reagan’s conversion is what
he meant by it. The answer to that would influence his policy
when he became President. Clearly, he now gave much more
weight to tax reduction than he formerly did, no longer making
it a tail to follow expenditure reduction. But he was not a con­
sistent Kemp follower— a thoroughgoing believer in the propo­
sition that cutting taxes would raise the revenue. He was off and
on in his devotion to this idea during the campaign.
During the middle months of 1979, Reagan drew close to
Kemp and the supply-siders. Martin Anderson, who had been
Reagan’s economic adviser for many years, was cool to these
ideas. At the height of Reagan’s flirtation with Kempism, Ander­
son left the campaign. But when Reagan made his formal an­
nouncement of his candidacy, on November 13, 1979, caution
had set in again and the speech was not strong on supply-side
arguments.
After the surprising loss to Bush in the Iowa caucus of Janu­
ary 1980, the team turned again to the supply side as a way to




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revitalize Reagan’s drive. The candidate made a number of
television spots emphasizing the value of cutting taxes and call­
ing attention to the fact that revenues rose after the Kennedy
tax cut. But on the day in February when Reagan won the New
Hampshire primary he dismissed Sears as his campaign man­
ager. Thereafter the extreme supply-side influence faded.10
When the Illinois primary of March 18 confirmed that Ronald
Reagan would be the Republican candidate, the nature of the
economic discussion changed. The heightened possibility that he
would become President focused closer attention on what he had
to say about economics. He could no longer address himself
entirely to the priorities and prejudices of Republicans. More­
over, he had to show responsibility in dealing with economic
issues and ability to obtain and use respected expert judgment,
especially since he had no experience of his own in national eco­
nomic affairs and some of his economic ideas had been criticized
as wild by other Republicans.
Mr. Reagan then gathered around him a group of economic
advisers including George Shultz, Milton Friedman, Arthur
Burns, Alan Greenspan, Charls Walker, Walter Wriston, Paul
McCracken, Arthur Laffer and Jack Kemp. Only the last two
were thoroughgoing supply-siders. Several had publicly dissoci­
ated themselves from the idea that an across-the-board tax cut
would increase the revenue. Many had at one time or another
expressed reservations about the Kemp-Roth tax bill, some want­
ing to spread it out over a longer period, others preferring a
more investment-oriented tax cut, and some approving the bill
only as part of a package which would include a commitment to
expenditure reduction. But by this time the Kemp-Roth tax bill
was not negotiable as far as the candidate and many of his
closest aides were concerned. The bill was, in fact, incorporated
in the Republican platform.
As the campaign progressed, more and more doubts were ex­
pressed about the realism of Reagan’s promise to cut taxes
sharply, increase defense expenditures substantially and balance
the budget within a few years while cutting only “waste and ex­
travagance” from the expenditure side of the budget. There was




The Reagan Campaign: The Economics of Joy

259

need for a set of numbers that would show the feasibility of this
combination. That created a certain difficulty, because most of
the economists then around Reagan were reluctant to put into
the picture a big increase of revenue from the tax cut. When
Reagan assembled a group of advisers on September 3 to work
on his major economic speech, there were no supply-siders
present. Alan Greenspan, one of the advisers most involved in
the campaign numbers exercise, had publicly estimated that only
about 20 percent of the gross revenue loss from a tax cut would
be recouped through additional revenue yielded by the resulting
expansion of the economy. That is, if taxes were cut by $100
billion there would be a net revenue loss of $80 billion. He could
not suddenly discover that there would be no revenue loss.
This difficulty was overcome for the purpose of the September
9 speech by starting with a set of economic forecasts that had
been used by the Senate Finance Committee in August. On the
basis of these forecasts the committee had estimated the revenue
of the existing tax system and the outlays of the existing expendi­
ture programs. This showed that the budget would come into
balance in fiscal year 1982 and reach a surplus of $182 billion
in fiscal year 1985. Thus the Reagan estimators started with a
good deal of money available for tax reduction. To this they
added unspecified reductions of spending rising from 2 percent
of expenditures projected for 1981 to 7 percent of expenditures
projected for 1985. They also added an amount of revenue due
to the additional growth to be caused by the Reagan tax cuts,
which would rise to about 20 percent of the tax cut. When this
had been done there was room for making the promised tax cut,
balancing the budget in 1983 and achieving a surplus of almost
$100 billion in 1985, out of which, presumably, defense ex­
penditures could be increased.
There was one major flaw in this picture. The economic as­
sumptions used, borrowed from the Senate Finance Committee,
implied 8.7 percent per year annual inflation from 1980 to 1985.
This was inconsistent with the Reagan promises for conquering
inflation, but it was a major source of revenue. Basically, their
forecasts abstained from the supply-siders* unrealistic estimates




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

of the revenue-raising effects of a tax cut and relied instead on
the revenue-raising effects of an all-too-realistic, but undesired,
inflation. The argument was as unrealistic as the supply-side
argument, but it was unrealistic in a more conventional way.
These numbers did, however, serve to subdue the criticism
that the Reagan program was arithmetically impossible. It was
shown to be arithmetically possible, even though under higher
inflationary conditions. President Carter campaigned hard against
what he called the Reagan-Kemp-Roth tax proposal. He repeated
the charges Harry Truman had made against the Republican
tax cut of 1948. He said it was a rich man’s tax bill, which
would give much more to the upper-income people than to the
middle-income people. But by 1980 the middle-income people
were so eager for what they would get themselves that they were
not offended by what the rich would get. Carter said that the
tax cut would be inflationary, but he may not have been accepted
as an authority on that subject. He did not attack Reagan-Kemp
as bad arithmetic and bad economics. Perhaps he knew that no
one cared.
The big tax cut was the distinctive feature of “Reaganism” in
the field of economics. But the meaning of that was unclear.
There were several ways by which one could reach the position
that there should be a tax cut. One was the extreme supply-side
route. Another was extreme Keynesian— relying on the tax cut
to raise the demand for output and so raise the national income
enough to raise the revenue. A third was the belief that cutting
the revenue would automatically force an equal reduction of
expenditures. A fourth was that a President like Reagan would
be able to get the expenditures down. A fifth was that budget
deficits were of secondary significance. A sixth was that the
critical thing was to get elected and that worry about the budget
arithmetic could come later.
Every one of these ideas was probably represented in the team
around Reagan during the 1980 campaign. Probably most if not
all of them were in the mind of Reagan himself. Only later, when
he faced the budget arithmetic, would he and the country dis­
cover what he “really” meant and which ideas were compelling




The Reagan Campaign: The Economics of Joy

261

to him. And if he decided at various points to support tax in­
creases, as he did in 1982 and 1983, no one could be sure that
he was not the real Reagan.
A similarly wide, if less varied, range of interpretation can
also be given to other elements of Reagan campaign economics.
He was for cutting or restraining expenditures, balancing the
budget, reducing inflation, sound monetary policy, deregulation
and economic growth. In these respects he was for a difference
of leaning or priorities from his predecessors. But whatever may
have been true of any one of his various advisers, he did not
have a precise, comprehensive, internally consistent, durable
model of the economy and of economic policy in his mind.
What was true of Reagan has been true of Presidents gen­
erally. They are not programmed by any economist’s model, and
it would be unjustifiably conceited for an economist to consider
that a fault. My favorite example of a President’s attitude comes
from Franklin D. Roosevelt. In his 1933 inaugural address he
promised an “adequate and sound currency.’r A t a press con­
ference later he was asked what that meant. He replied: “I am
not going to write a book on it.” Presidents don’t write books, at
least while in office. After they leave office they write books,
looking back and discovering what they meant all along.

The Turning Point
By 1980 the country was ready for a more radical turn of eco­
nomic policy to the right than had been seen since 1896— pos­
sibly ever. There was a greater feeling than at any time in forty
years that prevailing policy had failed— and that was conven­
tional liberal policy. And the country elected a President who
was deeply devoted to such a radical turn. He was no “modern”
Republican or “moderate” conservative— terms which in his
world had come to mean liberal in disguise.
The general meaning of the turn was clear. There was to be
more growth and more price stability, achieved by more mone­
tary restraint, lower taxes, lower spending, lower deficits and




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

less regulation. That was clear to all, and Ronald Reagan stood
for it more clearly than anyone else in public life.
But there were problems, too. Anti-inflationary monetary
policy raised the probability of increased unemployment for a
time. Cutting tax rates raised the probability of larger deficits.
Cutting expenditures would deprive some people of benefits they
valued.
More generally, the turn to the right did not mean that we had
discovered a new way to have more of everything at once. The
turn was mainly a change of priorities. It meant that we had raised
some things— growth and price stability— in our scale of priori­
ties. That meant that we had demoted some other things. It im­
plied willingness to give up some things to get more of what we
now valued more.
The campaign had not prepared either the public or the can­
didate for that. They would face that challenge after November
1980. They would have to deal with these difficulties, finding
ways to minimize the sacrifices as far as they could not be
avoided. How well they did that would do much to determine
how durable the turning to the right would be.




8
The Reagan Presidency:
Encounter with Reality

l l n e w l y e l e c t e d a d m i n i s t r a t i o n s come into office full of
confidence, especially when they bring a change of party. People
do not become President unless they have a great deal of confi­
dence in their ability or their star. In the course of a campaign
they have convinced the public of their superior competence,
compared to their rivals, and this process has strengthened their
own conviction on the point. Once in office the President and his
aides are impressed by their power and the resources at their com­
mand and the blank page they see laid out before them.
This feeling of confidence and mission was probably greater in
the Reagan administration than in many others. They had a
longer historical vision of themselves than many. They came to
correct the errors not only of the past administration but of the
past fifty years. In the field of economics their program was
articulated with unusual clarity (although the rationale was less
clear), and embracing the program had been a loyalty test for
membership on the economics team. Some members of the team
had a strong personal identification with this program, so that
its success, or at least its coming into being, was indistinguish­
able from their success.

A




263

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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

The new team set about to implement its program with vigor.
Like many earlier administrations, all sharing in the mystique
of Roosevelt’s Hundred Days, they wanted to hit the ground
running. They wanted to announce their program in specific
detail quickly and immediately initiate its enactment and imple­
mentation. The reason for this was partly political and partly
economic. Mr. Reagan would have a “honeymoon” at the begin­
ning of his term. The chance of getting what he wanted through
Congress would be greater then than later, especially since he
did not control the House of Representatives. On the economic
side, they were impressed with the need to take steps at the out­
set which would change expectations sharply. They thought they
saw the economic situation deteriorating fast. As David Stock­
man, the new director of OMB, had put it in a memorandum
that was given to Mr. Reagan shortly after the election, the
country was facing an “economic Dunkirk.” The main signs of
the approaching catastrophe were the rising estimates of the
budget deficit, the soaring interest rates and a renewed accelera­
tion of inflation.1 The new administration could not do anything
immediately. They did not have at hand any counterpart of
Roosevelt’s emergency actions of closing the banks and suspend­
ing gold convertibility. In fact, their whole philosophy was
against “emergency” action. They had come to reverse a trend
of fifty years, not to manage a momentary crisis. Their watch­
word was long-run consistency of policy, not short-run ma­
neuverability. But they hoped by a prompt, clear and credible
statement of their long-run policy, and demonstration of suffi­
cient political strength to enact the policy, to change expecta­
tions from the outset. They would show the financial community
that they would get the deficit down and get inflation down, and
while these results would be for the future the anticipation of
them would reduce interest rates at once. Also, by showing the
workers and employers that they would get inflation down they
would lead them to settle for lower wage increases, which would
in turn help to get the inflation down.
The campaign had made clear what the basic elements of the
program would be:




The Reagan Presidency: Encounter with Reality

265

1. A big tax cut— 10 percent reduction in the individual in­
come tax each year for three years, plus significant reduction of
the taxes on income from business investment.
2. A large reduction of planned nondefense expenditures.
3. Slower and steadier monetary growth, to help get the in­
flation down.
4. Substantial reduction of government regulation.
And not included in the customary listing of the four pillars
of Reagan economics, but essential parts or constraints of the
program:
5. A large increase of defense expenditures.
6. Bringing the federal budget into balance in a period of a
few years.
The elements of the program were considered to be tightly
related to each other. The administration emphasized that it was
not possible to pick one part of the menu without the others.
The mechanism by which the parts of the program were tied
together was not fully articulated by the administration, but its
logic was approximately as follows:
Slowing down the rate of growth of money would slow down
the rate of increase of total spending, nominal GNP, which was
the necessary condition for reducing the inflation. To slow down
spending and reduce inflation without increasing unemploy­
ment— indeed, while significantly reducing unemployment— two
things would be needed. There would have to be a marked
abatement of inflationary expectations and there would have to
be a substantial acceleration of productivity, in order to curb
the rise of unit labor costs. The correction of inflationary expec­
tations would come about as a result of the announcement of
the administration’s commitment to monetary restraint and to
budget balancing. Productivity growth would be speeded up by
the incentive effects of the tax rate cuts and by the reduction
and elimination of government deficits, which would leave more
of the nation’s savings to support private, productivity-raising
investment. The stimulus to productivity and production result­




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

ing primarily from the tax rate cuts would increase the national
income, and that would offset a large fraction if not all or more
than all of the revenue loss that the tax cuts would cause. This
offset, plus the reduction of nondefense expenditures, would per­
mit the budget to be balanced despite the big increase of defense
expenditures.
Thus, the parts of the program were tied together not only in
the sense that all the parts had to be put into place but also in
the sense that they all had to work. The announcement of the
program had to have the desired effect on expectations. Other­
wise, the monetary restraint would cause an economic contrac­
tion, which would, among other things, keep the budget from
coming into balance, and that would impair the growth of pro­
duction and productivity, further affecting the revenue and the
deficit and so on in a general unraveling. Similarly the tax rate
cuts had to have the promised effects on the supply of output on
the desired scale and time schedule. If they didn’t, the budget
would not come into balance, investment would be held back,
productivity growth would be sluggish, the monetary restraint
would cause unemployment and the whole scenario would un­
ravel from a different direction.
The edifice was delicately balanced on a set of simultaneous
policy actions and a set of equations describing the effects of the
policy actions on the economy. A failure at any point could
cause collapse at others. But this would not necessarily be fatal
from the standpoint of all supporters of the program. ITiere were
some who regarded disinflation as the primary objective. They
believed that monetary restraint would deliver that. If comple­
mentary policies were adopted and worked well the disinflation
would be less painful than otherwise; but painful or not the dis­
inflation would be achieved. There were others who believed that
getting the real or supply side of the economy moving again was
the primary objective. They believed that reducing tax rates
would accomplish that, even if the disinflation program did not
work and even if the budget was not brought into balance.
These views were represented in the administration. But the
administration was not in a mood to compromise, or set priori­




The Reagan Presidency: Encounter with Reality

267

ties, among its objectives and promises. It promised the whole
package— painless disinflation, revived economic growth, bal­
anced budgets and greatly strengthened defense. The question
whether this could all be done at once had been the skeptical
question of 1980, to which the Reagan team had confidently
answered “Yes.” In 1981 they intended to show that it could all
be done.

The Reagan Budgets
The problem of showing that it was all simultaneously possible
was encountered in earnest in the drafting of the budget that
President Reagan would submit in February 1981. This problem
was now much more difficult than it had seemed when the Rea­
gan campaign produced a set of numbers in September 1980
which added up to a balanced budget. There were several rea­
sons for that. The budget deficit from which the new program
had to start had grown. In September the Reagan team had esti­
mated that existing taxes and expenditure programs would yield
a deficit of $23 billion in fiscal 1981 and a surplus of $2 billion
in fiscal 1982. By the time President Carter submitted his
budget in January 1981 these figures had changed to a deficit
of $55 billion in fiscal 1981 and a deficit of $28 billion in fiscal
1982. This was almost entirely due to the increase in estimated
expenditures under the existing programs.
Moreover, the new administration’s estimates of the required
defense expenditures were higher than had been included in the
1980 calculations. And now the administration could no longer
say, as it had in 1980, that it would cut expenditures by per­
centages rising from at least 2 percent in fiscal 1981 to at least
7 percent in fiscal 1985 and aim to do much more than that. It
was time to say where the cuts would be made. The new director
of the Office of Management and Budget tackled that problem
with great vigor, but he was unable in the time available to
identify the amount of cuts that had been promised during the
campaign. And only a small fraction of the cuts he did identify




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

could be strictly described as eliminating “waste and extrava­
gance.” Careful study of the budget revealed that large cuts were
impossible without sacrifice by other people in addition to bu­
reaucrats.
Finally, the new administration, now having the resources and
responsibility of the government, could no longer rely on (or
hide behind) an economic forecast made by the Senate Finance
Committee as had been done in the September 1980 speech on
economic policy. It had to produce its own forecast. And it
could not produce a forecast which envisaged an average of 8.7
percent inflation for five years; at least, it couldn’t do that with­
out undercutting its own claims about curing the inflation.
So, the administration faced the problem of squaring the
budget circle. It accomplished this, or so it seemed, by four steps.
1. The date for balancing the budget was deferred from fiscal
1983 to fiscal 1984.
2. A new element— an asterisk— was introduced into the
budget, standing for expenditure cuts which would be proposed
later but were not yet specified.
3. The date for starting the three 10 percent cuts of individual
income tax rates was postponed from January i, 1981, to July
1, 1981.
4. A strong growth of real output, averaging 3.8 percent per
annum from 1980 to 1985, was forecast.2
The last two of these decisions were hotly debated within the
administration. Some thought that clinging to the January 1
starting date, which had been promised in the campaign, would
show firmness of purpose and would help to bring about the
radical change of expectations that was desired. It would show
that a new era had come and the time of muddling through was
over. On the other hand, others thought that deferring the tax
cut until July, or until October, the beginning of the fiscal year,
would show a proper and encouraging concern for keeping defi­
cits down. They maintained that the delay would not signifi-




The Reagan Presidency: Encounter with Reality

269

cantly postpone the economic effects of the tax cut, which de­
pended more on the anticipation of future tax relief than on
today’s tax relief.
The effective date of the tax cut was one of the main items on
the agenda of the President’s Economic Policy Advisory Board,
a group of supportive economic experts, at its first meeting in
February 1981. The issue was discussed mainly in terms of its
effects on expectations and psychology in the financial markets,
and through that on interest rates. One respected, hardheaded
observer of the financial markets was certain that an effective
date of January 1 would inspire the markets. Another equally
respected and hardheaded member said just the opposite and
urged delay until October 1. The fact was that no one had evi­
dence for his opinion, except introspection. The discussion was
a forecast of what were to be two key elements in all considera­
tions of Reagan economics— loyalty to an assumed pure Reagan
doctrine and speculation about what the financial markets would
think.
The decision was mainly procedural. There was no way to get
the tax cut through the Congress before midyear and no ad­
vantage to making the tax cut retroactive by six months. In the
end the legislative process delayed the effective date until Oc­
tober 1.
The argument over the economic forecasts underlying the
budget involved three points of view. Some thought that the tax
rate cut would unleash a spurt of productivity that would permit
an extraordinarily high rate of real growth for five years. Some
thought that during a period in which monetary growth was
restrained in order to get inflation down the growth of real out­
put could not exceed the normal rate but would most likely be
short of it. And others thought that the main objective was to
devise a plausible forecast of the economy that would yield a
plausible forecast of a balanced budget by 1984. This was the
argument that prevailed. The forecast that emerged was an effort
to combine the highest amount of inflation that would still look
like the route to price stability and the highest amount of real




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output that could possibly be associated with the approach to
price stability. The result strained credulity. It showed from the
beginning a willingness to take great risks with balancing the
budget in order to push the tax cut and the increase of defense
spending.
When the administration’s economic program and budget
were published in January and February it was mainly the pro­
posed expenditure cuts that were the news. The tax proposals
had been well known in advance. And even though the Reagan
team had promised big expenditure cuts, there had been much
skepticism among people who were used to the ways of Wash­
ington. The size of the cuts now specified was surprising, even
though it did not come up to the amounts projected during the
campaign. There was, moreover, admiration for the quality of
the work done in getting the proposal for cutting the budget
together in a short time, admiration even from people who were
not sympathetic to the cuts.
There was, however, much skepticism about the program, and
the rationale given for it, from economists.3 There were four
main points to this criticism:
1. The forecast of rapidly rising nominal GNP for the next
four years was inconsistent with the administration’s own prin­
ciple that the growth of the money supply should gradually sub­
side over the same period in order to get the inflation down.
2. Even if the Federal Reserve would provide enough mone­
tary expansion to make nominal GNP rise at the rate projected
in the budget, that would be undesirable and would not actually
yield the results the budget forecast, because there would be
more inflation and less real growth.
3. The tax rate cuts would not yield the gains in productivity
and output that the administration’s scenario required.
4. The expenditure program still relied on large cuts not yet
specified— the asterisk. Presumably the cuts which remained to
be made were the more difficult ones, and they would probably
have to be achieved after the Reagan honeymoon was over.
Thus, the target cuts were by no means assured.




The Reagan Presidency: Encounter with Reality

271

The net of all this was that the conservative budget problem
had not been solved. The conservative position was to yearn for
a balanced budget, partly because that was the traditional con­
servative symbol of fiscal prudence but also because it was
thought to contribute to growth and price stability— also con­
servative values. A way had not been found to make the big tax
cut and the defense increase plausibly consistent with balancing
the budget. The administration was not prepared to make an
explicit choice among its inconsistent objectives. But a choice
was implicit anyway. The administration would not give up any­
thing in order to balance the budget, except for a small delay in
starting the tax cut. Its main recourse for keeping alive the pros­
pect that the budget was on its way to balance was an unrealistic
economic projection.
These complaints about the Reagan program were mainly
confined to economists. The business and financial community,
popularly considered to be great worriers about the budget, sup­
pressed its anxiety on this occasion— being so eager to have their
taxes cut. When the tax bill was passed, in August, that was cele­
brated as a great victory for the President. Yet there was never
any doubt that a tax bill very much like the President’s would
pass. It is, after all, one of the hoary axioms of political life that
a Congressman should and will vote for every tax cut. When the
tax cut provides some relief for all taxpayers, and when it is
certified as essential by the most conservative President in fifty
years, its adoption is assured. The Democrats made halfhearted
efforts to give the tax bill some characteristics of their own, but
insofar as these characteristics would have limited the size of the
tax cut they were destined to failure. In the discussion of the tax
cut leading up to its passage it was almost as if there was a
conspiracy on all sides not to look at the reality of the budget
deficit. The administration was scheduled to issue a midyear
review of the budget on July 15, and that would ordinarily have
been the occasion for revising the economic forecast and show­
ing what the effects were on the budget. By that time it was al­
ready clear to the administration economists that the budget
forecasts used earlier in the year were too optimistic. The admin­




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istration decided, however, not to revise the forecasts, because
that would have shown the deficit for the next year to be larger
than previously estimated and they did not want to throw that
fact into the tax deliberations then nearing conclusion.
The bill that was passed cut taxes by about as much as the
President had proposed. This should not have been a surprise.
There is usually little Congressional motivation to cut taxes less
than a President says is prudent. What was unusual was the na­
ture of the changes the Congress made. Ordinarily Congress tilts
a presidential tax bill to give a little more to the low-income tax­
payers, among whom are so many voters. In 1981, Congress
took the step of immediately reducing the highest tax rate, 70
percent, to 50 percent. The administration favored that move
but had considered it politically unwise to propose. Congress
also added a number of provisions beneficial to middle-class
savers.
The character of the changes made in the tax bill reflected
the alteration of the conventional political wisdom that had oc­
curred by 1981. So did the fact that the large expenditure cut
proposed by the administration was mostly approved by the
Congress. The administration had been wise in concentrating
cuts in areas which did not impinge seriously on the great bulk
of active, middle-class voters. Its initial proposals barely touched
social security and Medicare, for example, but took relatively
large amounts out of employment and training programs and
out of food stamps. Moreover, OMB director Stockman was wise
to use the Congressional procedure in a way which forced Con­
gress to act on the whole package of expenditure cuts at once,
rather than item by item. This focused attention on the package
as an instrument for doing something good about the national
economy rather than as a series of separate extractions from one
after another beneficiary of government programs.
So the President’s budget package was adopted. The 1981
tax legislation would reduce receipts by over $100 billion, or 4
percent of GNP, in fiscal year 1985. The President celebrated
the budget as a great triumph.4 And up to a point it was. Three
main items of the conservative agenda had been achieved in less




The Reagan Presidency: Encounter with Reality

273

than seven months— a big tax cut, a big increase in defense
appropriations and an encouraging cut in nondefense spending.
But one haunting, traditionally conservative question remained.
Where was the money going to come from?
Shortly after the President signed the tax-cut bill this question
surfaced with a vengeance. It was as if once the bill had been x
safely signed people were free to recognize how big the future
deficits were likely to be. And the consequences of that were not
waiting until the deficits appeared but seemed to be felt immedi­
ately. The stock market fell 11 percent between mid-August and
mid-September. Long-term interest rates rose substantially. This
distressing behavior of the financial markets, so different from
the results the new policy was supposed to yield, was believed to
be connected with anxiety over the budget prospect. Moreover,
there were already signs that the economy was slowing down.
The index of industrial production fell every month after July.
Unemployment rose in every month after July. There was con­
cern that the fall of the stock and bond markets portended a
frustration of the administration’s forecasts that after a brief
period in which the economy would be “soggy” (the term of the
chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers) the economy
would take off on a strong expansion. Moreover, the prospect of
continuing large deficits was embarrassing to the administration.
It was the first generally recognized sign of internal inconsistency
of the Reagan economic plan. The first serious loss of confidence
of the enthusiasts inside the administration was connected with
this and was finally revealed in interviews with David Stockman
published in the December Atlantic, which created a public
sensation.
This situation presented the President with three options.
First, he could deny that any basic change was required. The
immediate deficit problem could be blamed on failure of Con­
gress to enact all of his expenditure cuts and to a temporary lag
of the economy, leaving the longer-run prospect unchanged. He
could use this diagnosis to prescribe small changes in the budget.
Second, he could propose a radical change in the budget, in­
cluding cancellation of some of the tax cut that had just been




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

enacted. Third, he could substantially defer or abandon achieve­
ment of the balanced budget, saying it was not worth the sacri­
fice of other parts of his program that would have been required
to achieve it.
The President chose the first of these options. On September
24,1981, he proposed small tax increases, euphemistically called
“revenue enhancements,” to the general amusement. He also
proposed small expenditure cuts. None of this happened, and if
it had happened it would not have changed the basic situation.
By December the problem had become more acute. Economic
conditions had deteriorated. Unemployment in the fourth quarter
was 8.3 percent, compared to the 7.7 percent the Reagan ad­
ministration had forecast in February. And word was leaking out
of the administration that the deficits for the next few years
would run around $100 billion a year. This was shocking news
at a time when real interest rates were still very high and consid­
ered to be a major impediment to economic recovery.
The administration seemed unable to make up its mind about
how to respond to this fact. A t a public discussion of the $100
billion deficits, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers,
William Niskanen, offered a number of reasons for not being
worried about the deficits.5 Doubt was expressed about whether
deficits caused inflation or high interest rates or would crowd out
domestic private investment. This appearance of insouciance
caused consternation, especially among Republicans, and the
administration hurried to say that it really did care about deficits.
These same reasons for not being worried appeared in the coun­
cil's Annual Economic Report when that was published in Feb­
ruary 1982. But after these reasons were cited the report con­
cluded that deficits were bad after all.
The administration wrestled with the problem of reducing the
prospective deficits, in preparation for the February 1982 budget
message. The President limited this wrestling match within a
small ring by ruling out of bounds any cuts of the defense budget
and social security and any retreat from the tax reductions that
had been enacted in 1981. The argument narrowed down to tax
increases that did not undo the 1981 cut— specifically, increases




The Reagan Presidency: Encounter with Reality

275

of excise taxes. On the one hand there were people who thought
that some tax increase was a necessary part of a bargain with
Congress that would also include expenditure reductions, and
that such a bargain was essential to restore “confidence” to finan­
cial markets and permit the economy to recover. On the other
hand there were people who thought that any tax increase would
be a betrayal of Reagan principles and there were other people
who just didn’t like to pay taxes.
As usual, the decision was some of each. The budget con­
tained a little tax increase, a little more expenditure cutting,
some overestimate of revenues and underestimate of expendi­
tures and an economic forecast which stretched the bounds of
plausibility. All of this reduced the deficits to $98.6 billion in
1982, $91.5 billion in 1983, $82.9 billion in 1984, and $71.9
billion in 1985. This succession of deficits was explained as
resulting from the administration’s success in getting inflation
down, the Carter administration’s failure to prevent the reces­
sion, and the reluctance of Congress. But in any case the admin­
istration claimed credit for getting the deficits on a downward
path.
Coming from the administration which a year earlier had said
that it would balance the budget in 1984, this would have been
staggering enough if anyone had believed it. But in fact hardly
anyone did believe it. The estimates were too improbable and
the recommendations too unlikely to be adopted.
There began a period of negotiation, name-calling and strug­
gle between the President and the Congress, the House and the
Senate, the Republicans and the Democrats, the old-time-religionists and the Kemp-follower conservatives. The object of all
this activity was first to avoid responsibility for the deficits and
second to reduce the deficits insofar as possible without sacri­
ficing anything of value. By the middle of 1983 the administra­
tion’s own estimates of the deficits for each of the fiscal years
1983, 1984, and 1985 were twice as high as it had estimated at
the beginning of 1982— even on the assumption that all its rec­
ommendations were followed.
By the beginning of 1983 the administration was clearly




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

changing its fiscal course, and there is no need to trace its budget
struggles in more detail. But it is necessary to evaluate the expe­
rience of the first two years. The budget program of the adminis­
tration clearly had, by that time, four “accomplishments” to its
credit. It had significantly reduced tax rates below where they
would have been otherwise, it had lowered the trend of nonde­
fense expenditures, it had moved budget deficits to a new, higher
level, absolutely and relative to GNP, and it had left the country
without any principles of fiscal policy. Each of these develop­
ments requires evaluation.
The main question about the big tax cuts is whether they
worked, or what light experience during the early part of the
Reagan administration throws on the likelihood of their working.
The answer is that little if anything has been learned about that.
The common assertion that “supply-side economics failed” is
not supported by the facts, if the assertion applies to any propo­
sition which had a reasonable chance of working. The tax rate
cuts and changes should not have been expected to produce a
prompt increase in the national income of such size as to in­
crease the revenue, and of course they did not. They should not
have been expected to produce a prompt increase of productivity
so large as to alter the trend of unit labor costs markedly and so
permit a decline of the inflation rate without more unemploy­
ment, and they did not.
A more reasonable expectation was that they would gradually
and significantly raise the rate of growth of productivity and
output, and that would recoup a substantial part of the revenue
that would otherwise have been lost.
In the latter part of 1982 a rise in productivity was appar­
ent and in the first half of 1983 a general increase in output
began. However, this did not seem to be much more than cycli­
cal behavior. There was no sign that any distinctively supplyside result attributable to the tax cut was being obtained. But
the evidence was not conclusive for several reasons:
1. In 1982 federal individual income tax in relation to per­
sonal income was higher than in any year of the 1970s and was




The Reagan Presidency: Encounter with Reality

277

only slightly lower than in 1980. A large part of the individual
income tax rate cut had been offset by the effects of continuing
inflation in pushing taxpayers into higher brackets. In addition,
there was an increase of social security taxes. The most that
should have been expected was avoiding the further decline of
output and productivity that would have resulted if tax rates had
not been cut. Taxpayers with income from labor services high
enough to keep them in the 50 percent maximum tax rate bracket
did not have any cut in their marginal tax rate. All that should
have been expected to operate in a positive way was the part of
the tax program that provided incentives for business investment
and for some forms of personal saving.
2. By the end of 1982 only half of the income tax rate cuts
had taken effect. Some supply-siders claimed that the prospect
of further cuts to come had a negative effect on economic ac­
tivity by inducing businesses and workers to postpone incomegenerating activity until the rates came down. Even if this was
dismissed as insignificant and farfetched, one would expect ad­
justment of work and savings patterns to take time.
3. The tax cuts came into effect during a major recession
which swamped the supply-side effects of the tax cut, especially
with respect to incentives to invest.
4. The tax cuts came into effect alongside very large budget
deficits that raised interest rates and offset the effects of tax in­
centives on private investment. Of course, the tax cuts also con­
tributed to the deficits.
Thus the experience of 1981-1983 did not disprove moderate
supply-side contentions. It was still possible that in the long run,
in a period of prosperity, and if accompanied by sufficient ex­
penditure reductions the tax rate cuts would make a significant
contribution to the national income and offset a significant part
of the revenue loss that would otherwise result from the rate cut.
The experience of 1981-1983 threw no light on that, one way or
the other. Some supply-siders grasped at small increases in the
personal saving rate as evidence that the tax cuts were working,
but these increases were too small and short-lived to demon­




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

strate anything. In fact, the more economic analysis was, be­
latedly, devoted to the supply-side claims, the weaker the case
for them looked. The original Treasury team, devoted to the
supply-side view of taxes and now possessing the data resources
of that department, failed to deliver any empirical evidence in
support of the idea that the output response to tax cuts would
be prompt and large. That contributed to dwindling faith in the
earlier supply-side claims for the benefits of cutting taxes. By
mid-1982 the most conspicuous supply-siders had left the govern­
ment.
Belief in the supply-side benefits of tax reduction remained
part of the administration’s language. But it played less and less
a part in its calculations and decisions. Estimates of future levels
of output did not count on any departures from past trends as a
result of the tax rate cuts. When large deficits loomed in 1982,
no one proposed tax cuts as a way to raise the revenue and re­
duce the deficits. In fact, the President supported a large tax in­
crease in mid-1982. At the end of the year he also proposed an
increase in the gasoline tax, and early in 1983 he was pleased
with a bipartisan social security program that included substan­
tial tax increases and accelerations of tax increases already sched­
uled. His January 1983 budget also contained a proposal for
large tax increases to apply to the years 1986-1988 if certain
conditions were met.
Despite these “lapses” the President retained a general posture
of opposition to tax increases. The argument, however, was no
longer that tax increases reduce the revenue and that tax reduc­
tions increase the revenue. To some extent the new Reagan argu­
ment was old-fashioned Keynesianism— that raising taxes in a
recession would reduce private purchasing power and prevent re­
covery. But the basic argument was that keeping revenues low
would force a reduction of expenditures, which was the true ob­
jective. Fear of the actual or prospective deficits would induce
the government to cut expenditures. To some extent this may
have worked in 1981, although the President and the Congress
were then operating under the assumption that the budget was
going to come into balance in 1984 and into surplus thereafter,




The Reagan Presidency: Encounter with Reality

279

and so the deficit picture did not look terrifying. By 1982 the
deficit picture did look terrifying, and undoubtedly did exert
pressure, first on the President and then on the Congress, to cut
expenditures. It also exerted pressure on the President and the
Congress to raise taxes. Indeed, in 1982, increasing taxes seemed
to be the way to get expenditures down. The Congressmen
who were most defensive of the expenditure programs were un­
willing to cut them unless the sacrifice was shared by taxpay­
ers through a tax increase. They were not so worried about defi­
cits that they were willing to make a unilateral sacrifice to reduce
them.
The Reagan administration’s “preemptive strike” of getting a
big tax cut first and then negotiating about the budget almost
certainly contributed to a reduction of nondefense expenditures.
The reduction was not as large as the tax cut, however, and cer­
tainly not as large as the tax cut plus the defense spending in­
crease. That is, the deficit increased. That is not necessarily a
fatal flaw in the policy. Possibly the deficits will exert a con­
tinuing restraint on expenditures, so that in the end the deficit
will not have been increased. But that is not the only possibility.
The prospect of deficits operates to hold spending down only if
decision-makers fear deficits. But that fear seems to relate only
to deficits of a size that is not yet customary. In January 1982,
deficits of $100 billion were shocking, but $60 billion would not
have been. By mid-1982, deficits of $150 billion were shocking,
but deficits of $100 billion were regarded as a triumph of fiscal
prudence. By 1983, a deficit of $200 billion was accepted as
equivalent to zero— par for the course. Large deficits may tem­
porarily restrain expenditures but more durably breed tolerance
of large deficits, and in the end tolerance of more expenditures.
The result of the Reagan policy of tax cuts was first that during
some period expenditures would be lower than they would other­
wise be and deficits higher. The longer-run outcome was uncer­
tain. How the interim consequences should be appraised depends
on what evaluation is assigned to the reduced expenditures and
to the enlarged deficits. There are people who consider any reduc­
tion of expenditure a gain, without regard to the size of deficit




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOM ICS

that forced it. But that is a view not shared even by all “conser­
vatives.”
Estimating how much President Reagan had cut the nonde­
fense budget by the middle of 1983 is difficult for several rea­
sons. First, there is the question “Compared to what?” One can
compare the Reagan budget with the last Carter budget, the one
submitted in January 1981. But the last Carter budget is not a
good indication of the amount of expenditure that would have
occurred if Jimmy Carter had been reelected. The common prac­
tice of outgoing Presidents is to leave behind a budget which
shows low expenditures, setting a standard for frugality which
the successor will find difficult to match. Second, at the time this
is written, the only complete Reagan year is fiscal year 1982,
and even that largely reflects decisions made before he came.
Budget projections for 1983 and later may represent Reagan’s
intentions more adequately, but there are still promises which
may not be realized. Third, expenditures for fiscal years 1982
and 1983 are increased by the fact that unemployment is higher
than Carter assumed in his last budget. Finally, there has been
a change in statistical techniques for eliminating inflation from
the dollar figures, and that reduces the comparability of the
numbers.
A valid picture would probably show something like this. Be­
tween 1974 and 1980, real nondefense expenditures, excluding
interest, rose at an annual rate of 5 to 6 percent, depending on
the method of deflating dollar figures. When President Carter
submitted his final budget he recommended measures which
would hold real nondefense expenditures, excluding interest,
about flat from 1980 to 1984. President Reagan’s program, as it
appeared when he submitted his budget in January’ 1983, would
have reduced real nondefense spending by 1 percent a year
from 1980 to 1984. The estimate of 1984 expenditures contained
in the Reagan budget was increased, compared to the Carter bud­
get, by the expectation of higher unemployment than had been
assumed by Carter. Without that, nondefense, noninterest ex­
penditures under Reagan would have fallen about 7 percent from
1980 to 1984. On the other hand, interest payments have risen




The Reagan Presidency: Encounter with Reality

281

under Reagan, partly as a result of the tax cuts he initiated. If
we attribute the higher interest burden to Reagan, but do not
charge him with the higher unemployment costs, it appears that
his program, like Carter’s, roughly stabilized nondefense expendi­
tures from 1980 to 1984. Real nondefense expenditure in 1984
would be higher than in any year before 1980 no matter how
unemployment costs and interest are treated. But in any case
there had been a significant slowdown in the rate of increase.
During the campaign the reduction of expenditures had been
put forward as a goal of obvious merit, identified as the elimina­
tion of waste, fraud and extravagance. But if the cut was to be
large it could not be confined to that and required further justi­
fication.
Some elements of this justification were articulated more or
less clearly. One was that government transfer payments to the
poor did not really help poor people because they created incen­
tives to avoid work and to break up families. Programs alleged
to help disadvantaged people become self-supporting workers,
such as training and employment programs, were also said to
fall into that category, because federal programs did not really
prepare their participants to work in the private sector but were
only disguised welfare.
A second element in the justification was that much federal
expenditure was only a shuffling of money between middleincome people in their capacity as benefit recipients and middleincome people in their capacity as taxpayers and income earners.
The result was not to make the middle class better off but to
make the whole society worse off by reducing incentives to work
and produce income.
Third was the traditional argument that federal expenditures
should be reduced by shifting functions back to the states, which
would perform them more efficiently and finance them by taxes
less burdensome on the economy without depriving people of
essential benefits.
Thus, the expenditure policy was essentially a supply-side
policy. It was supposed to strengthen incentives for work and
for efficient use of resources, increase the national output and




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

leave everyone, or almost everyone, better off. The authors of
the program resisted characterization of it as an income redis­
tribution program— shifting income from lower-income to upperincome people. But it was undoubtedly true that some of the
motivation behind it was the natural and legitimate desire of
taxpayers to be relieved of some of the burden of supporting
other people, mostly poorer than themselves.
The justification for the expenditure-cutting policy indicated
where the cuts would be made. There were sharp reductions in
employment and training programs, reductions in the income
levels at which food stamps and education assistance could be
obtained, tightening of eligibility requirements for welfare and
cuts in grants to state and local governments.
Achievement of these reductions was a political success in the
sense that it ran counter to a trend of many years and to the
conventional wisdom that the political forces behind expenditure
growth were irresistible. Although the expenditure reductions
were smaller than the tax cut, which was regarded as the great
achievement, it was the expenditure side of the budget that
showed the change of popular attitudes and President Reagan’s
political mastery.
Too little time has passed to test whether the assumptions
underlying the expenditure changes are valid. To what degree
will tighter standards for aid to families with dependent children
cause people to work or families to stay together and to what
degree will it increase destitution? Will states take up the slack
left by federal cutback? Will reduction in federal assistance re­
duce the number of college students, and, if so, will this in the
long run reduce economic growth or other qualities of American
life?
To say that the outcome of the experiment is not clear is not
to say that the experiment has failed or will. The change of pol­
icy resulted from years of accumulating dissatisfaction with
many federal expenditure programs. That dissatisfaction was
not conclusive evidence that the specific change of policy made
in 1981 and 1982 would be an improvement, but it was sufficient
basis for making the change and seeing what its effects would be.




The Reagan Presidency: Encounter with Reality

283

The initial experience of implementing the change did, how­
ever, suggest some lessons:
1. To cut income assistance programs in a way which on the
one hand protects the poor and on the other hand does not im­
pair incentives to work is difficult. The most obvious procedure
is to deny or reduce benefits for people who have more than a
certain income. But that weakens the incentive to work and earn
an income above the cut-off level. The alternative is to try to
impose a work requirement. But that requires making fine dis­
tinctions between those able to work and those not able and risks
injury to many “worthy” claimants for aid. In application the
administration’s policy involved greater use of means tests—
lowering the income limits above which benefits were disallowed.
This was true of Aid to Families with Dependent Children, food
stamps and education assistance. This had the paradoxical effect
of increasing the marginal tax rate on the working poor by in­
creasing the benefit loss that resulted from earning more income
at the same time that the marginal tax rate was being cut on the
nonpoor.
2. The political obstacles to reducing benefits for the middle
class are enormous, as might have been expected from the fact
that they are most of the voters. The chief benefits involved are
social security payments, which amounted to 38.5 percent of all
nondefense expenditures in fiscal year 1982 and 67 percent of
all transfer payments to individuals. (This includes Medicare.)
President Reagan made a limited foray into this area in 1981
but quickly withdrew after his proposal for reducing outlays
was unanimously rejected by the Senate. The problem of dealing
with this vast block of expenditures is compounded by the
identification of social security benefits as “entitlements.” These
benefits go only to people who have paid something for them,
and this supports the notion that they are “entitled” to the bene­
fits. But the fact is that most workers covered under social secu­
rity have not paid enough to earn the benefits they have already
received and will receive in the future under current provisions.
This is evidenced by the fact that the funds accumulated from




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

social security contributions plus interest on these accumulations
were near exhaustion in 1982. Although restraining the growth
of this enormous part of the federal budget would be consistent
with the administration’s philosophy, the administration did not
feel able to tackle it. The subject was put off by referral to a
bipartisan study commission to report after the 1982 election.
This commission, chaired by Alan Greenspan, produced a set
of recommendations that were adopted with little change by
Congress. These recommendations met the short-run fiscal prob­
lem of the social security trust funds almost entirely by methods
that would raise the revenue. Scheduled future tax rate increases
were advanced, part of social security benefits was made taxable
under the federal income tax, and future federal workers were to
be covered under the social security system. There were hardly
any steps to restrict benefits in the near future. Some provisions
were adopted, however, that would limit the growth of benefits
in the longer run— after the year 2000. The chief of these was
gradually to raise the age at which benefits would be payable.
3. State and local governments fiercely resist transfer of func­
tions and responsibilities back to them, as many Presidents, be­
ginning with Eisenhower, have discovered. This is true even if
the proposal, on the whole, involves an offsetting transfer of
revenue sources to the states and localities or transfer of expendi­
ture functions to the federal government. One basic source of
resistance is that even if states and localities on the average come
out whole from the shift of functions and revenues, many states
and localities will not come out whole. The losers complain
bitterly, mobilizing the support of their Congressmen and Sena­
tors. The administration cannot adjust the program so that no
one loses without greatly increasing the cost to the federal gov­
ernment. Even those units of government which probably will
not lose are suspicious of the federal government’s intentions for
the future. The administration had made a major transfer of
functions to the states and localities a central feature of its 1982
program, but it quickly disappeared without a trace.
4. There is danger that a supply-oriented approach to ex-




The Reagan Presidency: Encounter with Reality

285

penditure cutting will sweep out some kinds of expenditures that
might make a worthwhile contribution to economic growth, or
prevent undertaking such expenditures. Some expenditures for
research, education and such public works as port facilities may
fit this description. Objective evaluation of such expenditures is
difficult. Probably by the time Reagan came into office there had
been twenty years of excessive willingness to make such expen­
ditures and leaning in the other direction was a desirable correc­
tion. But that leaning can also go too far, and it becomes neces­
sary to seek a more open-minded approach. There was no sign
in its first two years that the Reagan administration recognized
this need.
5.
The administration’s changes in expenditures were made in
economic circumstances in which they would be least likely to
yield their desired beneficial results. One of the administration’s
basic themes was that the improvement of the economy— the in­
crease of employment, productivity and average incomes—
would more than compensate poor and disadvantaged benefi­
ciaries for the cut in their government programs. The theory was
that the tax rate cuts would produce the improvement of the
economy. But they did not, at least not in the early years, and
should not have been expected to do so. Thus, people lost wel­
fare payments, training slots and public service jobs in an econ­
omy where employment was especially difficult to find. It was
also an economy where shrinking revenues limited the ability of
states and localities to take up the slack. This raises the question
whether the cuts in government programs might not better have
been deferred until after the period of economic slack that would
accompany the process of disinflation. This may not, however,
have been politically feasible. The political support needed to
make the expenditure cuts might not still have been there by the
time the disinflation had been achieved.
In any case, the desired effects of the tax rate cuts and expen­
diture cuts did not appear in the first two years of the administra­
tion, which did not mean that they would not appear in time.




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

But one effect did appear quickly and became the object of
enormous attention. That was the prospect of large budget defi­
cits— between $175 and $200 billion a year from fiscal 1983
through fiscal 1985 and probably beyond. The administration
tended at first to blame this prospect, so different from its early
1981 forecasts, on a recession due to the Carter administration
but nevertheless unforeseen, and on its own success in getting in­
flation down. But it was much nearer the truth to say that the suc­
cess of its own disinflation policy entailed the period of slow
growth which contributed much of the unforeseen deficit and that
the remainder which would persist even after economic recovery
was achieved was due to failure to produce the expenditure cuts
that had been promised.
Almost everyone agreed that the deficits were a bad thing.
There were exceptions— mainly people who thought that the
deficits were good because they would force reduction of ex­
penditures— but this was confined to a very few. The assertions
about the evils of the deficit, however, were not entirely con­
vincing.
Two aspects of the deficit need to be distinguished. One is
what the immediate consequences of the deficits of 1982-1985
were or would be. The other is what were the longer-run im­
plications for fiscal policy of the fact that the country ran at
least four more years of large deficits, larger than ever and more
unwanted than ever, after twenty years of large deficits and in
the administration of the most conservative President in fifty
years.
Discussion of the immediate consequences of the deficit soon
settled on one point. At first the automatic response was that the
deficits were inflationary, because that had been the standard
complaint about deficits for the preceding decades. But that was
not a compelling proposition, since the inflation rate was rapidly
falling. One could still assert that the future deficits would cause
more inflation later, but that was too uncertain and remote to be
interesting.
The common syllogism of the time went like this:




The Reagan Presidency: Encounter with Reality

287

A. Budget deficits cause bad things.
B. The bad things that are happening to us are high interest
rates, low output and high unemployment.
C. These bad things are caused by big budget deficits.
This went beyond rejecting Keynesianism. It stood Keynesian­
ism on its head. Keynes had argued that an increase in the govern­
ment deficit would stimulate the economy, by increasing the
total demand for output. An increase in the deficit meant an
increase in government payments to the private sector relative
to government extraction from the private sector in taxes. In­
dividuals and businesses in the private sector would have more
income after tax to spend and would spend more— raising output
and employment if the economy was not in a condition of full
employment.
The monetarist counterrevolution, as we have already noted,
denied that an increase in the deficit would stimulate the econ­
omy by increasing total demand: The argument was summarized
in Milton Friedman’s question: “Where do they think the money
is coming from? The tooth fairy?” The implication was that if
the government increased its deficit it might give money to peo­
ple with one hand through higher expenditures or tax reductions
but would have to take an equal amount of money from people
by borrowing to finance the deficit. The Keynesians had an
answer to that and the monetarists had an answer to the answer
and so on. But the point is that the monetarists did not say that
deficits would depress the economy. They only said that deficits
would not stimulate the economy.
In 1981-1983, however, the common argument was that defi­
cits did depress the economy. The causation was supposed to run
through interest rates. Government borrowing to finance the
deficit would raise interest rates and thus depress business invest­
ment, housing and the purchase of automobiles and other dura­
ble goods. The high interest rates would also raise the value of
the dollar, and so depress net exports. But this was as one-sided
an analysis as the original Keynesian one. It was open to the




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

similar question: “Where do they think the money is going? To
the tooth fairy?” If the government borrowed more, thus taking
money out of the private sector, it was also giving more back to
the private sector, through spending more or taxing less. There
was nothing in this shift by itself that would necessarily depress
output as a whole. There would be a depressing effect on some
sectors— as already noted, housing, business investment, dura­
ble consumer goods and exports— as a consequence of the in­
terest rate rise, but there would also be a stimulating effect on
demand in other sectors as a result of larger government expen­
ditures or lower taxes. This shift— away from private investment
to consumption and defense— might be a legitimate subject for
concern, but it would not explain low output and employment
in total.
There were, as always, ingenious theories to explain the para­
dox— in this case that an increasing deficit was causing a reces­
sion. One was that resources, especially labor, did not move
rapidly. The carpenters and bricklayers who lost jobs in the
construction industry would not be immediately employed pro­
ducing the video games that consumers wanted to buy with their
tax cuts. This theory would have led to the expectation of labor
shortages in many parts of the economy, which did not actually
appear.
Another theory was that the prospect of large future deficits
kept present interest rates higher than was consistent with high
employment at present. The prospect of high future deficits led
investors to expect that interest rates would be high in the future.
In that case they would not lend at low interest rates today be­
cause they would suffer losses later when interest rates rose. This
source of high interest rates, unlike today’s borrowing by the
government, did not have as its counterpart a flow of funds into
the hands of taxpayers or beneficiaries of government programs.
Thus, it might more plausibly be expected to have a new de­
pressing effect on the economy. But this explanation left open
the question of what the people who did not lend did with their
money. The reasonable expectation would be that people who
thought future deficits made long-term lending too risky would




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289

buy short-term securities. Then short-term interest rates should
have been driven down to low levels. But in fact, short-term
interest rates remained high during the period of maximum con­
cern about future deficits.
An all-purpose explanation, good for whatever is wrong with
the economy, is that the government’s policy— in this case the
deficit— has destroyed confidence, especially business confidence.
Concern with business confidence had been a primary motiva­
tion behind Herbert Hoover’s decision to raise taxes in 1932.
The problem with this kind of explanation is that it doesn’t ex­
plain why the particular policy in question impairs confidence
or why the impairment of confidence has the particular conse­
quence it is supposed to have. Thus, if deficits are not bad for
the economy for reasons other than their effect on confidence,
why do they affect confidence in a way that hurts the economy?
The fact is that the connection between the budget deficits and
the low output and high unemployment of 1981-1983 was never
clearly established, although some such connection may have
existed. This connection was, however, the main reason ad­
vanced for acute concern about the deficit in those years. It was
in response to this that the President reluctantly agreed to sup­
port a revenue increase in 1982, and in 1983 proposed at least a
contingent future tax increase.
There was a more probable consequence of the large deficits
which justified the concern about them. That was the effect of
the deficits on the volume of private investment via the demands
the deficits place on credit markets. Even though these effects
may not depress employment or total output currently they mean
that the total stock of productive capital rises less rapidly and
therefore productivity and per capita incomes rise less rapidly.
This effect would be small in any single year, but if continued
year after year it can injure living standards seriously.
This kind of effect was recognized by supply-siders when the
deficit resulted from increased expenditures. But they often had
difficulty recognizing the point when the deficit was caused by
tax reduction or when the deficit was to be reduced by a tax
increase. They argued that increasing taxes reduced private sav­




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ing so that the availability of funds for private investment was
not increased. That is, the government would borrow less, but
out of a smaller pool of private saving, so that the savings avail­
able for private investment would not be increased. The blind
spot in this analysis is the assumption that taxes come dollar for
dollar out of private saving. In fact, most taxes come out of
private consumption. The net effect of raising taxes instead of
borrowing is to reduce consumption and increase funds available
for private investment and therefore to promote long-run eco­
nomic growth.
An economy with a budget deficit equal to, say, 4 percent of
GNP will probably have less private investment than one with a
budget deficit equal to 2 percent of GNP, and, if other things are
equal, it will probably have less growth of productivity. There is
considerable disagreement among students of economic growth
about how big this effect on productivity would be, but over a
long period it would almost certainly be significant. There is,
however, a more serious problem, which is that if the deficit is
large relative to the GNP it will be difficult to keep it from get­
ting still larger relative to GNP. The reason is that if the deficit
is large relative to GNP the size of the debt will rise relative to
GNP, and that will raise interest expenditures relative to GNP.
Then unless noninterest expenditures can be reduced relative to
GNP or taxes raised, the deficit will rise relative to GNP— which
will raise the debt and the interest burden further. One can easily
visualize this cumulative process reaching a point at which the
temptation to repudiate the debt by inflation would be irresist­
ible. Peacetime deficits of the size looming in 1983 raised this
prospect. Since it was, however, a prospect for the distant future,
it did not receive much weight in policy considerations.
The prospect of federal deficits approaching $200 billion a year
for years to come did generate a scramble in the political arena
to show aversion to deficits and to avoid responsibility for them,
but no action on a sufficient scale to reduce the deficits signifi­
cantly. Probably the outstanding lesson of the episode was that
the United States did not have any fiscal policy. What I mean
by fiscal policy is a policy which determines an appropriate size




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291

of the deficit or surplus to which decisions about expenditures
and revenues are then adapted. Of course, any budgetary process
will finally lead to a total of expenditures, revenues and, by sub­
traction, deficit or surplus. The distinctive feature of fiscal policy
is that there is a rule or principle which determines the size of
the deficit or surplus first and which requires the expenditures
and revenues to conform to that.
Balancing the budget was such a fiscal policy. It involved a prior
decision that expenditures should equal, or not exceed, revenues.
The expenditure and revenue decisions were then supposed to fit
that. Balancing the budget at high employment was also a fiscal
policy. There was a Keynesian, or functional-finance, fiscal
policy which said that the deficit or surplus should be high
enough to yield high employment; once that had been determined
the expenditure and revenue decisions would be made to con­
form.
Of course, the government never worked exactly like that.
There was always a two-way adaptation, in which the size of the
deficit or surplus adjusted to the requirements of the expenditure
and revenue decisions, as well as vice versa. But we thought that
the goal for the proper size of the deficit or surplus should be domi­
nant and that it was too bad when that goal had to give way to lim­
itations of revenues or demands for expenditures. The budget pro­
cess, first in the executive branch and then in the Congress, was
intended to give weight to the overall decision about the relation
of total revenues to total expenditures and to force the parts of the
budget to conform.
Conservatives complained about Keynesian fiscal policy on
the ground that it was too “loose,” did not define precisely and
objectively what the proper size of surplus or deficit was and
therefore left too much room for irresponsible behavior. They
attributed the big increase of deficits in the 1970s to this, on the
ground that even the “liberals” did not want those deficits but
had no principles to resist the tendency of case-by-case expendi­
ture decisions to add up to excessive total spending and excessive
deficits.
The “conservative” fiscal policy was going to be “balancing




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the budget.” By the time the Reagan administration came, that
was the only fiscal policy in sight. Functional finance had been
discredited by experience, and synthetic standards, like fullemployment balance, had been rejected by conservatives and
liberals alike. History did not provide much reason to believe
that “balancing the budget” would be an effective discipline
either. As I said in The Fiscal Revolution in America, after re­
viewing the period 1929-1964, “the balanced budget is a flag
more often saluted than followed.” But there was a possibility
that after disillusionment with the Kennedy-Johnson New Eco­
nomics, and the growth of deficits that no one could defend, the
balanced budget might regain its traditional position as the
standard of fiscal policy. And Ronald Reagan was the man to
do it.
Instead, the first two years of Reagan policy demonstrated
that the balanced budget was indeed dead. Budget deficits were
larger than ever and there was no plan for eliminating them at
any foreseeable time. And that was not because anyone would
say that deficits of the size in prospect for the indefinite future
were a good thing. On the contrary, everybody said they were a
very bad thing. And that was the conclusive evidence that we had
no fiscal policy. Although everyone said that the big deficits were
bad, hardly anyone was willing to give up anything he valued
very much in order to reduce them. That was as true of President
Reagan as of anyone else. His attitude was decisive. If the most
“conservative” President in fifty years would not make any sacri­
fice in order to avoid the biggest deficits in history, who would?
This did not mean, to repeat, indifference to deficits. The
Reagan administration disliked deficits and detested big deficits.
But this attitude was not decisive. It was a factor taken into
account in making other decisions but not a controlling, prior
factor. The desirability of reducing the deficit by $1 billion had
to be weighed against the desirability of spending $1 billion on
food stamps or M X missiles or any of a hundred other things
and against the costs of raising $1 billion from cigarette smokers
or gasoline users or income tax payers in any of several dozen
brackets and so on. This is a perfectly logical way to make a




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293

decision. It balances the costs and benefits of all items in the
budget at the margin— running a deficit being just another
source of funds like raising any tax or cutting any expenditures.
But although logical, most people thought it was impractical.
If the decision about the surplus or deficit was put on all fours
with the other decisions in the budget the surplus-deficit decision
would suffer because the consequences of the surplus-deficit de­
cision, although important, were general and deferred whereas
the consequences of other budget decisions would be immedi­
ately felt by beneficiaries of expenditures or by taxpayers. The
essence of fiscal policy was to make a decision to balance the
budget, or confine the deficit to a specified size, before constitu­
encies knew who was going to pay for holding the deficit down.
By the fall of 1981 the Reagan administration knew that its
plans for defense spending and tax cuts were inconsistent with
balancing the budget, or coming close, anytime during the first
term or probably for years thereafter. The budget submitted in
February 1982 also revealed that the administration was not
prepared to recommend cuts in nondefense expenditures that
would be nearly sufficient to put the budget on a path to balance.
The administration decided that it wanted a lot of other things
more than it wanted to balance the budget. By 1983, facing still
bigger deficits, the administration proposed a contingency tax
increase for 1985-1988 that would reduce the long-run deficit
to 2 percent of GNP— making the Carter achievement a target
to aim at, no longer a failure to repudiate. But the contingent
tax increase depended on the unlikely eventuality that Congress
would approve all the President’s desired cuts in nondefense
spending.
This tolerance of deficits was not simply a bow to political
convenience. When the administration faced the need for a
serious sacrifice if the budget was to be balanced it had to ask
itself why it wanted to balance the budget. And when this was
asked as a practical matter, and not as a matter of ritual incan­
tation, the answer was not compelling. During the campaign
Mr. Reagan’s chief argument against deficits was that they were
inflationary because they caused monetary expansion. Once in




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office he learned that this was not a necessary conclusion. One
argument for budget balancing was that it kept expenditures
down. Now he heard the proposition that big deficits held ex­
penditures down by frightening the Congress. Even the tradi­
tional argument that deficits impair growth by absorbing private
savings was not open-and-shut, at least among his advisers. If
the deficit had to be eliminated by raising taxes, that might have
even a worse effect on growth. Also the deficit might, by one
route or another, evoke a flow of additional savings to finance
itself.
So, the case for balancing the budget, or even for drastically
reducing the deficit, seemed too weak and uncertain to upset the
commitment to the big tax reduction and defense spending in­
crease. The administration thus put another nail in the coffin
of the balanced-budget doctrine. Moreover, the administration
made no effort to develop an alternative principle of fiscal pol­
icy which would acknowledge that it had found the balancedbudget principle impossible to live with. Instead, it took the posi­
tion that the balanced budget was not dead but sleeping. In
1982, it supported a constitutional amendment designed to bring
about balanced budgets in the future. But by 1983 that idea had
fallen out of its lexicon. For the time being it must be said that
the Reagan experience has not given us any rule of fiscal policy
and the problem of creating one lies ahead.

Monetarism
Although the most conspicuous part of Reagan economics in
1981 and 1982 was his budget policy— the tax cut and the ex­
penditure cut— the part that made the most difference in eco­
nomic performance during those years and probably for some
years thereafter was the monetary policy. It was this more than
anything else which accounted for the greatest achievement of
those years, which was the reduction of inflation, and the great­
est disappointment, which was the rise of unemployment.
In fact, the monetary policy of this period was only in part




The Reagan Presidency: Encounter with Reality

295

Reagan policy. It was under the independent control of the
Federal Reserve, and the decisive step toward the kind of policy
practiced during the first two years of the Reagan term had been
taken earlier, in the fall of 1979. But this step surely deserved to
be considered a major part of the turn to conservative eco­
nomics. The Reagan team placed more reliance on monetary
policy for the achievement of economic stability than previous
administrations had done. And by and large the Reagan admin­
istration endorsed the policy, although with occasional misgiv­
ings, sometimes publicly expressed.
The policy that was adopted in 1979 is commonly called
“monetarism.” This is a term which stretches over a large num­
ber of ideas, not all of which are held by all the people who
consider themselves monetarists or are considered such by
others. As the policy was adopted by the Federal Reserve in
1979 and followed thereafter at least until late 1982, it included
the following propositions:
1. The main contribution of monetary policy to good eco­
nomic performance is price-level stability, but this does not mean
that the approach to that goal cannot be tempered by other
considerations temporarily. For example, starting from the high
inflation rate of 1979 the Federal Reserve had to approach pricelevel stability with a certain gradualism.
2. In order to achieve price stability it would be necessary
first to reduce the growth of the quantity of money and then
prevent any future excessive rate of growth continuing over an
extended period.
3. As guidance for itself the Federal Reserve should annually
set and announce targets in the form of a range within which the
year’s growth of the quantity of money should be confined, for
each of several definitions of the money supply. The Federal
Reserve would set these targets each year as it considered
appropriate for achievement of its disinflationary objectives. The
target for the year did not imply that the money supply would be
within the target range at all times during the year. Moreover,
the Federal Reserve would retain discretion to decide where




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within the range the money supply should actually be and also,
in unusual circumstances, to change the target within the year.
4.
In order to achieve the desired behavior of the money sup­
ply the Federal Reserve would try to provide the quantity of
bank reserves which would permit the banks to supply the
quantity of money the Federal Reserve was aiming at. This
would be a change from the previous procedure in which the
Federal Reserve tried to bring about a level of interest rates that it
thought would be consistent with its desired money supply.
This policy of the Federal Reserve is best understood as an
attempt to correct two previous biases of the previous system.
One was a bias toward inflation resulting from the great em­
phasis previously given to other objectives, such as full employ­
ment, which in the short run often turned out to be inconsistent
with price stability. The new policy did not imply indifference to
unemployment. It did reflect the growing belief that the repeated
efforts to pump the economy up to high levels of employment
by monetary expansion were futile if not actually negative in
their effects. The other bias was the tendency toward economic
instability resulting from the emphasis on interest rates. When
the economy was rising rapidly and inflation speeding up, inter­
est rates would tend to rise and the Federal Reserve would find
that its interest rate management policy led it to increase the
money supply in an effort to keep interest rates down. In the re­
verse economic conditions it would be led to restrict the money
supply.
The policy change of 1979 enabled the Federal Reserve to
follow a more stable and persistently anti-inflationary policy.
For this reason it was welcomed by many conservatives as an
improvement over past practice. There were, however, several
respects in which important conservative thinking departed from
the new Federal Reserve doctrine and policy.
Stricter monetarists, of whom Milton Friedman was the
leader, did not accept the policy as “monetarist” and regarded it
as still too loose and discretionary. They distrusted the wide range
of the annual targets, the freedom to change the targets from




The Reagan Presidency: Encounter with Reality

297

year to year and the lack of commitment to any path of mone­
tary growth from month to month or quarter to quarter. In their
view there was too much room for political pressure to push the
Federal Reserve into inflation. There was too little reason for the
private sector to believe that the Federal Reserve would stick to
an anti-inflationary course. And there was just too much oppor­
tunity for the Fed to make mistakes in trying to estimate the
appropriate behavior of the money supply.
Some monetarists carried thinking about the relation between
inflation and unemployment one step beyond what had become
standard doctrine. By 1980 the profession had largely aban­
doned the idea that inflationary policy could permanently keep
unemployment low. As we have already noted, some people
jumped from this to the extreme proposition that an ongoing
rate of inflation could be substantially reduced without any, or
with hardly any, temporary increase of unemployment. This
view depended heavily on a large, prompt change of inflationary
expectations as a result of a change of monetary policy, and such
a change of expectations was most likely to come about if the
new monetary policy was embodied in a precise and firm com­
mitment.
Moving in another direction was another group of people
who also considered money to be enormously important and who
welcomed the change from pre-1979 policy. They did not, how­
ever, think that the Federal Reserve could ever estimate reliably
what behavior of the quantity of money would yield price stabil­
ity. Neither did they think that confidence could ever be created
in the Federal Reserve’s devotion to the goal of price stability.
They wanted, therefore, to give up entirely the practice of at­
tempting to achieve a predetermined target for the quantity of
money. Instead they wanted a monetary policy that would di­
rectly stabilize the price of some thing, by standing ready to buy
or sell it at a fixed price.
The thing, of course, was to be gold. The underlying theory
was that the relation between the price of gold and the price of
goods and services in general was rather stable, so that if the
price of gold was constant the price level would also be constant.




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Also, if the government adopted the gold standard it would not
readily abandon it, and this would give the public the necessary
confidence in the stability of the price level. The idea of the gold
standard had few supporters among professional economists or
in the financial community. It was, however, a favorite in a cer­
tain amateur cult. The Republican platform contained a veiled
reference to it, and Ronald Reagan himself was known to be
sympathetic to it.
Tlie new monetary policy of the Federal Reserve was not suc­
cessful in its first year, 1980. Faced by an upsurge of inflation at
the beginning of the year, and reluctant to see interest rates in
general skyrocket, the President induced the Federal Reserve
to impose direct, selective credit controls in March. This led to
a sharp curtailment of the money supply and contributed to a
brief recession. When the recession caused a drop in interest rates
the Fed was afraid to let the drop go “too far” and therefore
did not increase the money supply up into its target range. Then in
the summer the Federal Reserve began a vigorous expansion of
the money supply so that at the end of the year it was near the
upper end of the target range.
This highly variable behavior in 1980 left a good deal of un­
certainty about the intentions of the Federal Reserve. Neverthe­
less there was reason to believe that the whole performance of
1980 had been badly distorted by the imposition of the credit
controls, which was unlikely to be repeated in the Reagan A d ­
ministration. After a rocky start, therefore, the disinflationary
policy heralded in October 1979 might yet be carried through.
The new administration, placing, as I have said, unusual re­
liance on monetary policy, contained elements of all three of
the deviant views I have described above. Probably most im­
portant were the stricter monetarists, represented in both the
Treasury and the Council of Economic Advisers. They believed
that they knew how rapidly money should grow not only in the
current year but also each year into the future. They wanted the
rate of growth of the money supply to decline steadily for sev­
eral years until it reached a level consistent with price stability,
after which the growth rate of money should be constant. They




The Reagan Presidency: Encounter with Reality

299

wanted the money supply to move steadily along that path and
not oscillate violently around it from month to month. And they
had in mind changes in Federal Reserve operating procedures
which they believed would permit a smoother course to be main­
tained. The new members of the administration’s team who held
these views had been critics of the Federal Reserve for years and
remained critics despite the partial turn of the Fed in their direc­
tion in 1979. They thought that with the new influence they had
as administration officials they would be able to convert the Fed.
Not inconsistent with this attitude, but going beyond it, was
the belief of some in the government that if monetary policy
changed decisively the inflation rate would come down without
any significant increase of unemployment. This was not a neces­
sary corollary of strict, Friedman-type monetarism. Nevertheless,
this idea, plus temporary political convenience, led the adminis­
tration to forecast that its disinflationary policy would succeed
with little transitional unemployment.
The third branch of administration monetarism— affection for
gold— remained inconspicuous in the early months of the new
term. It would only surface after economic trouble came.
The economic trouble came in the summer of 1981, as noted,
with the rise of unemployment and interest rates, and the decline
of output and the stock market. There were several possible ex­
planations for this trouble. One was that the trouble was inevi­
table and did not result from any error of policy. Getting the in­
flation down by monetary restraint would cause a period of rising
unemployment and high real interest rates until all expectations
and contracts had adjusted. Whether the degree and timing of
monetary restraint was the best it could be, no one could tell—
certainly not in advance and probably not in retrospect. There
was no reason to feel guilty about what was happening, since the
government, including the Federal Reserve, was doing what had
to be done. In my opinion that was the correct explanation.
A second explanation, which became increasingly common
after the tax cut had been safely signed, was that the large budget
deficits, actual and prospective, were causing the high interest
rates which depressed the economy. I have already given reasons




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for thinking that the deficits were not depressing the level of total
economic activity in the country, whatever other consequences
they might have.
A third explanation focused on inadequacy of monetary pol­
icy. This explanation found adherents among Republicans and
Democrats, conservatives and liberals, although the criticism of
monetary policy and proposals for change took a variety of
forms.
In the latter part of 1981 and early 1982 there was a wave of
interest in gold as the key to correcting the inadequacies of mon­
etary policy which were alleged to be preventing recovery. This
was mainly stimulated by people who were also extreme supplysiders. There is no logical reason why a person who has the supply-sider view of the relation between tax rates and the supply of
labor and capital should also believe that stabilizing the price of
gold will stabilize the price level. The two propositions relate to
different universes— the real world and the nominal world. There
may, however, be a psychological link in that both the extreme
supply-side view and the gold-standard view are rebellious against
what had become the conventional moderate conservatism of the
postwar period. In any case, many of the people most identified
with the supply-side movement were also leaders in the effort to
establish a gold standard.
The rise of interest rates in the fall of 1981 and the apparent
sinking of the economy into recession was commonly regarded
as a challenge to the supply-side argument. A large part of the
supply-side budget program had been put into effect, and the
economy was not responding in the positive way that the country
had been led to expect. This was widely considered to reflect a
failure of the supply-side theory.
With some justification the supply-siders could deny that their
theory had been tested, as has been explained on p. 276. This re­
sponse of the supply-siders did not, however, dispel the im­
pression that the theory had failed. Certainly, the supply-siders
had given no warning that the fiscal program adopted would still
leave the country with several years of high unemployment and
high interest rates to live through before the benefits of the pro-




The Reagan Presidency: Encounter with Reality

301

gram would be seen. In fact, the supply-siders had positively re­
jected such warnings.
Being thus on the defensive, the supply-siders found revival of
the argument for gold a great convenience. The trouble in the
economy, they maintained, was due to deficiencies of monetary
policy which could be cured by return to the gold standard. The
basic problem was lack of confidence in the steady conduct of a
noninflationary monetary policy. After fifteen years of bad ex­
perience, no one would believe that the Federal Reserve could
be relied upon to stick to a noninflationary course. Even if the
Federal Reserve were determined to do so, there was no possible
rule for the control of the quantity of “money” that would keep
the economy on a noninflationary path. The financial system was
exceedingly resourceful in creating uncontrolled substitutes for
whatever kind of money the Federal Reserve chose to control, so
the Fed could never know that its control of the designated
“money” would actually serve to control inflation. In 1981 the
depth of this problem was demonstrated by enormous growth of
money market mutual funds, in which shareholders could hold
assets with a degree of safety, liquidity and transferability that
was hardly different from bank deposits.
Its supporters argued that gold would solve both of these prob­
lems, the problems of credibility and controllability. Once back
on the gold standard the government could be counted on to stay
there, because abandoning it would be a conspicuous and shock­
ing action that a government would not want to undertake ex­
cept in highly unusual situations. Moreover, the requirement that
the government stabilize the price of gold would be a guide to
monetary policy which escaped the difficulties of determining the
proper quantity and definition of “money.” If prices were tending
to rise, people would want to convert their money, of whatever
kind, into gold, and that would reduce the quantity of money to
whatever degree was necessary to eliminate the expectation of in­
flation. The fact that people no longer wanted to exchange money
for gold would by itself show that enough money had been with­
drawn to eliminate the expectation of inflation. So there would
be a device which would automatically signal the increases or




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decreases of the supply of money needed to keep the price level
stable.
A stage for playing out the debate over gold was provided by
the Gold Commission, established in 1981 pursuant to legisla­
tion enacted in 1980, of which Senator Jesse Helms had been the
chief sponsor. The commission included representatives of the
Congress, the administration, the Federal Reserve and the public
at large. Although only a few members of the commission had a
prior commitment to gold, they were, as is often the case, more
zealous in the advocacy of their positions than people on the
more conventional side. Moreover, there was in the background
the President, known to have a certain leaning toward gold. So,
the outcome of the commission’s investigation was in doubt, and
there seemed to be a real possibility that it might have recom­
mended a “little bit” of gold standard. But in the end the conces­
sion to the gold enthusiasts was trivial— a recommendation that
the Treasury issue a gold piece of defined weight but selling at
the market price, so that there was no implication of a commit­
ment to stabilize the price of gold. The commission’s report laid
to rest for all practical purposes and for the time being the ques­
tion of a return to the gold standard.®
This left the supply-siders in need of an alternative monetary
policy that would make supply-side theory work, or to the lack
of which they could attribute its apparent failure to work. There
was a certain flirtation with the idea of “commodity money,”
meaning that the government would undertake to stabilize the
composite price of a basket of homogeneous products— like oil,
wheat, tin, etc., possibly also including gold. This is an idea that
has been floating around economics for at least sixty years, but it
found no takers, essentially having the excess simplicity of gold
without the aura. Attention of this school then shifted to the idea
that monetary policy should be addressed to stabilizing interest
rates, rather than meeting any target for the quantity of money.
This was the last expression of the effort to substitute a price rule
for a quantity rule of monetary policy. However, by the time this
point was reached the original anti-inflation intent had been to­
tally perverted. It was plausible to think that stabilizing the price




The Reagan Presidency: Encounter with Reality

303

of gold would tend to stabilize the price level because there
would be a tendency for the price of gold to rise when the price
level was rising and the rules of the gold standard would then re­
quire the monetary authority to sell gold and draw money out of
circulation. But the relations would be reversed in a policy of
interest-rate stabilization. Interest rates would tend to rise in a
period of inflation, and an effort to resist the rise of interest rates
by expanding the money supply would only make the inflation
worse.
The transformation of the gold price stabilization doctrine into
an interest rate stabilization doctrine brought this branch of
“conservative” thinking into harmony, at least for the moment,
with conventional “liberal” views of monetary policy. In the lib­
eral view the emphasis on the quantity of money was always a
mistake, and monetary policy should have concentrated on the
management of interest rates, since it is through interest rates
that monetary policy affects the economy. The application of this
principle in 1981-1982 was that the money supply should be in­
creased mere rapidly in order to lower interest rates, which were
the main obstacle to the recovery. (Interest rate policy almost al­
ways means policy to reduce interest rates. It is hard to think of
occasions when people who want to manage interest rates wanted
to manage them up.) Some of the more sophisticated or selfconscious proponents of this view in 1981-1982, aware that a
proposal to increase monetary growth looked like a proposal to
accelerate inflation, proposed that the monetary expansion be ac­
companied by a tighter budget. The usual prescription was to
raise the revenue, offsetting or undoing some of the tax cut made
in 1981. The proportions in which the easier money was to be
accompanied by the tighter budget were never specified, and the
impression was unavoidable that the mixture was intended to, or
would, result in a faster rate of increase of total spending and at
least the risk of more inflation.
Another kind of criticism of the prevailing monetary policy
came from the conventional, rigorous monetarists, the disciples
of Milton Friedman, who were to be found in the Treasury and
the Council of Economic Advisers as well as in the academic




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

branch of the economics profession. From time to time they
seemed to be saying that the general trend of monetary policy
was too restrictive, and that the Federal Reserve should be allow­
ing money to rise more rapidly, or at least should be slowing
down its growth more gradually. But this was an uncongenial po­
sition for them, since they had been preaching for so long about
the inflationary bias of the Federal Reserve. Their more natural
argument was to emphasize the damage done by the short-run os­
cillations of monetary growth around its trend, while accepting
the trend as appropriate. Their evidence for the view is only
beginning to be developed and has not yet been subject to criti­
cal analysis.7
These deviant views, expressed by their supporters with so
much confidence, provided little guidance for the Federal Re­
serve in the conduct of a disinflationary monetary policy. The
notion that the path of monetary policy would not matter for the
real economy— for output and employment— if the path were
well understood by the private sector gave little comfort. It did
seem to matter in 1981 and 1983, and if that might be disre­
garded as too short a period to deserve much attention, responsi­
ble officials could not take that position. Perhaps the problem
was that the intentions of the Federal Reserve and the determi­
nation and ability of the Federal Reserve to carry out its inten­
tions were not sufficiently believed in. But this only translated
the difficulty into the realm of the creation of credibility; it did
not eliminate the difficulty. The various price rules for monetary
policy— gold or sensitive commodity prices— had little political
support or analytical validity, and the interest rate rule had more
political support but even less validity.
Monetarism was the Mother Church from which the monetary
policy of 1979-1982 derived its inspiration, but that inspiration
was not a rule of conduct. Monetarism said that the way to keep
the rate of inflation low and stable was to keep the rate of in­
crease of the money supply low and stable. It did not say that the
rate of increase of the money supply should “never” change, in
response to a change in financial institutions, or in the demand
for money, or in the behavior of the real economy. It only said




The Reagan Presidency: Encounter with Reality

305

that the rate of increase of the money supply should “hardly
ever” change, and should only change in the light of strong evi­
dence of the need to change it. And monetarism did not say how
strong that evidence would have to be. Also of great importance
for 1979-1983 policy, monetarism did not prescribe a path for
getting from a position of high inflation to one of reasonable
price stability. It might say that the rate of growth of the money
supply, which was about 8 percent per annum in 1979, should be
reduced to, say, 2 percent. But it didn’t say whether that reduc­
tion should occur in one year or in three or in five. It didn’t say
whether that reduction should be at a steady pace or should be
faster at first or slower at first.
But these questions which monetarism didn’t answer were pre­
cisely those which bedeviled policy in 1981 and even more in
1982 and 1983. The Federal Reserve until mid-1982 was fol­
lowing the prescription of reducing the rate of growth of the
money supply. This was at least contributing to the decline of
the inflation rate. It was also contributing, as an inevitable by­
product, to a rise of unemployment. But was all of this going at
the right pace? This question was usually raised with concern for
the possibility that the growth of the money supply was too slow
and was causing unnecessary increases of unemployment, high
interest rates and risk of financial catastrophe. Each year the
Federal Reserve had established target ranges for the growth of
the money supply, and indicated its intention to keep the money
supply, or various definitions of it, within the specified ranges.
This was a “monetarist” kind of action, indicating a wish to let
the private sector know in advance what the monetary policy
would be and to resist the temptation to respond to every shift in
the economic statistics. But this did not imply that the Federal
Reserve would not run outside of the target range if the financial
markets or the real economy developed in ways that provided
strong evidence of the need to do so. And the Federal Reserve
would be continually faced with the question whether the evi­
dence was strong enough.
This question became acute in the summer of 1982, when the
unemployment rate in the United States reached 10 percent and




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

numerous financial institutions at home and countries abroad en­
countered serious financial difficulties which seemed to threaten
much more serious difficulties for the U.S. economy. In fact,
the Federal Reserve after June allowed the money supply to
rise far above its target range. There were various explanations
of this from the Fed, and many interpretations from outside ob­
servers, but the most common and probably correct interpreta­
tion was that, however monetarist Fed policy might have been
after 1979, it was now, at least for a time, less so. But where
monetary policy would go next, and how long its deviation might
last, remained uncertain.
The turn of monetary policy in mid-1982, joined with the
budget developments, signaled the end of Reagan campaign eco­
nomics. Tax cuts were no longer relied upon to raise revenue.
Balancing the budget was not confidently promised for any visi­
ble date. The administration seemed to be near the bottom of the
barrel of practically, politically viable expenditure cuts. The in­
stantaneous adjustment to disinflation which would avoid unem­
ployment had not occurred. The gold standard had been rejected.
And now we seemed to be leaving behind what there had been of
steady monetary growth.
But if this was the end of Reagan campaign economics, it was
not necessarily the end of conservative economics. The difficul­
ties of Reagan economics did not mean that there was a “liberal”
economics waiting in the wings that would solve our national
problems. The country needed a new economic policy, and that
would have to include a contribution from the conservative side.




9
Toward a New Consensus

By 1983 t h e c o n s e r v a t i v e t u r n in economic policy, begun
in the Carter-Volcker administration and sharpened in the Reagan-Volcker administration, had a good deal to show. The infla­
tion rate had fallen sharply. Defense spending was on an ac­
celerating path. There had been important changes in the tax
structure, including the reduction of the top marginal rate of
individual income tax and the increase of allowances for depre­
ciation of business capital. The rise of the total tax burden had
been slowed down, and one step had been taken, indexing of the
personal income tax, to prevent its future increase. The increase
of nondefense spending had been restrained. There had been a
few significant moves to reduce government regulation, notably
with respect to energy.
But there had been no radical Reagan revolution. Total taxes
and total expenditures were still as large as ever, relative to the
GNP, and there was no prospect of any significant reduction for
years ahead. Budget deficits, present and projected, were ex­
traordinarily large. In fact, at the time the most distinctive fea­
ture of Reagan economic policy— aside from its language— was




307

308

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

the size of its budget deficits. The country was as far as ever,
possibly farther, from having any agreed rules of fiscal policy
that would limit particular spending and taxing decisions. There
had been little movement toward establishing a predictable mon­
etary policy. The pace of deregulation had been disappointing to
its enthusiasts, and there had been some setbacks, notably pro­
tectionist moves with respect to steel, automobiles, and some
other products.
Moreover, there was no sign in 1983 that a Reagan revolution
lay ahead, or even that the trend was in the conservative direc­
tion. Indeed, there was a considerable possibility of turning in
the opposite direction. The decline of inflation had been achieved
in part at the expense of a serious recession. There was question
about the willingness of the country to tolerate the slow pace of
recovery that would prevent revival of inflation. Whether the
country would be willing to pay the costs of the defense program
as they increased was also in doubt; the President had already
had to accept a cutback in his program. Even the administration
was agreeable to a tax increase at some time in the future. After
the 1982 elections it was very doubtful that the political tide was
running toward the conservatives. The Democratic gains in the
House of Representatives may have been no more than usual for
the opposition in an off-year election. But if there was to be a
Reagan revolution it should have been confirmed by Republican
gains, as the Roosevelt revolution had been confirmed by the
Democratic gains in 1934. Although the Republicans held to
their majority in the Senate in the 1982 elections, the Senate Re­
publicans were obviously becoming more independent of the
President and more responsive to their own moderate leaders.
The basic reason why there was no Reagan radical conserva­
tive revolution in economic policy was that the 1980 election did
not constitute a mandate for such a revolution. A small fraction
of Reagan supporters claimed that there was indeed such a man­
date. They complained bitterly that the administration was be­
traying its mandate, when it accepted tax increases in 1982, for
example, and blamed that on moderate fellow travelers who had




Toward a New Consensus

309

infiltrated the White House and kept Reagan from being Reagan.
But in fact there was no such mandate.
Reagan did not have much of a mandate of any kind. A l­
though he got 489 out of 538 electoral votes in 1980 he received
only 51 percent of the total vote. He did not carry in a Republi­
can Congress to help implement his program. The vote he did
get was certainly in substantial part a tribute to his personal
charm and even more to the general perception of Carter’s per­
sonal inadequacy. Insofar as the vote reflected issues at all, there
were issues other than economics that influenced many voters.
Feelings about national security and status, intensified by the
Iran hostage crisis, and the various “social” issues— abortion,
school prayer, etc.— were important. But even where economics
was concerned, Reagan’s mandate was not to follow any specifi­
cally conservative policies or any specific policies at all. His man­
date was to make things better. Reagan ran, like all challengers,
on the negative proposition— that conditions were not satisfac­
tory. No demonstration was needed that he would actually im­
prove conditions.
Reagan’s 1980 campaign promise was to reduce inflation, re­
duce taxes, reduce government spending and reduce government
regulation. But it was not a promise to reduce inflation by in­
creasing unemployment, to reduce taxes by increasing the gov­
ernment deficit, to reduce government spending by cutting benefits
or to reduce regulation by increasing pollution. That would, at
least arguably, have been a defensible conservative agenda. If
Reagan had been elected on such promises he would clearly
have had a mandate. But he was not. He had a mandate to pro­
vide a free lunch, or as used to be said in more agrarian days, a
late fall and an early spring. And that is no mandate at all, be­
cause it is not a mandate to make any of the choices which must
be made. He might as well have promised to fly from the top of
the Washington Monument to the dome of the Capitol, unaided.
Mr. Reagan was known, of course, to be an ideological con­
servative, just as Mr. Carter was known to be a born-again
Christian. But what that implied or promised in a President was




3io

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

unclear in any case. It didn’t tell what a President would feel
compelled to do when confronted with a specific problem.
What Mr. Reagan received in 1980 was not a mandate but an
opportunity. He had an opportunity to try to create the radical
conservative revolution from the commanding heights of the
White House, and he might have succeeded.
There were several ways in which President Reagan might
have brought about the conservative revolution once he was in
the White House, even if his election was not a mandate for the
revolution. One would have been to achieve the appearance of
success. In his early days, during his presidential honeymoon, he
had the opportunity to put into place distinctive policies, and to
some extent he did. He got the big tax cut, for example, he made
a number of expenditure cuts, and he deregulated oil prices. If
such policies had been associated with the general feeling of im­
provement of the economy they might have become regarded as
the way to go and still further steps in the same direction would
have been accepted. It would not have been necessary that the
policies actually succeed. We do not yet know whether Roose­
velt’s policies actually succeeded, but they acquired the appear­
ance of success, and that was sufficient.
By and large the Reagan policies did not at first obtain the ap­
pearance of success. They were accompanied or followed by high
unemployment, high interest rates and higher budget deficits.
The positive accomplishments— mainly with respect to infla­
tion— were insufficient when compared with the claims and prom­
ises the Reagan team had made. After the first few months, Rea­
gan economics never had the momentum of success behind it. By
1983 there were signs that the economy was performing better.
But by then it was at least as convincing to attribute that to the
retreat from Reagan economics as to Reagan economics in its
initial, pure form.
Even if Reagan economics was not working in the short run,
the President might have used the early influence of his office,
the desire of the public for a change and its willingness to give the
new President a chance, all fortified by his personal popularity,
to take steps that would fasten conservative economic policy




Toward a New Consensus

311

irreversibly upon the country. Some of the Reagan supporters
clearly had this idea. That explains the desire for constitutional
amendments like the proposed amendment requiring the budget
to be balanced or setting a limit to government expenditures.
The rationale was that one could not count on the ordinary po­
litical process to keep the budget in balance or confine spending
within limits but that it might be possible in the Reagan honey­
moon to supersede the ordinary political process forever by
amendment of the Constitution. Milton and Rose Friedman had
a catalogue of seven constitutional amendments they proposed
that would establish conservative (or free market) economics as
the law of the land despite future political backsliding.1
There were other possibilities that might have had similar ef­
fects. For example, the idea of establishing the gold standard was
to make a once-and-for-all step which would remove monetary
policy from the control of human, and possibly “liberal,” mone­
tary authorities. Less extreme institutional changes were also de­
signed to make difficult future reversal of Reagan’s initiatives.
For example, abolishing the Departments of Energy and Educa­
tion would remove bureaucracies that would always be a force
demanding more regulation and more money.
But the Reagan administration did only a little in this direc­
tion. Introducing indexing in the personal income tax reduced a
built-in tendency for revenues to rise, a rise which generates a
built-in tendency for expenditures to rise. The complete termina­
tion of oil price controls probably will be difficult to reverse. But
there was little radical institutional change. One reason was that
the effort to achieve such change conflicted with the administra­
tion’s short-run objectives. The balanced-budget amendment was
the leading example. Even before Ronald Reagan came into of­
fice, over thirty states had adopted resolutions calling for a con­
vention to adopt such an amendment. This seemed to be the du­
rable change in economic policy most likely to be adopted. The
President placed great emphasis on it in argument during 1982
and the Senate did support it, but the House of Representatives
did not. But by 1983 the idea was, if not dead, indefinitely post­
poned. The President no longer mentioned it. The idea was post­




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

poned because the President was unable to propose any combi­
nation of expenditures and revenues that would bring the budget
close to balance even after five years, so that it would have
looked extremely insincere to propose putting a straitjacket on
his successors while he was disporting himself so freely with
large deficits.
But the administration had put itself in that position, mainly
by the big tax cut. Without the tax cut the Reagan budget would
have been much closer to balance and the proposal for a consti­
tutional requirement to balance the budget would have been
much more believable. There would have been evidence that
Reagan was willing to accept severe limitations on his own free­
dom of action for the sake of a permanent change that would
limit the freedom of governments in the future. But this option
was not perceived, or, if perceived, not accepted.
There were people, who thought that the big tax cut itself was
the revolution, or at least a shot in the revolution. They believed
that reducing the revenue sharply would force a sharp change of
attitude toward government spending and a reversal of its up­
ward trend— which they regarded as the key element of the rev­
olution. But that was not a reliable expectation and in fact turned
out to be true to only a limited degree. Congress proved willing
to run a large deficit and also, though more reluctantly, to raise
taxes.
There was, thus, this difference between the Roosevelt revolu. tion and the Reagan would-be revolution. The Roosevelt revolu/ tion was incorporated in statutes, programs and agencies that
I were not subject to annual reconsideration and that developed
constituencies— bureaucracies and beneficiaries— that resisted
counterrevolution. The Reagan changes were changes in num­
bers, mainly budget numbers, that are the subject of redetermination every year. They would not have the lasting effect that the
Roosevelt changes had.
A basic difficulty may impede the achievement of a radical
conservative revolution. Such a revolution would be a sharp
change toward limiting the role of government. But a revolution
can hardly be engineered from outside the government, and even




Toward a New Consensus

313

conservative governments when in office do not want to limit
their own powers. So the radical conservative revolution is the
dream of conservatives out of office, but not the practice of con­
servatives in office.
If unable or unwilling to take the steps that would establish a
durable conservative revolution during his time in office, a Presi­
dent might be able to use the “bully pulpit” of his office to
change national thinking in a way that would permit a future
conservative revolution or evolution. In fact, President Reagan
did not do that. The notion of the “bully pulpit” is much over­
rated. Presidents have an excellent vantage point from which to
preach to the people. They rarely, however, use this opportunity
to try to change popular conceptions or values. Rather they take
those conceptions or values for granted and try to show that they,
or their programs, are most in conformity with what the public
already thinks and wants.
Reagan was no exception to this. He did not try to preach the
real conservative doctrine that there is no free lunch, and that
while conservative economics would yield beneficial results in the
long run there would be some costs to be paid by some in the
short run. As difficulties appeared— mainly in the form of unem­
ployment— President Reagan had to abandon his earlier position
that all good things were simultaneously possible and to begin
telling the people that there was no “ quick fix.” But by that time
the proposition that there was no quick fix looked like a politi­
cally motivated effort to escape blame. It did not have the educa­
tional value, or the credibility, that it might have had if it had
been said when there was a risk in saying it.
Perhaps that is the key to the failure of Mr. Reagan and of
Presidents generally to use the bully pulpit to change people’s
minds. To change people’s minds it is necessary to say things
that people do not already believe and to explain why what they
formerly believed was wrong. This is a risk few politicians want
to take. Mr. Reagan as the Great Communicator was skillful at
pressing the conservative buttons that were already there in the
American mentality. He was not much concerned with changing
the liberal buttons or installing new conservative ones.




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

So, there was not to be a radical conservative revolution in
economic policy during the Reagan administration. The country
did not need that or want it, and the Reagan team itself, once in
office, did not strive to accomplish it. But this did not mean that
the conservative movement in economic policy was over. The
problems which had turned the country in that direction even in
the Carter administration remained, and so did the opportunity
to seek the support of the American people. What was required
was a conservative policy that realistically promised to solve the
problems and that could be explained to the electorate with a
reasonable possibility of being approved. In other words, the op­
erational and understandable features of the conservative policy
still had to be developed.
Despite the failures of Reagan economics the liberal alterna­
tives were not promising and did not seem to generate any en­
thusiasm in public opinion. These liberal alternatives had two
main ingredients. One of these was basically Kennedy-JohnsonHumphrey economics. That meant first of all expansionist de­
mand-management policies accompanied by incomes policies to
prevent inflation. Again, as in the past, expansion of demand
would be relied upon both to achieve high employment and to
promote strong long-term growth of productivity. Some of the
cuts in social programs would be undone— food stamps, educa­
tional assistance, etc.— and some social programs would be intro­
duced or expanded— catastrophic medical insurance, for exam­
ple. Taxes would be raised again, mainly by closing “loopholes”
of greatest value to middle-income and upper-income people.
The regulations installed in the 1970s, especially environmental
and safety regulations, would be more rigorously applied. De­
fense spending would be slowed down.
This standard brand of liberalism had changed in several “con­
servative” ways since the mid-1970s, under the impact of events
and argument. In general it was less ambitious. Notions of the
goal for the reduction of unemployment were more moderate—
something like 6 percent being accepted as satisfactory— and
more concern was expressed about inflationary dangers. The
pace at which new spending programs were being invented had




Toward a New Consensus

315

slowed down, most liberal requirements for an issue on that front
now being satisfied by resistance to the Reagan cuts. New em­
phasis was placed on the evils of budget deficits, which was easy
since the deficits could be blamed on Reagan’s defense program
and tax cuts.
This movement of the mainstream liberals held out the hope
of achieving a consensus with the mainstream conservatives— the
pre- and post-Reagan conservatives. That was important in it­
self. The country needed a more stable and predictable economic
policy and that would be more achievable if the gap between the
dominant wings of the political array was not great.
But still, despite these changes of attitude, the standard brand
of liberalism retained the seeds of its old inadequacies and evils.
It still called upon the country to entrust the powers of govern­
ment to the wisdom and goodwill of a group of people who
promised to deliver all good things, but especially high employ­
ment and “fairness,” meaning income redistribution. That is, it
was still undisciplined, still devoid of guidelines and limits. The
main implication of this was too much danger of inflation. All the
old mistakes which had contributed to the inflation remained.
There had to be a numerical goal for unemployment, and while
the number now accepted was higher than previously no one
could be sure that it was an uninflationary number. Moreover,
unless the idea of a numerical goal was rejected, political com­
petition would almost certainly lead to promises to achieve a
goal which would be inflationary. Also, the standard liberal doc­
trine accepted an inflation rate of 5 or 6 percent and had no in­
terest in getting the rate down further. This was not a sign of
strong determination to end inflation. And what would be needed,
if inflation was to be reduced and held down, would be a general
belief in the strength of the government’s determination to ac­
complish that.
The liberal approach to inflation relied heavily upon the no­
tion that there is in reserve an incomes policy that will directly
restrain price and wage increases even if conditions in the mar­
kets would tend spontaneously to cause such increases. It is this
reliance which leads to the belief that no great cost in unemploy­




3 i6

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

ment ever has to be borne, even temporarily, to control inflation.
But there is much experience to show that this belief seduces
governments into overly expansive monetary policies, creating
inflationary pressures that temporary or voluntary incomes poli­
cies cannot withstand. This strategy then leads to another wave of
inflation or, worse, to long-continued, mandatory, comprehensive
controls, which would be extremely debilitating to the economy.
By the early 1980s the standard brand of liberalism had come
to assign much more importance to monetary policy than it had
done earlier. But it had not accepted any rules for the conduct of
monetary policy except that the monetary authorities should do
their best, in view of their perception of all the conditions in the
economy, to achieve the best combination of economic goals.
This freewheeling attitude to monetary policy was the necessary
counterpart of the commitment to a preset goal for unemploy­
ment, which has already been mentioned. It was also the engine
that would create the inflation that the approach made probable.
By the early 1980s the standard brand of liberalism had left
behind its primitive Keynesian ideas of functional finance— of a
budget policy exclusively determined by the requirement of meet­
ing a known goal of “full employment.” But that left the guiding
principle of liberal fiscal policy quite unclear. Many liberals,
both economists and politicians, discovered during the Reagan
administration that they were greatly alarmed by the size of the
actual and prospective budget deficits. Economists maintained
that the large present and prospective deficits were contributing
to the recession— or at least, they maintained that view while
the economy was in recession, especially in 1982. This was
not only a departure from previous liberal doctrine, it was a
reversal of that doctrine. The liberal argument against deficits
began to look like the former conservative argument against def­
icits— mainly a cover for opposition to particular expenditures
and taxes. The liberals tried to mobilize what they believed was
a popular fear of budget deficits in support of their desire to cut
the Reagan defense program and to restore some of the taxes on
business and upper-income people that had been cut in the Rea-




Toward a New Consensus

317

gan program. Whether they had a commitment to balanced bud­
gets or small deficits which would make them willing to limit ex­
penditure increases of a kind they liked was in doubt. They did
not seem to have a theory or policy for determining the accept­
able size of budget deficits that they could live with or that the
private economy could count on.
Thus the standard brand of liberalism by the 1980s was neither
intellectually satisfying nor politically appealing. It still retained
most of the features of the Humphrey-Carter economics that
were associated with the dismal economic performance of the
1970s and that, moreover, by then had become banal. Insofar as
it incorporated departures from this earlier orthodoxy they were
pale imitations of old-fashioned conservatism, for which the lib­
erals were not credible champions.
Aware of the insufficiency of their standard doctrine, liberals
began after the 1980 election to look for an alternative or sup­
plementary economic policy. What emerged was a new strategy,
or slogan, called “high technology” or “industrial policy.” Inso­
far as this idea emerged from anything more than the political
need for a new slogan it was stimulated by two observations.
Within the United States, employment and output were sluggish
or declining in older American industries— such as steel and au­
tomobiles— but rising within certain newer industries, mainly
connected with electronics. A t the same time output of these
newer industries was rising elsewhere, notably in Japan, and so
were U.S. imports of these high-tech products.
These observations led to several conclusions.
1. The United States economy would benefit from the shift of
more resources to high-tech industries. There would be less un­
employment, more income per hour and less inflation.
2. This shift would not occur under present policies.
3. This shift should be promoted by policies which encour­
aged investment and enterprise in general, such as reduction of
the budget deficit and of business taxes, in the expectation that
market processes would direct the investment and enterprise to




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

those industries in which the private gains were greatest and
those would also be the industries in which the social gains were
greatest.
4. The shift to high-tech industries should be promoted by
policies which promoted high tech in general— such as govern­
ment financing of research or technical education. This would
not require the government to select particular industries or par­
ticular firms for promotion.
5. Private markets would not effectively select the industries
that would contribute most to national economic growth. There­
fore the government should select these— presumably, hightech— industries and promote their development by subsidies,
loans, protection against import competition or in other ways.
It was the last of these points that constituted the new “ lib­
eral” look in economic policy. The others, whether or not valid,
were not particularly alien to conservative thinking. In fact,
President Reagan absorbed the first four of these ideas. The last
point, the central selection and promotion of “winners”— the in­
dustries that would be the carriers of growth— was the 1980s
version of a theme that recurs in American thinking about eco­
nomic policy. That is the need for a “plan.” This notion had
been prominent in the New Deal, in the early Kennedy days of
fascination with French indicative planning, and in the 19751978 period when Humphrey-Javits and Humphrey-Hawkins bills
were under discussion. The planning idea never got very far with
the American public, who were prepared to welcome government
regulation in any specific case but who reacted against the idea
of a comprehensive plan, which seemed theoretical and Rube
Goldberg-like. The high-tech version might be more popular,
however, because it seemed more specific and involved the im­
age of hard science (engineering, physics) rather than soft sci­
ence (economics, sociology).
But the fact is that “industrial policy” had little to offer. With
respect to most of the problems besetting the American econ­
omy, it was almost totally irrelevant. It would do nothing about
inflation and almost nothing about unemployment. On this latter




Toward a New Consensus

319

point there was much confusion. People saw, via television or
otherwise, that there was little unemployment in cities and towns
that produced personal computers or video games and they
thought that there would be less unemployment nationally if
more cities and towns produced such high-tech products. But all
the unemployed could not be employed to produce high-tech
products, and it was not necessary for any of them to produce
such products in order to get unemployment reduced. At the ex­
isting prices there was a certain market for high-tech products,
and if more was produced in Lowell, Massachusetts, less would
be produced in San Antonio, Texas. If the price of these prod­
ucts could be reduced, more of them would be sold, which might
or might not increase employment in their production. That
would depend on how the price was reduced; if that was done by
increasing productivity, employment would not rise if the pro­
ductivity increase exceeded the output increase. But even if em­
ployment increased in the high-tech industries, total employment
might not increase. The effect on total employment would de­
pend on whether the purchase of additional high-tech products
was a substitute for other purchases. And if total employment
could be increased by, for example, subsidizing the output of hightech products, it might be equally possible to increase employment
by subsidizing the output of anything else.
Countries with low productivity or slowly growing productiv­
ity can have full employment without inflation— just as well as
countries with high productivity or rapidly rising productivity.
What happens to employment in these cases will depend on what
happens to wages. A country with low productivity and high real
wages will have high unemployment, because it will not pay to
hire all the workers. A country with high productivity and still
higher real wages will also have high unemployment, and for the
same reason. If there is a mechanism, either in the private mar­
kets or by government controls, that keeps real wage demands
from exceeding productivity there will be high employment,
whether productivity is high or low. If there is no such mecha­
nism an effort to make productivity keep up with wages is hope­
less, because even the most effective policy can change produc­




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tivity only little and slowly, compared with possible changes of
wages.
A similar point must be made about inflation. If the growth of
demand is kept moderate by monetary and fiscal policy, there
will be no inflation even if productivity rises slowly. And if de­
mand is not kept from rising rapidly, no productivity-stimulating
policy can prevent inflation.
Where high-tech policy could make a difference is in real
wages and real incomes. If high-tech policy could direct more
of the nation’s resources of labor and capital into industries with
high and rising productivity than would result without such pol­
icy, it could make real wages and incomes higher and more rap­
idly rising than they would otherwise be. The question is whether
high-tech policy would do that. There already is a powerful force
tending to direct resources into uses where their productivity is
high. That is the incentive of the owners of the resources—
workers and investors— to maximize their incomes by using them
in a productive way. This force has been highly effective. It has
been a major element in a process that gave the United States the
highest average per capita income in the world. Although the
rate of productivity growth has slowed down in the past decade,
there is no evidence that this was due to a weakening of this pri­
vate productivity-seeking force.
This is not to deny that government has played an important
role in the American growth process, by such general means as
the provision of education, research, roads, etc. It has also made
a contribution to the development of particular industries, such
as agriculture, which turned out to be a contribution to national
economic development. To be skeptical about high-tech policy
does not imply rejection of the function of government to create
general conditions conducive to economic growth, or in excep­
tional cases to promote a particular industry.
But this is not what high-tech policy or “industrial policy”
means as a serious entry in the discussion of national economic
policies. What these words mean is more comprehensive surveil­
lance of the industrial distribution of the national resources and
a more positive federal policy to guide the distribution of re-




Toward a New Consensus

321

sources in order to accelerate growth. If high-tech policy does not
mean that, it may be acceptable but no strong claims can be
made for it as a novel approach that will significantly change
and improve the performance of the American economy. Viewed
in its more radical aspect, high-tech policy is unpromising for
two reasons. There is no reason to think that the government of­
ficials making the decisions will be intellectually more capable
than the private people who would otherwise make the decisions.
There is every reason to think the contrary. The private people
will be closer to the conditions and opportunities and will know
more about them; risking their own resources, they will be more
highly motivated to learn as much as possible, and the market
will tend to select out those private people who are most capable
of making decisions and to attract the most capable people be­
cause the rewards are greater. Even more important, in fact, the
government’s decisions will be less single-mindedly devoted to
the increase of productivity because the government decision­
makers have less to gain personally from the increase of pro­
ductivity and more to gain from devoting the programs to their
personal political advantages. Experience with government eco­
nomic development programs for depressed regions, with smallbusiness-assistance programs and with tariff protection dem­
onstrates, what should be obvious a priori, the dominant influence
of personal or regional political considerations. Thus, even if it
were likely that sophisticated government bureaucrats could outthink the market in discovering where resources should go, it
would be extremely unlikely that the political decisions would
conform to these scientific findings.
“Industrial policy” is to the liberals of 1983 what supply-side
economics was to the conservatives of 1980— attractive because
it promises more of everything but without any grounds for ful­
filling the promise.
A New Consensus
The failure of the Reagan administration to inaugurate a radical
right revolution in economic policy and the obvious inadequacy




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

of the liberal approaches in either their Johnson-Humphrey stan­
dard version or in the newer high-tech version reveal the vacuum
which exists in economic policy. The old postwar consensus had
been carried too far— into too much expansion of demand, too
much spending and taxing and too much regulation— by the time
of President Carter. But Reaganism was more a shriek of horror
than a program for solving real problems. It did not make use of
the opportunity to find better solutions, but the opportunity and
the need remain.
There is no logical necessity for these solutions to be “conser­
vative.” The important thing is to find policies that have a rea­
sonable chance of improving the performance of the economy
and also of being acceptable to a sufficient range of interests and
opinions. From the latter standpoint, pure or extreme conserva­
tism is not a promising route, even if, as does not seem likely
anyway, it contains all the truth. But still the lessons of experi­
ence and economic analysis will cause the new consensus, if one
is achieved, to differ from that of the 1960s and 1970s in many
respects that may be called conservative. The new consensus
would place more weight on restraining inflation and less on gen­
erating full employment by expansionary means, more on pro­
moting economic growth and less on redistributing the available
output among industries, more on monetary policy and less on
fiscal policy for stabilization of the economy, more on markets
and less on government regulation.
Probably a great many people who once considered them­
selves liberals, and some who still do, would agree with this gen­
eral prescription. But as was seen in the last two years of the
Carter administration and in the early years of the Reagan ad­
ministration, translating these general leanings into a specific
policy is difficult. It is intellectually difficult and politically diffi­
cult. That is not surprising, of course. If it were easy it would al­
ready have been done. The intellectual difficulty is that economists
do not know enough even to say with much confidence and pre­
cision what the effects of different economic policies would be.
Even if one is able to describe what effects are desired he cannot
be sure of the prescription of policy that would yield those ef-




Toward a New Consensus

323

fects. The political difficulty is that even if it were possible to
identify the policy that would be best, or probably best, from the
standpoint of most of the persons concerned, it might not be pos­
sible to get that policy adopted. The best policy for most is un­
likely to be the best policy for all, and those who would lose
from the best policy may be able to prevent its adoption. This
becomes obvious if many of the people who would gain from the
best policy are still unborn and therefore unable to influence the
decision.
These difficulties must be recognized in an effort to improve or
develop national economic policy. It is not sufficient or even very
helpful to lay out “ideal” programs as if their ideal character
could be objectively demonstrated and as if their implementation
could be confidently expected once they had been promulgated.
There is a need first of all to try to learn more. That is a slow
process, however, and the world cannot wait for its completion.
Policies must be developed that take account of our ignorance
and uncertainties, and which provide assurance against catas­
trophe even if they do not guarantee optimum results. That is
what prudence means. Even about that we will be uncertain and
there will be different views about what is prudent. There must
be an effort to reconcile these views, and to reach a compromise
if that fails. “Compromise” is a bad word in some contexts, but
agreement on policy is important for the sake of stability and
predictability. Compromise may be the only way to achieve that.
Otherwise policy can oscillate uncertainly and violently between
different views in response to election results that may not indi­
cate a need or popular desire for change. Stability of an agreedupon policy may be more important than the selection of the par­
ticular policy.
The search for a policy is a search for rules or principles or
guidelines and procedures which will restrain the political bias
toward short-run and special interests. The basic assumption is
that it is possible to get general assent to rules and procedures
believed to be in the long-run national interest even by individ­
uals or groups who recognize that these rules and procedures will
sometimes prevent them from pursuing their own perceived in­




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

terest. There have been such rules in the past, such as the rule
that required the government to balance its budget or the rule
that required the government to stand ready to convert its money
into gold. These rules turned out, in the end, not to be in the
long-run national interest and they did not survive. But for a
considerable period they did limit and discipline the behavior of
governments and therefore of the groups that had political power.
The balanced-budget and gold-standard rules originated spon­
taneously sometime in the distant past and were preserved by the
respect paid to tradition. They were not the product of deliberate
decisions. Perhaps it is not possible to create rules of policy by
discussion and conscious agreement. If so, we are destined to be
governed by accident and by the shifting balance of political
power among competing interests. But I do not believe that is in­
evitable. There have been times when, driven by a feeling of na­
tional crisis, decision-makers in and out of government did carry
on a responsible discussion which led to useful consensus. Con­
ditions call for an effort to do that today.
We are not having such a discussion. Although there is much
talk about economic policy, there is no debate. People say what
they have always believed, or what they find it convenient to say,
but there is no confrontation of the arguments. There is no effort
to find the sources of disagreement or to reach agreement, per­
haps because the participants think that the effort to change
minds and reach agreement is hopeless. Talk about economic
policy has become only a way of rallying one’s own troops.
Discussion by economists is either incomprehensible or in­
credible— incomprehensible because conducted in a language that
few but experts can understand or incredible because so obviously
partisan that no one can take it seriously. The Employment A ct
of 1946, which established the President’s Council of Economic
Advisers and the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, was
supposed to bring economic science into the political process.
Whether or not it has succeeded in that, it has certainly brought
politics into economics. It has helped to raise up a cadre of econ­
omists whose association with government— experienced in the
past or hoped for in the future— gives their views a strong parti­




Toward a New Consensus

325

san cast. And these are the economists who get attention in the
media, because they are believed to be important. This conveys
the impression to the public that economic argument consists en­
tirely of briefs for one or another political party.
Private institutions show little desire to break out of this su­
perficial, ritual, parochial mold of economic discussion. There
was a time when private institutions behaved more open-mindedly
and constructively. I have already described some of these con­
ditions in Chapter II. Around the end of World War II the busi­
nessmen of the Committee for Economic Development exposed
themselves to both Keynesianism and Chicago classical free mar­
ket economics. The National Planning Association worked to
find the areas of constructive agreement among representatives
of business, labor, agriculture and the general public. The Amer­
ican Economic Association organized group efforts to produce
statements on major issues of policy that could be communicated
to Congress. Nothing like that goes on today. The action-oriented
institutions concentrate on promoting the immediate and paro­
chial interests of their members. It is symptomatic that the most
prominent business organization today, the Business Roundtable,
is short on research and public discussion but long on lobbying.
Thinking is relegated to “think tanks” where like-minded people
gather together to comfort each other. The calendar is full of
conferences of people with diverse views, but the last thing that
happens at such conferences is any “conferring”— any more than
the bears and the elephants at a zoo may be said to confer with
each other because they are on the same ground.
One would hope that the needed discussion would arise spon­
taneously in the country in response to the evident uncertainties
and inadequacies of economic policy. As this does not seem to
be happening, the process might be stimulated by an initiative in
Congress. The Congressional debate over what became the Em­
ployment Act of 1946 forced an exploration of the limits of pos­
sible agreement on goals, instruments and procedures of eco­
nomic policy. Attention was focused on large issues, and the
national mood of concern about the economy forced the par­
ticipants to try to make a constructive contribution.




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Congressional consideration of a significant revision of the
Employment Act of 1946 could precipitate a new serious and
possibly constructive debate over economic policy. The Employ­
ment Act of 1946 was enacted in an atmosphere of obsession
with the unemployment problem and naive confidence in the abil­
ity of macroeconomic policy, mainly fiscal policy, to solve the
problem. The act served to improve economic policy, on the
whole, for a considerable period. But it is now irrelevant or mis­
leading in the light of our current problems and understanding.
The attempt to revise it would require an attempt to formulate in
a realistic and precise way what should now be the objectives
and procedures of economic policy, especially of fiscal and mon­
etary policy. Although revision of the act is not strictly necessary
for reform of policy, a new synthesis arrived at by national dis­
cussion is necessary, and revising the act can be a way to force
that discussion.
The following suggestions for reforming economic policy are
offered as a contribution to the needed discussion. They are not of­
fered as the only or final solutions for our problems. They are
put forward to help advance the discussion, not to end it. I am
not under the illusion that I know what the best answers are or
that if I did know them that would be the end of the matter.
Second-best answers on which we agree may be more valuable
than first-best answers on which we don’t agree.

Inflation
The great economic trauma of the 1970s was inflation. That
more than anything else created the feeling of anxiety about the
economy, the dissatisfaction with the existing management of
policy and the demand for a change. It was primarily the fact
that the old course, inaugurated under Roosevelt, had led into an
acceleration of inflation that signaled the end of that course.
Economists for a long time belittled the common hysteria
about inflation. They insisted on looking behind the veil of prices
to see what was happening in the “real” world of output and em-




Toward a New Consensus

327

ployment. Much of the time in the 1970s that real world looked
good. But people were unhappy. A t a press conference in 1973 I
explained that although prices were rising, incomes were rising
even faster, so people were better off. A reporter asked me why,
in that case, the administration was so concerned about inflation.,
I answered that inflation made the people unhappy and the ad­
ministration, contrary to a common view, did not want the peo­
ple to be unhappy. That was meant as a joke but it contained a
basic truth. People were unhappy. They felt cheated because
their rising income did not make them as rich as they thought.
They were worried because they weren’t sure that their incomes
would continue to keep up with prices. This unhappiness was a
real thing, even if it did not show up in the economists’ measure­
ments of the real economy. It was probably the dominant real
consequence of the inflation. There were other real consequences,
later, which would show up in the measurements, including the
unemployment that would be involved when the public’s resent­
ment of the inflation required that it be brought to an end.
Inflation may not be the problem of the 1980s and 1990s as
it was of the 1970s. By 1983 the inflation rate had been re­
duced below 5 percent. Some people look at that and say that "
the inflation is over. Fighting the anti-inflation fight is fighting
the last war, in their opinion. They may be right. But such talk
has been heard before, several times since 1965, and it always
turned out to be wrong. Inflation accelerated again. To think v
that there has been some radical change in the economy or in
politics which is about to hand us a generation of price stability
would be risky. If there has been such a change it will appear,
and will make economic life easier. But to assume it would only
expose us to the danger of another wave of inflation. And that
wave, if it occurs, could be worse than the previous ones. A re­
vival of inflation after the pain that had been induced from 1979
to 1983 to bring it down, and after the efforts of our most “con­
servative” combination of President and Federal Reserve chair­
man, would confirm the view that accelerating inflation is inevitablejn the United States. There would be a rush for protection
against inflation, by demanding bigger wage increases, raising




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

prices, accumulating commodities and buying real estate, selling
bonds, perhaps even getting out of dollars. That would produce
a much more rapid inflation than we have yet suffered.
Economic policy for the 1980s must take the control of infla­
tion as its first priority— as the necessary condition for achieving
other objectives. As a practical matter that means (a) that the
control of inflation must be the dominant objective of monetary
policy, to which other objectives must be subordinated if they
conflict, and (b) that monetary policy must be the chief instru­
ment for controlling inflation. Until recently there would have
been considerable disagreement about both of these propositions,
but they have much wider acceptance today.
There have in the past been two main approaches to the causes
and cures of inflation. Everyone agreed with the tautological
statement that inflation results from an excess of the demand for
output over the supply at existing prices. The conventional view,
almost two hundred years old, has emphasized the demand side
of this equation. But there have always been some people who
insisted that the demand explanation and prescription was too
simple and that the supply side must also be considered. During
the Napoleonic wars there were economists who maintained that
the cause of the British inflation was not the government’s print­
ing of money but Napoleon’s sinking of ships bringing grain to
England. In the 1970s and early 1980s the supply-side explana­
tions became more numerous. They included the power and
greed of unions or corporations— depending on who was telling
the story— the increased number of women and youths in the la­
bor force, the rise of acquisitiveness, the increased absorption of
the national output by government, bad crops and the operations
of the oil cartel. For a time a number of politicians and publicists,
and a few economists, gained attention with the idea that the
way to check inflation was to increase the supply of output,
mainly by cutting taxes. They scoffed at the idea that restraint of
demand could cure inflation, maintaining that demand-restraint
would be counterproductive because it would cut output.
The supply-side approach is, however, seriously deficient both
as explanation and as prescription. The difference between the




Toward a New Consensus

329

noninflationary years 1955-1965 and the inflationary years 19651980 was on the demand side, not on the supply side. In the for­
mer period, real output rose by 3.5 percent per annum, total
spending rose by 5.6 percent per annum, and prices rose by
2.0 percent per annum. In the latter period, real output rose by 3.1
percent per annum, total spending rose by 9.3 percent per an­
num, and prices rose by 6.0 percent per annum. The big differ­
ence was that total spending— which is the demand side of the
equation— rose much more rapidly in the second period. A pos­
sible explanation is that monetary policy generated a much more
rapid expansion of demand in an effort to keep output rising at
its previous level, and that the effort turned out to be unsuccess­
ful and inflationary. But that only means that the inflation was
due to a mistaken demand-management policy. And in fact, the
inflation was well underway before output growth began to slow
down. Some people, especially business people, maintained for a
long time that the inflation was caused by excessive wage de­
mands of unions. But actually wage demands followed the infla­
tion, rather than leading it. The strongest case for an exogenous
supply-side effect on inflation relates to the oil price increases.
But again, the inflation was well under way, and was sufficiently
worrisome to give rise to mandatory price and wage controls, be­
fore the oil price increases began. The big oil price increases
of 1973-1974 and 1978-1979 undoubtedly contributed to the
surges of general inflation at those times, but it was the rise of
demand which explained the extent to which the oil price in­
creases were subsequently translated into inflation in the rest of
the price structure. With more restraint of demand, the increase
in the relative price of oil could have been accommodated within
a much slower overall inflation rate. Some countries, like Japan
and Switzerland, absorbed the same energy prices that the United
States did with much less total inflation.
Whatever the division of responsibility for past inflation may
be, there is no question that policy for preventing inflation in the
future must rely predominantly on demand management. The
reason is simple. Demand management is the only anti-inflation
policy that the government can push to whatever degree is neces­




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

sary. Whatever is happening on the supply side of the economy,
there is some demand-management policy that will keep it from
being inflationary— if not in a particular quarter or year then
surely over a reasonable period of time. For example, if total de­
mand does not rise over a period of, say, ten years, it is almost
inconceivable that there should be any substantial rise of prices
1 over that period. On the other hand, if demand rises rapidly it is
almost inconceivable that any supply-side policy could prevent
inflation. The power of the government to influence the supply
side of the economy is small, much smaller than the possible
spontaneous or managed variation of demand. It is unlikely that
any government policy could change the rate of growth of sup­
ply, within a time period measured in decades, by as much as
one percentage point— for example, from 3 percent a year to 4
percent a year— whereas government policy can, over a reason­
able period of time, make the growth of demand anything it
j wants. Demand management is not only essential for the prevenL tion of inflation, it can also be sufficient.
This does not by itself mean that some supply-side policies
may not be helpful in preventing inflation. It does mean that
they cannot very much change the responsibility of demandmanagement policies. There was a time when this judgment would
have been challenged with respect to incomes policy. That is,
some economists would have said that a feasible policy for direct
government restraint would permit a more expansive demand
policy than would otherwise have been consistent with the avoid­
ance of inflation. After disappointing experience with incomes
policy, probably many of those who retain some hope for it
would put the proposition differently. That is, they would advo­
cate a demand-management policy that would avoid inflation
without any contribution from incomes policy, supplemented by
an incomes policy which, if it had any effect, would reduce the
unemployment associated with general price stability. They rec­
ognize that the effectiveness of incomes policy is too uncertain to
rely upon it as an anti-inflationary instrument but hope that it
may still contribute something to reducing unemployment. The




Toward a New Consensus

331

possible usefulness of incomes policy will be discussed below.
The point being made here is that the potentialities of incomes
policy, even if they are real— which I don’t believe— do not
qualify the proposition that demand-management must be the
basic and ultimate reliance for achieving price stability.
This is only the beginning of a strategy for dealing with infla­
tion. Difficult questions remain. By what standards and objec­
tives should demand-management policy be guided? By what
means are these objectives to be achieved? Is a demand-manage­
ment policy directed to the avoidance of inflation politically
viable?
The standard statement of the objectives of demand manage­
ment— of fiscal and monetary policy— is that it should seek high
employment and price stability. The problem arises if these two
goals do not lead to the same policy. The standard statement as­
sumed that a number of combinations of unemployment and
inflation rates were possible. We could have— for example— 6
percent unemployment and 2 percent inflation, 5 percent unem­
ployment and 3 percent inflation and so on. Then the managers
of fiscal and monetary policy would select one of these combina­
tions which it thought best met the nation’s objectives.
There are two difficulties with this strategy. First, no such
menu of choices exists. We cannot choose, except temporarily, to
have a lower unemployment rate by accepting a higher inflation
rate. The unemployment rate will be the same at any continued
and predictable inflation rate (although that unemployment rate
will vary with changes in other factors, such as the age-sex com­
position of the labor force, and may be altered by government
policies, such as the provision of training for unemployed work­
ers). The second difficulty is that we don’t know what that un­
employment rate is, because it changes from time to time, with
demographic and other factors. Therefore, a government that
aims at this sustainable unemployment rate— sometimes called
the “natural” rate— can easily make an error in estimating what
that rate is. And the political temptation, to which governments
have commonly yielded, is to promise too low a rate of unem­




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

ployment and to seek to achieve it by expansion of demand that
will be inflationary— and that will yield the promised unemploy­
ment rate only temporarily, if at all.
To aim demand-management policy at a target unemployment
rate, or employment rate, or level or rate of growth of total out­
put, will not affect those “real” variables for any long period, but
runs a great risk of being inflationary. But aiming at a low and
stable inflation rate, or rate of growth of nominal GNP, will, if
successful, also yield whatever results in unemployment, employ­
ment or total output are possible to obtain over a sustained pe­
riod. A policy that takes as its target a real variable cannot yield
better results in terms of the real variable than would be obtained
from a policy that succeeds in achieving a stable, predictable,
low rate of inflation, but aiming directly at a real target can yield
more inflation, unless the real target is chosen with a moderation
that cannot be expected. Thus, to aim at a goal for inflation
rather than at a goal for unemployment is not to subordinate the
unemployment goal but to seek to achieve the achievable unem­
ployment rate in the best possible way.
One of the main lessons of the experience of the 1960s and
1970s is that demand management policy should aim at a nominal
goal— basically the price level or, as we shall discuss later, GNP
in nominal terms or the money supply in nominal terms. The adop­
tion of nominal rather than “real” goals for demand management
policies is more important than what nominal goal is chosen. Nev­
ertheless, the choice of the nominal goal is of some significance,
especially after a period of rapid inflation.
Between 1978 and 1981, inflation as measured by the GNP
deflator ran around 9 percent per annum. By 1983 that rate had
been reduced to less than 5 percent. This decline had been aided
by a decline of oil prices and by an increase in the exchange value
of the dollar, which reduced the prices of imports. It had also been
associated with the restraint of demand, which had also caused the
recession of 1981-1982.
The question then was whether to take as a goal the stabiliza­
tion of the inflation rate at a level around 5 percent or to push
on to reduce the rate “essentially” to zero— say to 1 or 2 percent.




Toward a New Consensus

333

The case for “settling” for a 5 percent inflation rate was that it
represented a substantial improvement over the experience of the
recent past and that to try to push the figure down further would
involve prolonging or even deepening the recession. This is not
inconsistent with the statement made above that the unemploy­
ment rate does not depend on the inflation rate. That only said
that as low an unemployment rate could be achieved with 2 per­
cent inflation as with 5 percent inflation. It does not deny that
getting from a 5 percent inflation rate to 2 percent would in­
volve a transitional period of higher unemployment. Many econ­
omists would have said that this additional cost of reducing the
inflation rate below 5 percent was not worth paying.
There is, however, a contrary argument. What the foregoing
argument says is that once the inflation rate has risen as a result
of accident or an error of policy the government should not pay
the temporary cost of getting the inflation down again. But since
there will be inflationary accidents or errors this means that gov­
ernment policy accepts, accommodates and perpetuates each in­
crease of the inflation rate. Expectation of such a policy will
have an inflationary effect on the behavior of private businesses,
labor unions and investors. It will also make a transition to a
lower rate of inflation more painful if the government should ever
seriously undertake such a transition.
Clearly, the government’s policy cannot be to accept and per­
petuate whatever rate of inflation happens to occur. Whether,
having reduced the rate from 10 percent to 5 percent, and ac­
cepted considerable cost in doing that, it could credibly “settle”
for 5 percent is a more difficult question. Perhaps that would be
accepted as evidence of the government’s determination to avoid
an inflation rate higher than 5 percent or undo it if one does oc­
cur. On the other hand, skepticism about the government’s in­
tentions may have been so solidified by fifteen or more years of
inflationary experience that credibility would only be restored by
a more radical demonstration, such as would be involved in re­
ducing the inflation rate to a negligible level. In 1976 I thought
that settling for a 5 percent inflation rate, and avoiding the un­
employment and other costs that would be associated with re­




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

ducing it further, was a prudent and feasible policy. After an­
other big wave of inflation my opinion has changed and I think
it desirable to aim for a much reduced rate. But the choice, it
seems to me, is a close one.
In either case, the government should declare its goal for the
inflation rate— whether 5 percent per annum or 2 percent or
some other number. That will serve to guide the private sector in
its expectations about inflation. It will also serve as a commit­
ment by the government, in the sense that the government can
be seen to have failed if inflation does not meet the goal, unless
there is sufficient explanation for not doing so. If the goal is a
lower inflation rate than the one currently being experienced the
commitment might be to approach it gradually but with sufficient
speed so that progress or the lack of it will be visible.
The demand-management policy that will be used to achieve
the inflation goal is fiscal and monetary policy. The senior mem­
ber of that partnership is monetary policy. That is not to deny
that fiscal policy— taxation, expenditures and the deficit or sur­
plus— can affect aggregate demand. There is disagreement about
whether or not it can. We have also seen that there is disagree­
ment about the direction in which the fiscal policy affects aggre­
gate demand. In 1981 and 1982 there were some economists
who thought that cutting the deficit would stimulate the econ­
omy and others who thought it would depress the economy.
These uncertainties are not, however, the reason for giving fiscal
policy a subordinate role in demand management. Relying on
fiscal policy to play an active part in demand management is not
efficient. Fiscal policy has other important objectives to serve. It
implements important decisions about the way the national out­
put is allocated— between public and private uses, among public
uses between, say, defense, and education, between consumption
and investment and among different private persons. To put
upon fiscal policy the further responsibility of actively contrib­
uting to the maintenance of price stability will divert it from
carrying out well the functions that only it can carry out. To de­
cide whether building the M X missile will contribute to the na­
tional security is difficult enough. To encumber that decision




Toward a New Consensus

335

with responsibility for helping to control the behavior of aggre­
gate demand will only make the decision worse from the na­
tional security standpoint. And it is not necessary to do that, j
Monetary policy has no function other than to manage aggregate |
demand. Therefore monetary policy can be devoted unreservedly
to that purpose.
*
This implies that monetary policy alone is sufficient to achieve
the desired noninflationary path of aggregate demand or, at least,
can achieve it as well as if it were “ assisted” by fiscal policy. If
the noninflationary path refers to the behavior of the economy
over a number of years, and not quarter by quarter, that is cer­
tainly correct. This point must be recognized. For fifty years the
American monetary authorities have used the deficiencies of fis­
cal policy as an explanation or excuse for the inadequacy of their
policies to stabilize the economy. This has diverted attention
from the need to improve the performance of the monetary au­
thorities. Their responsibility needs to be clearly identified.
A common argument is that monetary policy cannot control
inflation if there are large budget deficits. This proposition is,
however, groundless. The claim is sometimes made that if the
government runs large deficits the monetary authority must ex­
pand the money supply in order to help the government finance
the deficits. But there is no such need, and little evidence that the
monetary authorities in recent years have acted as if there were
such a need.2 An alternative argument is that a large budget defi­
cit makes interest rates higher than they would otherwise be,
which reduces the quantity of money people want to hold and
thus reduces the quantity of money that is appropriate for the
noninflationary path. This only means— at most— that monetary
policy needs to be different if there is a large budget deficit from
what it is if there is not, but monetary policy can be adapted to
that. Monetary policy may have difficulty adapting to sharp and
unpredicted swings in the budget deficit. It may not be possible
to keep such swings from causing unwanted fluctuations of the
economy. That is a reason, as will be discussed later, for trying
to avoid such swings in the budget position unless there is a
strong need for them, like the need to respond to a national se-




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

curity threat. In any case, such short-term fluctuations in the
budget position need not prevent achievement of the long-run
anti-inflation goal.
The belief that the inflation rate can be controlled by mone­
tary policy rests upon three propositions:
1. Monetary policy can control the quantity of money.
2. There is a relation between the quantity of money and
aggregate demand (or total spending or nominal GNP) which
permits aggregate demand to be controlled by controlling the
quantity of money.
3. There is a relation between aggregate demand and the in­
flation rate which permits the inflation rate to be controlled by
controlling the quantity of money.
If all of these propositions were correct and if the relations as­
sumed were invariable and predictable the conduct of monetary
policy would be perfectly simple. If the objective was a zero in­
flation rate and we knew that inflation would be 3 percent less than
the rise of nominal GNP— because output would rise steadily by
3 percent per annum— we would know that nominal GNP should
grow by 3 percent a year. And if we knew that nominal GNP al­
ways grew by 2 percent a year more than the money supply, we
would know that the money supply should grow by 1 percent a
year. And we would know how to produce just that rate of
growth of the money supply.
Unfortunately, the relations are not constant and predictable.
A constant rate of growth of the money supply will not yield a
constant rate of growth of nominal GNP, and a constant rate of
growth of nominal GNP will not yield a constant rate of infla­
tion.3 The question is what to do about this. There are two ex­
treme answers to this question. One is that the rate of growth of
the money supply should be set now at the best estimate of what
will yield the desired rate of inflation on the average and kept
constant at that rate forever. The argument is not that this policy
will assure stability of the inflation rate but that this policy will
come closer to achieving stability than would the attempt to




Toward a New Consensus

337

adapt the money supply to necessarily imperfect forecasts of the
future relations between money and the price level. At the other
extreme is the position that the decision about the money supply
should be constantly open for revision in the light of new infor­
mation about the relation between the money supply and the
price level. In this view there is no reason to think that the initial
estimate of the required money supply will be good for any pe­
riod of time; it is only reasonable to give weight to information
as it subsequently becomes available.
Neither of these extreme positions is satisfactory. The possibil­
ity cannot be denied that changes in the economy might signifi­
cantly and durably change the relation between the money sup­
ply and the inflation rate. Three percent annual growth of the
money supply might have produced, on the average, price stabil­
ity from 1950 to 1980. No one can be so sure that this relation
will hold from 2000 to 2030 that he would reject the possibility
of looking at the evidence again. On the other hand, to be con­
tinuously reestimating the money growth that would yield the de­
sired inflation rate will yield erroneous and probably inflationary
results. The reasons for that are psychological and political. In
theory a monetary authority trying to estimate the relation be­
tween the money supply and inflation each month could conclude
that the past relation was the best estimate. But this is very un­
likely to happen. The temptation to try to do better than extrapo­
late the past, and to try to bring to bear current information and
insights, will be irresistible. This can lead to variations of mone­
tary policy that are at best random. But they probably will not be
random. There will be great uncertainty about what current infor­
mation and insights mean for monetary policy. In the presence of
this uncertainty— when economic analysis does not tell just what
to do— decisions will be politically determined, and will have an
inflationary bias.
Policy about the rate of growth of the money supply should be
open to change when there is strong evidence that the relation
between the money supply and the price level has changed, but
policy should not be altered in response to weak and transitory
evidence. It does not seem to be possible to describe objectively




PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

33 »

what evidence is sufficiently strong. Therefore, it is not possible
to dispense with judgment of live officials. The problem is to try
to arrange the organization of these officials, their legislative
mandate and the public’s understanding of their role in such a
way that they will exercise their discretion in a cautious and self­
restraining way.
What is proposed here is a major change from the past prac­
tice of the Federal Reserve in two respects. First, the Fed would
aim only at nominal targets— price level and nominal GNP. It
would not aim at real targets— like employment, unemployment
or output— except insofar as a stable noninflationary growth of
the nominal variables would indirectly contribute to good per­
formance of the real variables. Second, it would derive its moneysupply targets from its nominal GNP targets and a prediction of
velocity— that is the ratio of nominal GNP to the money supply.
It would alter the prediction of velocity in response to strong evi­
dence that a durable change had occurred, and only in response
to strong evidence. As contrasted with traditional practice, this
means rejecting “real” targets and rejecting “fine-tuning.”
I visualize the monetary authority as operating in the follow­
ing way. Suppose that we have arrived at 1988 after the disinfla­
tionary transition: The price-level goal is that the price level
should rise by 2 percent per annum, on the average. On the as­
sumption of a normal trend of real output rising 3 percent per
annum, the goal is that nominal GNP should rise by 5 percent
per annum. If the expected trend of velocity is that it rises by 3
percent per annum (for M x) then the money supply should rise
by 2 percent per annum. Thus, there are the following goals:4

1988
1989
1990
1991
1992




A. Price Level
(GNP Deflator) B. Nominal GNP
1972 = 100
$ billion
5000
280.5
286.1
291.8
5188
297.7
6078

275

5250
5512

C. Money
Supply, Mi
$ billion
650
663
676
690
704

Toward a New Consensus

339

Even if the money supply is kept on its target path, nominal
GNP will not remain exactly on its target path. That would mean
that velocity had deviated from its estimated path. That would
not ordinarily call for a revision of the money-supply target. It is
not to be expected that the money supply can be adapted to all
variations of velocity and the business cycle thereby eliminated.
But there may be occasions on which there is strong evidence
that the path of velocity has probably changed. On such occa­
sions the money-supply targets should be altered, in an effort to
keep nominal GNP on its target path.
Similarly, even if nominal GNP is kept to its target path, the
price level may depart from its desired path. The relation be­
tween nominal GNP and the price level is not absolutely fixed in
the short run. Such a deviation would not necessarily call for al­
tering the nominal GNP target. But if the deviation is exception­
ally strong, revision of the nominal GNP target would have to be
considered in order to achieve the price-level target.
The kind of policy I am describing here is not likely to be
adopted by the Federal Reserve on its own initiative, and if it
were so adopted it would probably not last for long. The policy
I am describing is totally at variance with the tradition and orga­
nization of the Federal Reserve, with its legislative mandate and
with the public image of it. The Federal Reserve as now consti­
tuted is viewed as a body dealing with mysteries, continuously
scanning an enormous body of information to make complex de­
cisions addressed to a number of objectives, but not sufficiently
powerful to achieve any of its objectives and not to be held re­
sponsible for their achievement.
The Federal Reserve Board consists of seven members ap­
pointed by the President for staggered terms of fourteen years,
one of whom serves as chairman for a term of four years. The
board is assisted by an exceedingly large •economic research
staff— 350 people— the leading members of which serve for a
long time. The staff is so large because the board operates on the
premise that it must be continuously informed about everything
that goes on in the economy and must be continuously able to
reappraise its policy in the light of this incoming information.




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

The staff naturally clings to this view of the board’s function be­
cause that is what justifies the size and status of the staff. More­
over, the staff, which serves even longer than most members of
the board, carries the tradition of the system, which is of con­
tinuous surveillance and fine-tuning.
Major decisions are made by the Federal Open Market Com­
mittee, consisting of the seven members of the board and five of
the twelve presidents of the regional Federal Reserve Banks.
The participation of the presidents reflects a certain view of the
way in which monetary policy decisions should be made. These
regional representatives are supposed to bring to the process a
knowledge of what is happening in the economy at the grass
roots— to expand the range of information beyond that available
to the economic staff. It is part of the notion of taking “every­
thing” into account, which is the antithesis of the strategy of
living by a few objective rules in the absence of strong contrary
evidence. The practice of holding a meeting of the Federal Open
Market Committee each month also reflects the belief that the
monetary instruments are in constant need of fine-tuning. A l­
though some of the regional presidents have brought their own
views of monetary policy into the discussions it is common for
them to get their first serious introduction to the subject from
briefings by the staff.
The members of the board are well-informed, not only about
monetary matters but also about fiscal policy and other aspects
of economic policy and developments. The chairman, because
he is so well-informed, is respectfully listened to on a range of
subjects beyond monetary policy. He regularly testifies, for ex­
ample, before the budget committees of the House and the Sen­
ate. This encourages the propensity of the Federal Reserve to
give great weight to nonmonetary solutions for the economic
problems of the country. It is standard practice of the Federal
Reserve chairman to emphasize the crucial role of fiscal policy as
an explanation of the limited achievements or promises of mone­
tary policy. Federal Reserve chairmen have also been prominent
advocates of incomes policy to restrain inflation.
The Federal Reserve operates with only a loose legislative




Toward a New Consensus

341

statement of the objectives it is to pursue with the powers granted
to it. The Federal Reserve is not mentioned in the Employment
Act of 1946, but the board has said that it feels itself included
in the mandate of the act that the government should use all of
its powers to achieve “maximum employment, production and
purchasing power.” Although nothing is said in the act about in­
flation, the term “purchasing power” has been, rather generously,
interpreted to mean something about avoiding inflation. So the
net of the Employment Act is that the Federal Reserve, like
other parts of the government, is to pursue both real objectives
and price-level stability.
In 1974, Congress made an effort to tie the Federal Reserve
down with a resolution requiring the board to notify Congres­
sional committees four times a year (later changed to twice) of
its goals for the money supply. The Fed unsuccessfully resisted
adoption of the resolution. While the resolution probably helped
to turn the Fed in the direction of using monetary aggregates as
an instrument of policy it was not binding about that and was en­
tirely silent about the objectives toward which the Fed was to
aim its control of the money supply. The Fed conformed to the
resolution by specifying target ranges for a number of definitions
of money, which left it a great deal of latitude for changing its
mind from time to time while still remaining within the target
range for at least one of the definitions. Moreover, the Fed fre­
quently ran outside its announced targets. Congress never criti­
cized the Fed for the targets it announced or for missing the tar­
gets when it did so. Thus, the resolution was not a serious guide
or limitation for monetary policy.
The Full Employment Act of 1978 (Humphrey-Hawkins) re­
quired the President to specify his five-year objectives for employ­
ment, output and the price level and also stated goals for each of
these variables that he should plan to achieve. The Federal Re­
serve resisted a similar injunction and it was only required to state
whether its monetary targets were consistent with the President’s
objectives. The Fed meets this requirement by submitting a range
of the forecasts of the seven members of the board, a range which
always encompasses the President’s objectives but also leaves room




342

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

for considerable deviation from them. The board as a body pre­
sents no forecast and it does not accept any of the forecast quan­
tities as a goal which it will try to achieve. In any case, the Humphrey-Hawkins goals are so unrealistic and inconsistent that they
are not taken seriously by anyone.
The basic fact is that there is no general understanding in the
Congress or in the country of what the proper goals of Federal
Reserve policy are or of what are reasonable expectations for
performance. This leaves the Federal Reserve exposed to criti­
c i s m for failing to deliver what it cannot and should not be exd to deliver and on the other hand under no strong compulto deliver anything. The Federal Reserve thus has a great
of freedom and a strong incentive to deny responsibility.
;form of monetary policy will require two things. There
be a fundamental change in the country, in the Congress
in the monetary authority in the understanding of what mon­
etary policy is to do. This understanding will have to emphasize
the focus on nominal targets— ultimately the price level— and on
continuity of policy. There must be a fundamental change in the
structure of the monetary authority to break out of the Fed’s tra­
ditional pattern of thought and action.
To bring about a new understanding of the function of mone­
tary policy, legislation should be adopted which would amend
the Employment Act of 1946 and the Full Employment Act of
1978 insofar as they give instructions to the Federal Reserve.
This is not because the legislation is essential or even important.
But a proposal to amend the legislation would precipitate a seri­
ous discussion of the objectives of the Federal Reserve that
would raise public understanding of the issues, and if the leg­
islation was amended after such a discussion the Federal Reserve
would have a new understanding of its responsibilities.
The Employment Act of 1946, as I have already noted, calls
upon the government to use all of its powers to achieve maxi­
mum employment, production and purchasing power. This is in­
terpreted as applying to the Federal Reserve. The 1946 A ct
should be amended to specify that the Federal Reserve is to
contribute to the achievement of these objectives by managing




Toward a New Consensus

343

the money supply so as to stabilize the price level. The intent of
such an amendment would be to relieve the Fed of responsibility
for influencing employment, unemployment and total output ex­
cept as they are influenced by the behavior of the price level.
The Full Employment Act of 1978 (Humphrey-Hawkins) re­
quires the Federal Reserve to report to the Congress on its tar­
gets for the growth of the money supply in the current year and
to give its opinion on the consistency of these money-supply tar­
gets with the economic assumptions on which the administration’s
budget is based. These assumptions cover both nominal vari­
ables— nominal GNP and the price level— and real variables—
output and employment. The result is to give the impression of
Fed responsibility for all kinds of goals. The act should be
amended to require the Federal Reserve and the administration
to submit targets for the nominal variables on which they have
agreed— or separate targets if they have not agreed. The purpose
again is to commit the Federal Reserve to specifying nominal
targets for a moderate period by which they will be guided in
managing the money supply. The agreement of the Federal Re­
serve and the administration on the targets will also provide the
basis for improving fiscal policy, as we shall see.
Legislative changes alone, however, will not sufficiently alter
the conduct of monetary policy, because legislative rules cannot
be specified so precisely as to leave the Federal Reserve with no
discretion. Satisfactory results will still depend on how the Fed
exercises this discretion. It will be important to try to wean the
Fed from its traditional approach of fine-tuning policy based on
continuous surveillance of a universe of information while con­
stantly disclaiming responsibility for the outcome.
The most common suggestion for reorganizing the Federal Re­
serve is to make it an administrative agency like any other, di­
rectly responsible to the President, perhaps as a bureau of the
Treasury. This is believed to be a way to assure “coordination”
of monetary policy with other economic policies and to central­
ize responsibility for economic performance on the President.
This idea has a certain attraction in that it would remove the
present mystique of the Fed. But it is not, in my opinion, a de­




344

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

sirable direction in which to move. Monetary policy should not
be “coordinated” in the sense that it becomes one of several in­
struments to be used interchangeably to achieve a common pack­
age of objectives. Monetary policy is a unique instrument to be
directed to unique objectives. Moreover, it is doubtful that we
want the President to be unequivocally responsible for the per­
formance of the economy and so forced to window-dress that
performance in time for November every fourth year. The Presi­
dent should be able to say that there are long-run considerations
which limit his ability to deliver all good things within a fouryear term.
The advantage of the present system is that the members of
the board have fourteen-year terms. This permits and encour­
ages, although it does not require, a long view of their actions
and objectives. It also inevitably implies a certain degree of in­
dependence of Presidents, who are elected for four-year terms.
This should be preserved. The problem is how to preserve the
long term of board members while changing the organization of
the Federal Reserve in a way that will encourage a more stable
policy more narrowly focused on price-level stability. The fol­
lowing changes would be helpful, partly because they would in­
dicate the seriousness of the desire to break up the old pattern
and begin a new approach:
Remove from the Federal Reserve all functions not directly re­
lated to controlling the quantity of money. This primarily means
that the responsibility for examining and supervising banks would
be transferred elsewhere, to the Federal Deposit Insurance Cor­
poration or possibly to a newly created bank supervisory agency.
This would not only help to concentrate the attention of the Fed­
eral Reserve on the primary objective. It would also be a rejection
of the notion that the Federal Reserve needs detailed hands-on
experience with the internal affairs of banks in order to discharge
its monetary functions.
Abolish the Federal Open Market Committee and place all of
the functions of the Federal Reserve in the seven-member board.
This means removing the presidents of the regional Federal Re­
serve Banks from the policymaking process. Some of these bank




Toward a New Consensus

345

presidents have made valuable contributions to the thinking of
the system. But fundamentally the role of the Federal Open Mar­
ket Committee is a symptom of the belief that the conduct of
monetary policy requires close and continuous personal contact
with what is going on in Cleveland and St. Louis and Dallas.
Greatly reduce the size of the Federal Reserve staff, again to
concentrate the attention of the Fed on its primary macroeco­
nomic functions. The Federal Reserve Board does not need to be
advised by specialists on the automobile industry or on agricul­
tural policy. The idea that the board needs to think about such
things is part of the pattern of fine-tuning adaptation to the real
short run of the economy— and also to the pattern of the Fed­
eral Reserve advising the President, the Congress and the public
on all aspects of economic policy.
The hope of all of this, both the legislative mandate and the
reorganization, is to emphasize that the Federal Reserve has a
vitally important but limited function for which it must assume
responsibility. Failure to discharge this function, to manage the
money supply so as to achieve a low and reasonably predictable
rate of inflation, has been the chief failure of policy in the past
twenty years. Correction of that failure would be the greatest
contribution policy can make to economic performance in the
next twenty years. There may be disagreement about what needs
to be done in other areas. It should be possible to reach agree­
ment on the need for basic reform in the monetary field.

The Significance of Budget Deficits
Nothing better reveals the vacuum in economic policy than the
gap between the nearly universal statements of aversion to bud­
get deficits and the prospect of exceptionally large deficits for as
far ahead as the eye can see. No one any longer talks about bal­
ancing the budget. There is a tacit agreement that the things that
would have to be done to eliminate the deficit cannot be done—
which means only that the necessary action is considered worse
than the deficit.




346

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

But if zero has been abandoned as a goal for the size of the
deficit no other goal has received any general support. Everyone
in the political process wants to be known as supporting a lower
deficit than his rivals, but hardly anyone tries to justify any par­
ticular size of the deficit as a proper target. All the participants
are willing to do something to reduce the prospective deficits, but
each is willing to do only things that he was willing to do any­
way, without regard to the size of the deficit. The President is
willing to cut social programs he wanted to cut even when the
deficits did not loom so large. Many “liberals” are prepared to
cut the defense program, or to raise taxes on the “rich,” in order
to reduce the deficit— never having felt much need for a large
defense program or much concern about the after-tax incomes of
^ the upper-income minority.
The fact is that talk about reducing the budget deficit has be­
come largely a ritual. Everyone believes that there are other peo­
ple out there who are greatly worried about budget deficits and
it is therefore necessary to show that one shares that worry. But
the reasons for the worry are not cogent or agreed-upon and do
not lead to any clear idea about the proper size of deficit, if it is
\ not zero, or to much action.
There are people who believe that deficits don’t really matter.
They believe that the size of government expenditures matters.
Government spending subtracts from the output available for
private use. They are concerned about that subtraction— mainly
to keep it as low as possible. But whether that subtraction is
financed by taxation or by borrowing seems to them of no great
importance. This attitude leads to a certain anomaly. People
who hold this view are usually reluctant to avow it when expen­
diture decisions are being considered. Wanting to hold expendi­
tures down, they would like all decision-makers to believe that
they should not spend money unless they raise taxes to pay for it.
But the decision-makers are not likely to accept that discipline
unless they see some reason why they should raise taxes, and
they will not see that unless they think that the difference be­
tween taxing and borrowing matters.
Our present situation is that we talk as if deficits were terribly




Toward a New Consensus

347

important, we act as if they didn’t matter very much, and we
really don’t know what the nature and size of their effects are. It
is not easy to be positive in laying down principles for deciding
on policy toward deficits. All one can do is to try prudently to
adapt policy to a rather cautious and moderate view of what the
effects are.
In my opinion the present state of economic analysis tends to
support this view of the effects of the size of the deficit: Shortrun variations in the size of the deficit have short-run effects on
nominal GNP, the price level, output and employment. That is,
an exogenous increase in the deficit— one not resulting from a
decline of the economy— will tend temporarily to raise the rate
of increase of nominal GNP and the price level and also to raise
output and employment. In the long run the size of the deficit—
whether large or small— if it is stable will not affect nominal
GNP or the price level or employment. It will, however, affect
the long-term growth rate of output and of productivity, because
the larger the deficit is in the long run the slower will be the
growth of private productive investment.
The proposition about the short-run effect of the budget defi­
cit does not contradict what has been said earlier about the dom­
inant role of the money supply in determining the long-run be­
havior of nominal GNP and the price level. Even the most
extreme monetarist would recognize that velocity can fluctuate in
the short run, which means that the economy can fluctuate even
if the money supply does not. Variations in the deficit or surplus
are among the possible causes of variations in velocity.
The key question is whether this short-run influence of fiscal
policy should be used actively or only passively in an effort to
achieve desired behavior of the economy. Almost everyone will
now agree on at least the passive use. That is, the variations in
the size of the deficit or surplus that come automatically with
variations of the economy will be accepted. To try to offset those
automatic variations by changing tax programs or expenditure
programs is disturbing to the planning of taxpayers and govern­
ment agencies, and certainly not helpful to the stability of the
economy. There are some economists who retain a longing for




348

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

more than that— for varying the deficit in a countercyclical di­
rection. They cling to the early Keynesian idea of cutting tax
\ rates to stimulate the economy when it is depressed or, more
!I realistically, is expected to be depressed, and vice versa. But the
I number who believe this with confidence has greatly diminished.
^ The effort to stabilize the economy by variation of fiscal policy
j has a high risk of being destabilizing because of the difficulty of
forecasting the economy accurately. This destabilizing effect is
likely to have an inflationary bias, because of the short-run pre­
occupation with reducing unemployment. For the same reason
the short-run decisions about the budget are likely in the long
run to add up to larger deficits than would be desirable.
This comes down to a short-run policy of keeping the size of
the deficit stable from year to year, or even for longer periods,
except insofar as the size of the deficit responds automatically to
variations of the economy. This leaves two problems. First, how
are we to distinguish between the automatic, passive variations
of the deficit, which are to be accepted, and the active, purposely
generated variations of the deficit, which are to be ruled out by
the policy? This distinction requires us to identify a condition of
, the economy at which the deficit will be kept constant and from
which deviations can be observed and measured. The CED in
1947 identified this condition as “high employment” and said
that taxes and expenditures should be such that they would yield
a constant surplus when the economy was at high employment.
(In 1947 one still talked of a surplus.) This prescription was de­
ficient in several respects. No one really knew what “high em­
ployment” was, the definition used turned out, as might have
been expected, to be more ambitious than could be actually
achieved on the average, and the prescription did not recognize
the importance of the price level as an aspect of the condition of
the economy. But the “high employment” notion, although crude,
did reflect the correct basic idea. This was that tax and expendi­
ture programs should be set so that they would yield a stable and
desirable surplus (or deficit) when the economy was in a desirable
and, on the average, probable condition. If this is done, variations
in the surplus resulting automatically from variations of the econ-




Toward a New Consensus

349

omy will help to keep the economy near its desirable condition.
The long-run size of the surplus will probably be the desired size
because the budget has been set to yield that surplus when the
economy is in its long-run probable condition. In the past, “prac­
tical” conservative people tended to scoff at the idea of balancing
the budget at high employment because it promised to balance
the budget under hypothetical conditions which might not exist
whereas they were interested in “actual” balance. But the valid in­
terest in the actual size of the surplus or deficit is an interest in the
actual size of the surplus or deficit over a period of years. If we
aim to get the desired surplus or deficit when the economy is on its
most probable path we will probably realize that actual surplus or
deficit on the average over a period of years, although not in every
year.
The desirable, feasible, and probable condition of the econ­
omy at which we should plan to get the target surplus or deficit
is the level of nominal GNP at which monetary policy is aiming.
I have suggested above that the Federal Reserve should try to
control the money supply so that it will on the average achieve
growth of nominal GNP that is low and predictable. That is the
desirable path of the economy, because if it is achieved there will
be little inflation and the economy will fluctuate moderately about
a high employment level. It is a feasible path because monetary
policy can on the average keep the economy on it. And it will be
the probable path, about which the actual economy will fluctu­
ate, if the monetary policy is directed to achieving it. Therefore,
if tax rates and expenditure programs are set so that they would
achieve the desired surplus or deficit when the economy is on the
target path, the actual surplus or deficit over a moderate number
of years will be the desired one.
This implies that it should be the responsibility of the adminis­
tration to submit an annual budget that would achieve the de­
sired surplus or deficit when the economy is on the nominal
GNP path set by the Federal Reserve. The present system in
which the administration submits a five-year budget based on
economic assumptions that the Federal Reserve may not share
and to which it has no commitment is unsatisfactory. It encour-




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

ages irresponsible window-dressing by the administration in mak­
ing up its assumptions and permits anyone to challenge the pol­
icy by making up his own assumptions. Moreover, if it is not
known whether the budget assumptions conform to the Federal
Reserve’s intentions no one can tell whether or not the budget de­
scribes the probable outcome for the deficit or surplus.
[
The interaction between monetary and fiscal policy would work
something like this: The Federal Reserve would be directed to
submit to the Congress each year its targets for nominal GNP
for the next five years and its plan for the money supply in the
next year to keep the economy on that path. Presumably the Fed
will discuss these plans with the administration before it submits
them to Congress. Congress can, if it wishes, comment on the
Fed’s plans. In extreme circumstances Congress could enact leg­
islation which would instruct the Fed to do something different.
This is quite unlikely to happen, however. Although many mem­
bers of Congress like to be able to criticize the Fed, few Con­
gressmen have shown any disposition to accept the responsibility
for managing monetary policy. The administration would submit
a budget for the next five years that would yield the desired sur­
plus or deficit when the economy is on the Fed’s target path. The
desired surplus or deficit should be stable from year to year, so
that variations of the size of the surplus or deficit will not disturb
the economy from the path the Fed is seeking to maintain.
This brings us to the second question. What is the desirable
size of the surplus or deficit, on the average, aside from cyclical
fluctuations? That depends, of course, on what the effects of
^ surpluses or deficits are. This has been the subject of much conI troversy over the years. Argument over this issue has, I believe,
I now properly led to the conclusion that the important effect of
the absolute size of the deficit or surplus is the effect on private
investment. That is, I think, the view now held by most, al­
though not all, economists.
The argument is simple. Private savings equal the sum of
private investment plus the government deficit. Private saving is
totally absorbed in these two uses. The larger the government
deficit is, the smaller private investment will be— unless the




Toward a New Consensus

351

larger government deficit is matched by an equally larger total
of private savings. There is some debate over this qualification.
That is, there are people who contend that an increase in the
deficit will be matched by an increase in private saving and so
will not reduce private investment. There have been three kinds
of argument for this position. The Keynesian argument is that
the increase in the deficit will increase the national income and
so increase saving enough not only to finance the deficit but
possibly also to finance an increase in private investment. Hardly
anyone would hold to that as a long-run proposition anymore.
An older view recently revived is that if the deficit is increased
people will realize that they will have to pay more taxes in the
future and they will save to be able to pay those future taxes.
But no one has been able to verify that people do respond in that
way. The third argument is part of supply-side economics. This
holds that if the deficit is higher because taxes are lower the
after-tax return to saving will be higher and people will save
more. There is probably something in that. But estimates of how
much an increase in the after-tax return will increase saving do
not come close to showing that the increase of saving would be
as large as the increase of the deficit.
So while some uncertainty must be recognized, the most prob- N
able basis for thinking about the absolute size of the deficit or
surplus over a period of time is that the primary effect is on the
cumulative amount of private investment over that period. This
effect on private investment is a matter of serious concern be­
cause the amount of private investment over time affects the level
of total output and productivity.
One may ask why it is any business of the government to try
to influence the rate of economic growth by a decision about the
size of the government surplus or deficit. The national rate of
economic growth is the statistical summation of the results of the
decisions and efforts of millions of individuals and households,
each seeking to manage its affairs so as to achieve the rate of
personal income growth that seems feasible and desirable. There
is no reason for the government to have a goal about that except
to create conditions in which individuals can freely make their




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

own choices. Therefore the government should only choose some
arbitrary goal for the size of the deficit or surplus— like zero—
and leave the private parties free to make whatever adjustment
they like to that decision. If the private parties on the whole feel
that the rate of their personal income growth is too low under
these conditions, they can work more, save more, study more or
do whatever else they think worthwhile. No one could say that
the resulting rate of economic growth would be “wrong.”
This is a conceivable position, and indeed I took this position
about twenty years ago.5 It does not seem to me a reasonable
position today, however. Twenty years ago one might think that
there was a position about the budget— namely, that it should
be balanced— which although arbitrary had a great deal of pub­
lic support. That satisfied the need for a standard to which poli­
tics would conform, and probably satisfied it better than any
alternative that might seem less arbitrary. Also, twenty years ago
one could be more complacent about the prospects for the
growth of the American economy than one can be today— simply
because our rate of productivity growth has fallen significantly.
The government does have to decide the size of the surplus or
deficit. There is no free market solution for that. Neither is there
any longer a traditional standard— like the balanced budget—
for making the decision. A new standard has to be created and
defended against alternatives, and it will have to be defended by
showing that it has good effects. The most important of these
effects is on the future rate of economic growth via the influence
on the rate of private investment.
So it seems clear that in thinking about the desirable size of
the deficit or surplus one should be thinking primarily about the
desired rate of growth of national output and productivity. But
once that has been said it is hard to say more. There is no objec­
tive way to determine how much the nation should forgo current
government services and private consumption in order to make
the future national income greater.
The problem is the same at the national level as at the house­
hold level. There is no objective way to determine how much a




Toward a New Consensus

353

household should save in order to have more income in the
future. One can list some things that the household should think
about— the probable trend of its future income and the income
prospects of its children, whether it has extraordinary expenses
now or foreseeable in the future, what the costs of various levels
of living after retirement would be and so on. But when all such
information is assembled, different people will make different
judgments about how much is to be saved. The best one can get
is an informed feeling.
So at the national level all one can hope to achieve is a pro­
cedure in which a deliberate decision is made on the size of the
surplus or deficit in the light of the relevant information by re­
sponsible people who represent the national feeling about the
matter. The decision should be made for several years at a
time— at least five. The effect of the budget decision on the
stock of productive capital is very small in any one year, because
the volume of investment in any one year is small relative to the
capital stock. It is only the accumulated size of the deficit or
surplus over a number of years that significantly affects the stock
of capital and therefore the levels of output and productivity.
Moreover, the considerations which affect what the size of the
surplus or deficit should be will not ordinarily change much from
one year to another, although they may change gradually over a
longer period of time.®
Thus, one can visualize the administration in its annual budget
setting a target for the size of the deficit or surplus in the ensuing
five years. In deciding on this target it would take into account
the recent and predicted trends of productivity growth. Even
though one cannot objectively say what is the “proper” rate of
productivity growth, forcing the population to adapt to a slow­
down of real income growth relative to expectations is disruptive
and should be avoided if possible. Therefore the case for a high
surplus or low deficit will be strong if needed to prevent a slow­
down of productivity growth. If current expenditure requirements
are exceptionally high, as in a period of defense buildup, the case
for deficits is strong, to avoid the necessity for tax rates which




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

raise difficult questions of incentives and equity. This is tradition­
ally recognized in wartime, of course. The composition of the bud­
get may also make a difference in the decision. That is, the more
the expenditure side of the budget provides for growth-promoting
programs, like research, the more justification there is for borrow­
ing rather than taxing.
The important point is that the decision about the deficit or
surplus should be regarded as a decision about the allocation of
the national output, like other decisions in the federal budget.
Federal expenditures influence how much of the national output
is devoted to defense and research and education and highways
and so on. There are no precise objective formulas by which to
determine the right amount in any of these cases. But we seek
informed and responsible judgments. So the decision about the
size of the surplus or deficit is a decision, positive or negative,
about the share of the national output that goes to private invest­
ment, and it should be made and explained in that way.
In 1983 one could see the beginnings of thinking about the
deficit in this way. The deficits in prospect were large by histori­
cal standards, but no one any longer took seriously the notion of
balancing the budget. How big should the deficit be? Three con­
siderations seemed to provide an answer. The growth of produc­
tivity in the 1970s had been disappointingly low. It was impor­
tant to stop that trend of deterioration and if possible to reverse
it. This pointed to the desirability of seeing that the deficits were
at least no larger relative to GNP than they had been in the pre­
vious decade— about 2V2 percent of GNP— rather than the 6 per­
cent experienced in 1983. On the other hand, we were planning
an increase of defense spending relative to GNP, which meant
that to get the deficit down below 2Vi percent of GNP would re­
quire high marginal tax rates that might endanger economic effi­
ciency. Moreover, to avoid disturbing the economy’s recovery
from the recession it would be desirable that the reduction of the
deficit should come gradually. This combination of factors led to
the recommendation that the deficit be reduced gradually to 2 Vi
percent of GNP by 1988. The Reagan budget issued in January




Toward a New Consensus

355

contained such a recommendation, and some of the foregoing ar­
gument was implicit in the report of the President’s Council of
Economic Advisers at that time.7
In circumstances different from those of the early 1980s a
different conclusion about the desirable size of the deficit might
be reached. If, for example, defense requirements should dimin­
ish, because the rebuilding of the armed forces had been com­
pleted or for some other reason, it might be appropriate to aim
for a smaller deficit or even for a balanced budget. A radical)
change in the rate of productivity growth would also affect the^
surplus-deficit target. The desirable size of the surplus or deficit!
is not fixed forever. That is why it should not be incorporated in
a constitutional amendment. The choice of a surplus or deficit
target is a political decision to be made from time to time in the ;
light of long-run growth considerations. The problem, of course,
is to get them made in this way, rather than for short-run politi­
cal expedience. There is no alternative to trying to develop un­
derstanding of the need for this, in the government and in the
public. This should be one of the main objectives of the national
reconsideration of economic policy that is now required.

The Undertaxed Society

One of the basic premises of Reagan economics was that politi­
cians liked to raise taxes, or at least had no great aversion to
raising taxes. The standard political philosophy was thought to
be “tax and tax, spend and spend.” Because the politicians had
no proper appreciation of the evils of taxes they were willing to
raise taxes to pay for increases of government expenditures that
were clearly excessive. If this propensity to tax was resisted and
indeed if, with strong presidential leadership, taxes could be re­
duced, excessive expenditures would also be reduced and other
good things would happen. (Of course, the idea that politicians
like to raise taxes and had to be restrained by the Reaganites was
simply wrong. Politicians hate to raise taxes.)




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

When the President proposed a big tax reduction in 1981, al­
though Congress resisted some parts of the reduction it readily
accepted the idea. But within a year the President was joining
those, a majority in the Congress, who believed that taxes were
too low. As already noted, in 1982 and 1983 he supported a
number of tax increases. He only resented efforts to limit the
income tax cut scheduled to take effect in 1983 on the essentially
Keynesian grounds that the timing was bad from the standpoint
of the cyclical recovery.
Between 1981 and 1983 the country moved from a flush of
enthusiasm for tax reduction to a sad recognition that taxes were
too low— that we were, as George F. Will put it, an undertaxed
society. The basic reason for this change was experience with the
effort to cut government expenditures. Until Reagan became
President it was always possible to believe that a determined
budget-cutter in the White House could find vast amounts of
money in expenditure programs that could be eliminated— and
that Congress would be forced to eliminate them if some of the
revenue was removed. But we have seen that “even” President
Reagan could not propose a budget that cut expenditures enough
to hold deficits down without more taxes than were left after the
1981 tax cut. This may have been in part for political reasons.
That is, there may have been bigger cuts that he would have
liked to make if the Congress and the country would have ac­
cepted them. But undoubtedly he and his colleagues, once in
office, discovered that the needed or justifiable expenditures were
larger than they thought. And the political reason is not to be
disregarded either, because it is an indication of the public’s
wishes, which should not be disregarded.
No one likes tax increases. What was recognized by 1983 was
that the consequences of failure to raise taxes— which were to
forgo certain expenditures or to accept a larger deficit— were
worse than the consequences of a tax increase. But this recogni­
tion did not assure the result. As indicated earlier, although al­
most everyone thought the prospective deficits were too large
there was not any compelling agreement on the proper size of




Toward a New Consensus

357

deficit. This raised the strong possibility that when it came right
down to the hard decision the President and Congress would set­
tle for a token tax increase and token deficit reduction. There
would always be a question whether now was the right time for a
tax increase, however much the long-run need was recognized.
Moreover, the nature of the tax increase is critical— whether
individual income taxes, corporate taxes, selective excises or
general consumption taxes. There will be much disagreement
about that, which may prevent achievement of a tax increase of
adequate size. The nature of the tax increase will also influence
its effects. Any tax increase will have adverse economic effects—
if considered in isolation from the beneficial effects of reducing
the budget deficit. But some tax increases will have more adverse
effect per dollar of revenue than others.
The conditions that give rise to the need for more revenue
suggest what is the nature of the appropriate tax increase. A tax
increase is now needed because it is necessary to devote a larger
share of the national output to defense and to private investment
and undesirable to reduce the share devoted to the consumption
of the very poor. That means basically that it is necessary to re­
duce the share of the national output devoted to the consumption
of middle-income people, the consumption of the rich absorbing
only a tiny part of the national output.
It is also desirable to raise additional revenue without raising
marginal rates of taxation very much, if possible. This element
in the supply-side argument, that the marginal rate— the rate of
tax on a dollar of additional income— is most important in deter­
mining the incentive effects of taxation, is true. The trouble with
the 1981 tax cut was that it combined some highly useful cuts
in marginal rates with a number of other changes which were of
no great incentive benefit but lost a great deal of revenue. Re­
ducing the 70 percent marginal tax rate to 50 percent— approxi­
mately a 30 percent cut— is a significant cut. It raises the after­
tax return on $1 of additional income from 30 cents to 50 cents,
or by 66% percent. Reducing the 14 percent rate to 10 percent,
however, is not a significant change from that standpoint, even




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

though it is also approximately a 30 percent tax cut. It raises the
after-tax return on $1 of additional income from 86 cents to 90
cents, or by less than 5 percent. But still this tax cut and others
in the low and medium brackets accounted for much of the
revenue loss in the 1981 act.
So we need a tax increase that will restrain the consumption
of the middle-income people without serious impact on the very
poor and without raising marginal rates at the levels where mar­
ginal rates have a significant effect on incentives to work, save
or invest. This is made more difficult than it has to be by the
nature of our tax system. The federal government relies heavily
on the personal income tax, which includes within taxable income
less than half of the GNP and only about 60 percent of personal
income. The remainder of GNP is excluded by personal exemp­
tions and by a long list of deductions, or because it is retained
by corporations or by government. As a result, to raise 10 per­
cent of the GNP in personal income taxes requires an average
tax equal to about 20 percent of taxable income. Since the sys­
tem is progressive, taxpayers pay a higher rate of tax on their
highest dollar of income than on their average dollar. Thus, in
1982 a married couple with two dependents and an income of
$50,000 paid about 22 percent of its income in personal income
tax and faced a marginal tax rate of 39 percent. To raise, say,
another 2 percent of GNP in taxes by raising the rates of the
personal income tax would require raising the average rate on
taxable income from 20 percent to 24 percent. That is a 20
percent increase, and if applied across the board would raise the
marginal rate on the $50,000 family from 39 percent to almost
47 percent, which is a significant increase.
To raise the revenue collected from middle-income people
without significantly raising marginal tax rates in a harmful way,
it is necessary either to increase the proportion of the middle
incomes that is subject to tax or to raise the rates while reducing
the degree of progression. The extreme of the second approach
may be illustrated by imagining that instead of maintaining a
structure of personal income tax rates running from 10 percent




Toward a New Consensus

359

to 50 percent and yielding revenue equal to about 20 percent of
taxable income we were to institute a flat tax of 24 percent on
the present income tax base. This would raise the revenue while
reducing marginal rates where they are most burdensome and
raising them where they are lowest and the raised rates would
probably still not be very harmful. Less extreme solutions are
possible. For example, all existing tax rates could be raised by
an equal percentage of the amount by which they fall short of
50 percent. Then the 10 percent rate would be raised a great
deal and the 50 percent rate would not be raised at all. This
would avoid having to raise the marginal rates where the incen­
tive effects of doing that would be most adverse.
The alternative to concentrating rate increases in the income
levels where the existing rates are low is to broaden the tax base
so that the necessary average rate increase would be small. If
the tax base was not 50 percent of GNP but, say, 75 percent of
GNP, the average tax rate needed to yield a given amount of
revenue would be reduced by one-third. This fact has revived in­
terest in a comprehensive income tax and in the value-added tax.
The comprehensive income tax now goes under the name
“flat tax,” but in most variants the adjective “flat” is an exag­
geration. The proposals generally have two ingredients. One is
to broaden the income tax base by reducing or eliminating de­
ductions other than personal exemptions, such as deductions for
interest and taxes paid, and by including some income now
excluded, such as unemployment benefits or interest on state and
local securities. The other part of the flat tax idea is to lower the
average tax rate and reduce the number of different tax rates,
but only in the extreme versions is that number reduced to one,
making the system genuinely flat.
The amount of additional revenue that could be obtained from
the personal income tax by limiting deductions, without any rate
increases, is large. The table below shows the estimated revenue
losses in fiscal year 1983 caused by some of the larger exclusions,
other than those that might have a close connection with private
business investment.




PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

36o

Example of Revenue Loss Caused by Exclusions
from Income Tax Base8
Fiscal Year 1983
Deductibility of mortgage interest on owneroccupied houses
$25.1 billion
Exclusion of social security benefits
21.1
Deductibility of nonbusiness state and local taxes,
other than on owner-occupied homes
19.2
Deductibility of charitable contributions
9.1 ”
Exclusion of interest on consumer credit
10.8 ”
Exclusion of interest on life insurance savings
4.8 ”
Deductibility of property tax on owner-occupied
homes
8.8 ”
The political difficulty of changing the provisions of the in­
come tax law that generate these revenue losses is obvious. This
political difficulty is not to be considered mere timidity on the
part of government decision-makers. To close these “loopholes”
would impose a large burden on some taxpayers and leave others
unaffected. And although it may be true that those who would be
most injured have been for some years the beneficiaries of unjusti­
fied privileges, a sudden undoing of these privileges, legally
granted, is not fair either. Moreover, many of the people who
would now be hurt by closing these loopholes did not fully benefit
from them in the first place. The present owners who bought
houses when interest rates and taxes were deductible paid over
part of the benefit in higher prices to sellers and higher interest
rates to lenders, for example.
Partly because of these difficulties, people look for a more
even-handed way of broadening the tax base which would raise
revenue with a low rate applied fairly equally across the board.
That is one of the main attractions of the value-added tax
(V A T ). In its usual form, V A T is a tax on the production and
distribution of consumer goods and services, levied at each stage
of production and distribution but in a way that avoids double­
counting. If no exceptions were provided, the base of such a tax
could be very large— say 65 percent of GNP compared with less




Toward a New Consensus

361

than 50 percent for the taxable income which is the base of the per­
sonal income tax. In practice, provision would almost certainly be
made to provide a rebate for very low-income families. Very
probably there would be exclusions for the imputed rent of
owner-occupied homes, for medical costs and for the purchases
of charitable and religious institutions. Thus the base of the
V A T is likely to wind up not very different from the base of the
personal income tax.
If this is true, the revenue yield of, say, a 4 percent valueadded tax would be about like the revenue yield of adding 4
percentage points to each rate of the income tax— making the
10 percent rate 14 percent and the 50 percent rate 54 percent.
The economic effect of the two approaches would be somewhat
different— the V A T probably reducing consumption more and
saving less— but that difference is probably not very great. There
would also be a difference in the administrative burdens. V A T
would impose a whole new, large burden of paperwork on the
taxpayers and on tax collectors, which would not be necessary
if additional revenue was obtained within the structure of the
personal income tax. The main differences are in the realm of
politics. The V A T would look like a consumption tax, and that
would be considered unfair to “the poor.” On the other hand,
an equal percentage point increase in income tax rates would
also look unfair to the poor. It would raise the 10 percent rate
by 40 percent, in my previous illustration, while the 50 percent
rate was raised by only 8 percent. Which impression will be most
compelling in the political process is hard to say. One possibility
is that the V A T would be harder to get established in the first
place than an increase in income tax rates or even a revision of
the income tax base, but once established it may be a politically
easier source of additional revenue. This may be the worst com­
bination possible, making it difficult to raise the revenue when
we need it but providing a continuing enticement to more spend­
ing in the future by opening up a new source of revenue.
The relative merits of these approaches are less important
than the need to get acceptance of the idea that somehow the
taxes on the middle-income American must be increased and




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PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

that this must be done without increasing the tax burden on the
very rich or the very poor. This becomes clear once one aban­
dons the notion that growth of the economy, perhaps under the
stimulus of supply-side tax cuts, will provide for all our wants.
Once that is accepted, priorities must be established. Our priori­
ties, I am suggesting, should be the defense of the country, the
promotion of economic growth and support of the living stan­
dards of the very poor. If that is the case we must look to the
consumption of the middle-income American as the source from
which we tend to these priorities. That does not mean a decline
in middle-income living standards. It does mean that the share
of middle-income consumption in the rising national income will
have to decline, so that the absolute standard of living rises more
slowly than it otherwise might for a while.
For a while in 1982 there seemed to be a possibility that the
restraint on middle-class consumption might be achieved by cut­
ting back government expenditures that mainly transferred in­
come to middle-class people— social security being the largest
case. This was the period of great attention to the “entitlement”
programs. But the bipartisan commission on reform of the social
security system showed little appetite for this and, as already
t noted, relied heavily on tax increases, for the decade ahead.
One can easily be skeptical of the possibility of achieving an
increase in the taxation of middle-class people, especially if the
increase is not extended to the upper-income people, since the
middle-income people are the large majority of the voters. But
such skepticism would not be entirely justified. The public, in­
cluding the middle class, has shown a capacity to learn some
things about the tax policy that serve the national interest and to
accept the implications of them. The 1981 tax cut was an indica­
tion of that. True, almost everyone got something out of that
act. But still the public accepted with equanimity some tax
changes that in other times would have been strongly resisted as
t handouts to the rich. These included the reduction of the top
individual income tax rate from 70 percent to 50 percent and a
rather generous treatment of capital depreciation. Perhaps that
was an isolated occasion, but politicians and leaders of opinion




Toward a New Consensus

363

should not act on the assumption that the citizens are incapable
of farsighted and public-spirited action.
I do not want to suggest that it is only the middle class that
must sacrifice. The tens of billions probably needed to reduce the
deficit can only come from the middle class, because that is
where the money is. To try to get any significant amount out of
upper-income people would be futile and counterproductive.
There has been some lessening in the resentment and envy to­
ward the rich and powerful that animated tax legislation in the
past, as well as greater recognition of the economic folly of the
taxation those feelings inspired. But the upper-income people,
corporate heads and their representatives have an obligation not
to exploit the situation by using their influence to defend tax
preferences that are unjustified in equity or economics. Percent­
age depletion and provision of excess loss reserves by financial
institutions are examples. If we enter a period of more stable
prices it may even be necessary to think again about that peren­
nial blister, the taxation of capital gains. For a long time the
closing of such loopholes was resisted on the ground that the
high rates of taxation made them necessary if the economy was
to function. Now that the highest rates of individual income
taxation, and the effective rate of corporate profits taxation, have
been substantially reduced it is time to reconsider the loopholes.

The Nature of the System

The preceding discussion deals with the traditional functions of
government in the economy— with monetary policy, the decision
about the size of the budget surplus or deficit and the level and
composition of taxes. These are things that all but the most ex­
treme free marketer would accept as necessary functions of gov­
ernment. But even in as free market a country as the United
States today the government makes many more economic deci­
sions than are involved in these functions. The government oper­
ates upon the economy selectively through controls, subsidies,
tariffs, loans and many other ways. Calls for more of this are




364

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

always present, and these calls become especially insistent when
the economy is believed to be in trouble, as is now believed to
be the case.
There is a common belief that the expansion of government
controls and consequent limitation of the free market is inevi­
table, even though proceeding at an irregular pace. Some wel­
come this alleged development and others regret it. But the facts
are not at all clear. The size of government has expanded by
almost any measure. But the size of the economy has also ex­
panded, and it is not possible to determine whether the area of
freedom has expanded or contracted. Government revenues have
increased, but private incomes after tax have also increased.
Government regulations have proliferated, but there have also
been powerful developments increasing freedom of choice in the
economic sphere, including the spread of knowledge and the
reduction of transportation costs. The future of the free market
is still to be determined. One can regard what has been going on
as a race between the political tendency to expand the role of
government and the dynamic forces of the private sector that
expand the free domain. The race has proceeded irregularly, with
occasional spurts of government controls, and the net outcome
is hard to measure. The Reagan administration came into office
determined to accelerate the expansion of the free sector and to
undo some of the earlier increase of government controls. The
results of its efforts in these directions in the early years of the
administration were mixed, although the net was almost certainly
to slow down the expansion of controls. But the national contest
about the role of government did not come to an end with the
advent of Ronald Reagan.
Issues about particular controls or subsidies will continue to
arise and the outcomes will be determined by the locus of politi­
cal power and by the costs and benefit0 of the specific measures
in question as well as by general attitudes to government. There
are, however, problems that could lead to a more radical change
in the nature of the economic system. One of these is the al­
leged structural problem of the American economy, as evidenced
principally by the concentration of high unemployment in the




Toward a New Consensus

365

automobile, steel and other “smokestack” industries. This is
commonly taken to show the inability of the free market system
to adapt the use of labor and capital to changing markets and
technologies and leads to the conclusion that the government
needs to take more responsibility for directing American industry
into greener pastures. Various proposals to this end have arisen
under the name of “industrial policy,” mainly promising to move
us into a high-technology future. I have discussed this line of
thinking earlier and indicated why it promises no contribution to
improving the performance of the American economy. Talk of
such a policy will undoubtedly have a period of prominence in
politics, because it meets the politicians’ need to sound modern
and intellectual but is sufficiently vague to avoid sharp analysis
and criticism. There is unlikely to be an attempt to implement
this idea on a comprehensive scale, partly because its extreme
implausibility will appear as soon as its specific features are
spelled out. Nevertheless the idea is dangerous and needs to be
be rejected. It provides the rationale for ad hoc interventions to
“assist” American industry in the adjustment that a changing
world economy requires. Experience shows that this assistance
overwhelmingly takes the form of protecting existing industries
rather than promoting adaptation to new ones. It is no accident
that this has happened. That is the nature of politics and of the
bureaucracy.
The “general” economic measures described above are, in fact,
the best and most promising “industrial policy” the United States
can have. The main requirement is an environment in which
private enterprise will invest in change, providing attractive op­
portunities to draw workers out of the fading industries. To re­
duce the economic uncertainties that accompany inflation, to
avoid absorbing an enormous share of the national saving in
financing a deficit and to relieve the tax burdens that have borne
most heavily on investment— these things will most surely con­
tribute to the adaptation of the American economy. With a sta­
ble and nonhostile environment, American private enterprise has
been quite energetic in moving into new technologies and new
markets. In retrospect one can point to cases in which these ad­




366

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

justments seem to have been too slow. But that is not the same as
saying that government intervention in the process would have
made these adjustments better or quicker.
Americans have recently been fascinated by what they think
to be Japanese economic practice, including the image of the
energetic, farsighted and public-spirited bureaucrat who sees the
proper direction of economic development and unerringly guides
labor and capital to what will be their most productive uses. This
picture is undoubtedly exaggerated. But even if it were not, the
lesson for the United States would be unclear. Perhaps in Japan,
talent is greater in the government than in the private sector and
the bureaucracy is more dynamic than the private market. That
is not true in the United States.
The idea of “industrial policy” has possible ramifications that
could seriously impair the efficiency and adaptability of the
American economy. I do not, however, believe that this idea will
get beyond the stage of ad hoc interventions that will be sand in
the cogs of the economic system but will not much change the
system. A greater danger lies in the continuing appeal of “in­
comes policy”— meaning some kind of wage and price con­
trols— to many American intellectuals and to the public at large.
The decline of the inflation rate from 1980 to 1983 was ac­
companied by a substantial rise of unemployment. The argument
of critics was not that the decline of inflation was unimportant
but that they knew a way to do it better— with less unemploy­
ment. That way was incomes policy, to induce business and
labor to slow down price and wage increases without putting
them through the wringer of a recession. And conventional for­
mulations of a post-Reagan economic policy by liberal econo­
mists and intellectuals have as a key if inconspicuous element the
institution of such a system for dealing with wages and prices
directly.
A brisk recovery from the 1981-1982 recession, without a
revival of inflation, would probably quiet the calls for incomes
policy for the time being. That is not, however, the only possi­
bility. At the beginning of the 1983 recovery the standard fore­
cast is that unemployment even in 1985 and 1986 will be higher




Toward a New Consensus

367

than would only a few years earlier have been thought a satisfac­
tory level. This level of unemployment will be attributed to the
policy of trying to restrain inflation by relying on monetary pol­
icy alone, or on monetary and fiscal policy alone. Demands for
incomes policy will mount if the unemployment persists. This
was the kind of situation that led the Nixon administration into
wage and price controls, even though unemployment in 1971,
at 6 percent, was much lower than will be seen in the first half
of the 1980s. And the call for incomes policy is likely to revive
whenever anti-inflationary policy seems to conflict with a satis­
factory rate of unemployment, or whenever a politician wants to
promise to lower the prevailing rate of unemployment.
Controls over prices and wages have more appeal to the
American people than controls that affect the production process
more directly. A proposal that the government should direct the
movement of labor and capital from Pittsburgh to San Antonio
would be rejected as impractical and improper. A suggestion
that the government should set ceilings on prices and wages is
much more acceptable. Opinion polls regularly show a majority
of the public in favor of price and wage controls. The public
seems to regard price and wage controls as having an exclu­
sively distributive function, protecting the weak against exploita­
tion by the strong, and in this context a majority think of them­
selves as weak. They regard the setting of prices and wages as
separate from decisions about production and employment,
which go on grinding out the same goods and services and em­
ployment regardless of the prices and wages. Moreover, incomes
policy is commonly thought of as the imposition of a uniform
standard for prices and a uniform standard for wages— such as
2V2 percent annual increase for prices and 5 percent annual in­
crease for wages. That does not involve the government in mak­
ing specific decisions about specific businesses and unions and
seems a less powerful government intrusion. Finally, incomes
policy is commonly portrayed as relying upon voluntary coopera­
tion by business and labor, so that little or no exercise of govern­
ment power is required. This distinction between mandatory and
voluntary seems important to many economists who retain a




368

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

professional disposition toward free markets. The distinction
seems not to bother the public at large.
All of these perceptions which make “incomes policy” attrac­
tive or at least acceptable are wrong. The decisions about prices
and wages do importantly affect not only how incomes are di­
vided but also what gets produced, where and by whom. What
people do not understand is that the incomes policy inevitably
affects relative prices— the price of steel relative to the price of
aluminum, for example. Even if all prices were frozen, or per­
mitted to rise only by the same percent, the policy would be
affecting the relative prices because the relations would not have
remained constant in an uncontrolled world. And these relative
prices are going to affect how much steel and how much alumi­
num is used in cans and in automobiles, and therefore how much
employment is in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, or Massena, New
York. The dominant and efficient influence of relative prices in di­
recting real economic activity is one of the great lessons of eco­
nomics, a lesson of which the population in general is ignorant
and which some economists choose to disregard.
The neglect of relative prices is the fundamental flaw in the
case for incomes policy. If prices are rising on the average by
10 percent per annum and wages on the average by 13 percent
it seems perfectly obvious that we would be better off if prices
rose on the average by 2 percent and wages by 5 percent. The
next step is to order or suggest that no price should rise by more
than 2 percent and no wage by more than 5 percent. But there is
a big difference between an increase of 2 percent in the average
level of prices and an increase of 2 percent in each price. We
may want the average to rise by 2 percent. We do not want each
price to rise by 2 percent, because that would suppress the
changes in relative prices that the free market would generate
and that are essential for the efficiency of the economy. The
problem that incomes policy does not solve is how to get noninflationary behavior of the average level of prices while retaining
the necessary flexible adaptation of relative prices.
In fact, any incomes policy that lasts for more than a few
months must begin to grapple with the determination of particu­




Toward a New Consensus

369

lar prices and wages. It loses its character of a general rule that
falls equally upon all wages and all prices like the gentle rain
from heaven. The managers of the system must begin to make
specific decisions about the extremely large number of cases in
which the general rule does not fit, possibly because of unusual
cost changes. A t this point the managers of the system change
from neutral administrators to the wielders of large discretionary
power.
During the Nixon price and wage control days, when I had a
role in drawing up the rules of the system, even though I did not
deal with particular cases, I was besieged by visits from busi­
nesses and trade associations that wanted special consideration.
I remarked to President Nixon that one could come to like the
system because it gave him such a feeling of power over all these
supplicants. The President thought that was funny, because he
knew that I had a strong distaste for the controls. But the feeling
and the power itself are both real, and the power is dangerous
because it could easily be used to reward friends and punish
enemies. This is aside from the fact that no one knows how to
make efficient decisions from Washington about particular prices
and wages.
For some proponents of incomes policy the distinction be­
tween mandatory and voluntary is critical. They reject, or say
they would reject, the notion that the government should compel
businesses and workers to keep prices and wages within limits
set by the government. But they find the economic and political
defects of such a system absent if the government only makes
“suggestions” that private parties may choose to follow or to
leave alone. This always turns out to be a weak distinction. How­
ever initially determined to keep the system voluntary, the gov­
ernment cannot remain uninvolved if its suggestions are conspic­
uously disregarded by businesses and unions. A t the least the
transgressors are subject to public opprobrium, which is likely to
be increased if the government calls attention to the transgres­
sion. But the government invariably is drawn into using other
influence to “persuade” businesses or unions to comply, such as
the allocation of government contracts or institution of antitrust




370

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

suits. In fact, the difference between mandatory and voluntary
systems is not great. In both cases there will be a high degree of
compliance motivated simply by the desire to do what the au­
thorities say should be done, strengthened by fear of sanctions.
There will be a certain amount of noncompliance, but this can­
not be relied upon to correct the economic inefficiencies caused
by the arbitrary setting of relative prices. One difference is that
when the system is mandatory the private parties have an oppor­
tunity to go to court to seek relief from what they consider
arbitrary treatment. In this respect the mandatory system is more
respectful of private rights.
In recent years the fashionable version of incomes policy has
been the tax-based incomes policy, or TIP. In TIP the govern­
ment would establish limits to wage increases, or, in some ver­
sions, both wage and price increases, and exceeding the limit
would subject the transgressors to a tax proportional to the
amount of the transgression. Thus, exceeding the limit would
not be prohibited but it would be costly, and the cost would pre­
sumably be great enough to make transgression rare. But if the
cost is that great, provision would have to be made for adminis­
trative exceptions. The main reason for the persistent interest in
TIP is that it has never been tried and so has no failures to its
account. But fundamentally, TIP changes nothing from previous
incomes policies or wage and price controls. The fundamental
point is that arbitrary limits are set to the ability of prices and
wages to respond to market conditions and that the government
assumes tremendous power to determine the economic fortunes
of the citizens.
Most of the policy questions discussed in this chapter are fit
subjects for negotiation and compromise. That includes such
matters as the objectives and techniques of monetary policy, the
size and stability of budget deficits and the distribution of the
tax burden. These are matters on which liberals and conserva­
tives, Keynesians and monetarists, Democrats and Republicans
disagree. But if they are candid they will recognize that they are
not sure of the one right answer, that the differences among them
are matters of degree and that reaching agreement and conse­




Toward a New Consensus

371

quent stability of policy may be more important than continually
striving for one’s preferred solution.
But that is not true of wage and price controls, euphemistically
called incomes policy. Of course, there can be a little bit of it, in
the sense that a few specific prices, like utility rates, can be, and
are, controlled. I am talking here, however, of controls on a scale
that might be relevant to the macroeconomic problems of infla­
tion and unemployment. With respect to such controls there can
be, from the standpoint of conservative economics— in its classic,
free-market sense— no middle ground and no compromise. Such
controls are fatal to the conservative vision of a good society and
a good economy, which is regularly described as the “free price
system.” Their adverse effects on economic efficiency, which
would surely compound as the controls were prolonged, are not
the main reason for rejecting them. They provide the government
with a weapon by which it can single out for control, for reward or
punishment, any industry, firm or union, violently disturbing the
balance between the sphere of government and the sphere of pri­
vate life. The adoption of general and lasting controls of prices
and wages would be a statement that the idea of the self-regulating
economy is through.
This judgment of the controls is not invalidated by the fact
that our most thoroughgoing experience with controls came during
a conservative administration. That experience only confirmed
these judgments. It was only kept from being disastrous by being
terminated, even though the termination was itself painful.
The national-consensus economic policy that we need cannot
include price and wage controls, in whatever guise. Those who
share this aversion to controls should recognize that it imposes
certain obligations on them not to create but to help to avoid the
conditions that strengthen the demand for controls.
Promises that create expectations unlikely to be satisfied must
be avoided. Such a promise— to end inflation without an increase
of unemployment— was one of the main errors of the Nixon ad­
ministration. It led to disappointment with the Nixon policy and
clamor for controls as a way to make the promise good. Similar
promises made during 1980 and 1981 were a danger, but the




372

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

Reagan administration moved to more realistic ground by 1982,
warning the public that a noninflationary policy would entail a
considerable period of universally high unemployment.
There should be no illusions about the possibility of moder­
ating the controls to keep them harmless while at the same time
achieving the results that proponents of controls seek for them.
Once initiated, the controls have a strong tendency to assume all
of their harmful features. What was intended as the statement of
guidelines to be voluntarily observed becomes the rationale for
more and more compulsion. Plans for limiting only wage in­
creases inevitably lead to controls over prices. Ninety-day freezes
turn into elaborate systems lasting for years.
Businessmen must restrain their understandable claims for pro­
tection, subsidies and other preferential treatment in their own
particular cases. They cannot credibly wrap themselves in the
flag of the free price system while pushing such claims. Proposals
for economic “planning” in the United States invariably are de­
scribed as simply efforts to rationalize the chaos of government
intervention that already exists. Much of this intervention is a
response to demands of people who consider themselves cham­
pions of free markets.
Price and wage controls are most popular when unemploy­
ment seems to be the consequence of the effort to reduce or re­
strain inflation by traditional monetary policy. The controls are
not a good solution for this problem. But the problem is a real
one. Those who are most determined to avoid the controls should
recognize it and be prepared to support constructive measures to
deal with it. I have already indicated that it is dangerous to
promise that anti-inflationary policy can be painless. But still,
things can be done to shelter those who would be most severely
injured in the anti-inflationary process. A safety net of income
assistance programs for low-income people— such as unemploy­
ment compensation, food stamps, aid to families with depen­
dent children— can assure that necessary macroeconomic policies
do not force people into poverty. Public employment programs
can support the income, work experience and morale of persons
who would be most hurt by unemployment without interfering




Toward a New Consensus

373

with the anti-inflationary policy— if the wages paid in those pro­
grams are not too high. Such measures are not only a matter of
political pragmatism— of making the free market acceptable to
people who do not appreciate its value. They are important for
their own sake just because avoiding human misery is important.
There is a more general point here. The free market system is
the most assured route to strong economic growth and thus to
raising the standard of living of all the people. Conservatives love
to say that the best way to care for the very poor is to assure that
the overall productivity of the economy improves. In some back­
ward countries it may be true that to attempt to use part of the
meager resources to care for today’s poor would prevent later
generations from rising out of poverty. But that is not true of the
United States. The national income of the United States is so
great and the number of the very poor is so low that a minimum
income can be provided for all by the application of a small frac­
tion of our resources. That would not prevent our children and
grandchildren from being still richer than we are, on the average.
Conservatives should be concerned that assistance for the poor
and disadvantaged takes forms that are consistent with a free
market system. That means basically that there should be as lit­
tle interference as possible with decisions on production and
pricing. But conservatives should not be in the position of forc­
ing the society to choose between freedom and growth on the
one hand and compassion on the other. That is worse than po­
litically unwise. It is unnecessary and unworthy of conservative
values.
We need a responsible, open-minded national discussion of
economic policy, addressed to our real problems and seeking to
reach agreement. Such a discussion should start with the un­
deniable fact that the American economy has worked well. The
difficulties we have experienced recently are serious only in rela­
tion to earlier periods of our own greatest achievements. The
economy has continued to provide extremely high living stan­
dards, growing at a moderate pace, including on the average a
reduction of poverty from already low levels. Discussion of eco­




374

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

nomic policy should also start with a clear picture of the econ­
omy that delivered these results. It has not been a laissez-faire
economy and it has not been a planned economy. The common
term is that we have a “mixed” system, but that does not indicate
the nature of the mixture. The mixture consists of three elements:
a free market to govern production and the initial distribution of
income, macroeconomic policy of government to provide a sta­
ble overall environment within which the free market can work,
and government measures of assistance to the poor.
Our difficulties in the past fifteen years do not indicate that
this three-way division of functions has failed. The experience
does not suggest the need for a radical change of policy— to sub­
stitute government planning for the free market or to deprive
government of its macroeconomic or redistributive responsibili­
ties. Our difficulties mean that the system has not been run very
well, not that that system needs to be replaced. The main defi­
ciency has been in macroeconomic policy, which in my view is
mainly monetary policy. This was responsible for the inflation of
the years after 1965, and that in turn was the main source of the
anxiety that overcame the American people in those years. The
inflation contributed in various ways— including the escalation
of marginal tax rates— to the slowdown in productivity growth
in the same period. Our other troubles, less serious but still real,
were also the results of mistakes in the management of the sys­
tem. The proper function of the government in providing assis­
tance to the poor was allowed to mushroom into a vast transfer
of income to middle-income people— mainly old people— that
required financing by high tax rates on the working population.
An increasingly large fraction of the national saving was ab­
sorbed by budget deficits. Excessive government interference
with the free market obstructed the adaptation of the economy
to changing conditions— energy policy being the leading example.
These mistakes of economic policy have been partly due to the
deficiencies of economics. Economists have not known how to
describe the path of the economy that would most surely and ef­
ficiently prevent inflation. They have not known just what mone­
tary policy would keep the economy on that path. They have not




Toward a New Consensus

375

been able to say with confidence how much difference a certain
structure of taxes or a certain size of budget deficit would make
for long-run economic growth.
But these inadequacies of economics, although serious, have
not been the fundamental problem. Enough was known to permit
avoidance of long-continued cumulative inflation, even if not
enough was known to keep the price level stable from year to
year. Probably enough was also known to point to better policies
about deficits, taxes and controls than we followed to yield a
higher rate of economic growth.
The fundamental difficulty was political. Parochial and shortrun interests dominated over national and long-term interests. It
was, in my opinion, the domination of the short-run view that
was most harmful. Inflationary policies were followed because
they seemed to have, and often did have, a quite general shortrun benefit whereas the adverse consequences would come only
later. We run excessive deficits because the bad effects come only
later, in the form of lower productivity and lower economic
growth, whereas the bigger government programs and lower
taxes that yield the deficits are enjoyed now. We use the wrong
kinds of taxes because their bad effects appear slowly.
Economists have some responsibility for this preoccupation
with the short run. Too many have forsaken the economists’ tra­
ditional role of emphasizing the long view. Some may have been
taken in by Keynes’ remark that in the long run we are all dead.
Others, probably more numerous, have been seduced by the at­
traction of participating in politics. But it is not only or mainly
the economists who are to blame. Others who influence public
opinion, and mainly the politicians, are more important. No one
wants to incur the unpopularity of telling the American people
that there is a choice between the present and the future. All
politicians like to say that they are calling upon the people to
make sacrifices, because they believe that among the present
things that people enjoy is the virtuous feeling of sacrifice. But
no one really calls for sacrifice— even the trivial sacrifice of the
present that would be involved in a country as rich as ours if a
more stable and productive future were to be assured.




376

PRESIDENTIAL ECONOMICS

The politicians say that it is impractical for them to take the
long view, because the voters will not stand for it. The common
argument of incumbent politicians is that if they do the right
thing— the forward-looking thing— the voters will bring in the
opposition, who will do even worse. Nothing is more natural
than for the incumbent to identify the long-run national interest
with his reelection. But the implied view of the public is too cyn­
ical and unjustified. There is at least a chance that the public will
respond to candid talk and farsighted policy and will appreciate
the politicians who offer that.
But we cannot rely mainly on politicians to change the tone of
the discussion and practice of economic policy. Others who are
concerned, and who do not have political office at stake, will
have to take the lead. They will have to make the world safe for
politicians to do the right thing. They can accomplish that, or at
least try to do so, by initiating and carrying on a discussion out
of which will emerge new understanding and new principles of
policy that give proper weight to the long-run national interest.




Afterword:
Ten Years
of the U.S. Economy
and Economic Policy,

1977-1987

The “ Real” Performance of the Economy
D is t in g u is h in g b e t w e e n t h e “ r e a l ” a n d t h e “ n o m i n a l ” perform­
ance of the economy is important, especially in the ten years under
review. By “real” is meant those aspects of the economy that are
actually or conceptually measurable in physical quantities— like the
volume of output or the number of workers, or relations among these
measures like the volume of output per worker. By “nominal” is
meant those aspects of the economy that are measurable in dollar
amounts or ratios of dollar amounts— like the average of prices or
the sum total of dollar expenditures.
This distinction is especially important for the years
because the most striking fact about this period is that the real
performance has been in most respects quite ordinary, whereas the
nominal performance has been extraordinary.
To look at the real performance first:

1977-1987

1. Total output, as measured by real GNP, increased between
1977 and 1987 at an average annual rate of 2.6 percent. This rate has




377

Afterword

378

1973
1950 1973
1929 1973

3.6

prevailed since
. It is significantly smaller than the rate of
percent from
to
and smaller even than the longer-term
rate of
percent from
to
.
. The ten-year period is too short to permit any confident state­
ment about whether there has been a change in the trend of output, as
distinguished from cyclical fluctuations. But at least one can say that
there has been no clear evidence of a change in trend. From
to
output rose by
percent per year, whereas from
to
the increase was
percent per year. This difference almost
disappears, however, if the dividing point is moved from
to
. From
to
the annual rate of growth was
percent
and from
to
was
percent.
. The period
includes one serious recession, which
began in the third quarter of
. The pattern of this recession was
similar to the pattern of the recession that began in the second
quarter of
. The decline of output from peak to trough was
percent in the
recession and percent in the
recession.
Six years after the beginning of the
recession, output was
percent above the previous peak. Six years after the beginning of the
recession, output is
percent above its previous peak. By
the recovery from the
recession was near its end. If
common forecasts are correct, the recovery now continuing will
significantly outstrip the earlier one. But those are forecasts.
. The rate of growth of productivity, measured by output per
hour of work, which had slowed down markedly after
, re­
mained low during the years
. The rate fluctuated cycli­
cally, but at the end of the period there was no evidence that the
trend had increased.
. Total employment increased rapidly between
and
—
by about percent per year. This rate of growth was the continuation
of a percent growth rate that began around
. It reflected rapid
increases in the working-age population and in the labor-force
participation of women in the more recent period. Cyclical fluctua­
tions aside, the growth of employment was fairly steady, at a rate of
percent between
and
and
percent between
and
. The unemployment rate was
at the beginning of
.
It fell to a low of
percent during the recovery of that cycle, rose
to
percent at the depth of the
recession, and fell

3.1

2

1981
1987

1977
1981

2.3
2.7

1980

1977 1980
1980 1987 2.54
1977-1987
1981

3

1974
1974

1981
1980

2.48

3

17

1974

2.2

1973

1977

2

1987

10.6




16

1974

1977 1987

2

4

1981

4

5

1981

1987

1960

1977

5.5

1981

1.9
7.3

1981-1982

1981
1977

379

Afterword

5.9

1987

again to
percent in July
.
6. One respect in which the period
was extraordinary
was that in the latter years of it the United States used significantly
more goods and services than it produced. In other words, the
United States was a net importer of goods and services. To be a net
importer was not in itself unusual for the United States. It was in that
condition in seventeen of the twenty-six years from
to
.
But the amounts were usually small. In
,
, and
,
however, the amounts were quite large—
percent,
percent,
and
percent of GNP.
. At the end of the period
, the amount of goods and
services the United States used was larger than the amount of gross
national product. The distribution of the available goods and serv­
ices among major uses was quite stable. Consumption regularly took
about
percent of the total, private investment about
percent,
and government (federal, state, local) about
percent. The most
important change was in the composition of the government uses.
The share of available goods and services going to defense rose from
percent to
percent, whereas other federal uses fell from
to .8 percent, and state and local uses fell from
percent to 1
percent.
8. Gross private saving as a percentage of GNP for the ten years as
a whole was a little lower than earlier in the postwar period and was
lower at the end of the ten years than at the beginning. In the fiscal
years
—
, an exceptionally large part of these savings was
absorbed in financing the federal budget deficit. The availability of
savings to finance domestic private investment, despite the drain
into the budget deficit, was supplemented by the inflow of capital
from abroad, permitting private investment to maintain a fairly
stable relation to GNP. But, of course, some of this investment
belonged, directly or indirectly, to the foreigners who provided the
capital inflow. The increase in the capital owned by Americans, net
of their foreign liabilities, fell significantly as a fraction of GNP.
(See table.)
. The division of output among types of products and industries
remained almost unchanged during the period. Despite much alarm
about the “deindustrialization” of America, manufacturing output
grew along with the rest of the economy. In
manufacturing

7

1950 1976
1984 1985
1986
2.4
3.0

3.9

1977 1987

63

5.3
1

1977-1987

17

20

6.7

11.9

1984 1987

9




1977

2.4
1.0

380

TA BLE : S a v in g

N o te :

In v e s t m e n t

as a

Pe r c e n t a g e

of

GNP,

1977-1986

(a )
G ro ss
P riv a te
Saving

(c)

(d)

(e )

F ederal
B u dget
Surplus

State a n d L o c a l
B u d g et Surplus

G ross P riv ate
D om estic Investm en t

N et F o reig n
Investm en t

if)
G ross P riv ate
D om estic Investm en t
by U .S. R esid en ts

17.8
18.2
17.8
17.5
18.0
1 7 .6
17.4
1 8.0
16.6
16.1

C a le n d a r Y ear
1977
1978
1979
1980
1981
1982
1983
1984
1985
1986

and

- 2 .3
- 1 .3
- 0 .6
- 2 .2
- 2 .1
- 4 .6
- 5 .2
- 4 .5
- 4 .9
- 4 .8

1.4
1.3
1.1
1.0
1.1
1.1
1.4
1.7
1.6
1.3

17.3
18.5
18.1
16.0
16.9
14.1
14.7
17.6
16.0
15.8

- 0 .4
- 0 .4
0.1
0 .5
0 .3
0
- 1 .0
- 2 .4
- 2 .9
- 3 .4

16.9
18.1
18.2
16.5
17.2
14.1
13.8
15.2
13.1
12.4

Column (f) = (d) -

(e);

column (f) a lso equals (a) + (b ) + (c), e x c e p t fo r statistical discrepancy.
July issue, various years.

S o u r c e : Survey o f C u rren t B u sin ess,




381
CHART:

L evels

of

M a n u f a c t u r in g O u t p u t

AND EMPLOYMENT,
Index

1960-1986

Calendar year
N o te : 1960 = base year.

Manufacturing output from the Survey o f C urrent B u si­
n ess; manufacturing employment from the Bureau o f Labor Statis­
tics.

S ources:

21.8

1986

21.8

output was
percent of the GNP; in
it was also
percent (see chart).
. The proportion of the population in poverty— that is, with
incomes below the official poverty line— varied cyclically but
showed no trend during the years
. The poverty rate
continued a leveling out that began in about
after a long period
in which it had declined substantially. The leveling out of the
poverty rate occurred despite a 21 percent increase in real per capita
disposable income between
and
.

10

1977 1987
1973

1973

1986

Performance in the “ Nominal” Economy
On the nominal side of the economy, the distinguishing feature was
the high rate of inflation in the early part of the period and the much



Afterword

382

lower rate near the end of the period. One should note, however,
that even the “much lower” inflation rate of the mids was high
in comparison with the inflation rate during most of our history.
From
to
the consumer price index rose at an annual
average rate of
percent; from
to
the average rate was
percent. In the earlier period labor compensation per hour rose
by 9.5 percent per year, on the average; in the latter period the
average rate was
percent. The average yield on a ten-year
Treasury security rose from
percent in
to
percent in
; it then fell, along with inflation, to
percent in
.
The inflation rate had fallen substantially during the recession
from
to
, but rose sharply thereafter in the recovery. The
distinctive feature of the
recovery was the continuing
drop in the inflation rate. In the first half of
the consumer price
index rose at an annual rate of
percent, and by June the yield of
the ten-year bond had risen to
percent. Concern was being
expressed about a new wave of inflation. But still, there was little
doubt that a marked, if not necessarily eternal, change in the
inflation rate had occurred since the late
s.

1980

1977

3.8

1981
10.7

4.9

1981

1974 1976

1981 1986

7.42

1982-1986

5.4
8.62

1977 13.91
7.68
1986
1987

1970

The Role of Policy
The key question about economic policy in the decade under review
is what caused the most spectacular development of the period—
namely, the sharp reduction of inflation. The behavior of the real
economy might seem to require less explanation, since it was so
ordinary. But still one might ask why it was so ordinary. Why did
the real economy behave in such an ordinary— not to say dull— way
despite “supply-side” policies intended to reinvigorate it?
One must first say, or confess, that many questions about the
connection between economic policies and economic performance
remain mysteries even for years after the events. Economists are still
arguing about what the Kennedy-Johnson tax cut had to do with the
economic expansion of
, as well as about the connections
between Hoover and Roosevelt policies and the
depres­
sion and recovery. They will surely be arguing for a long time about
what caused what in the experience of
. Still it is worth­
while to reveal some of the uncertainties in the story.




1961 1966

1929-1939

1977 1987

Afterword

383

Just as the decline of the inflation rate is the central story, the
recession of
and the subsequent recovery are the main
events in the story. Although other factors were involved, the
character of that recession and that recovery were critical for the
decline of inflation.
The American economy, like others, fluctuates for numerous
reasons, not all of them positively related to government policy.
There were probably ample grounds for thinking that the United
States would go into a recession sometime in the early
s. The
expansion had been going on for an exceptionally long period, since
early
, with only a brief and peculiar interruption in the second
quarter of
. More important, the rapid rate of inflation was a
source of great uncertainty and made it inevitable that at some point
the expectations on which businessmen made their investment and
inventory plans would turn out to be wrong and there would be a
correction, probably of a recessionary character.
But beyond that, policy makers at the beginning of
wanted
to slow down the economy in order to reduce the inflation rate. The
means for slowing down the economy was to be monetary restraint.
Everyone was agreed on this strategy— the outgoing Carter adminis­
tration, the incoming Reagan administration, and the Federal Re­
serve under the continuing leadership of Paul Volcker.
They were, moreover, agreed on a policy of gradualism employ­
ing a minimum dose of restraint. At the time, in a mood of despair
about subduing the inflation, there was a good deal of talk in
academic economic circles about the possible need for a “sudden
death” strategy. The idea was that monetary growth would be
sharply cut with the announced intention of getting the inflation rate
down to zero, or close to it, in one step no matter what the cost in
output and employment might be. Underlying this idea was the
belief that such a move would quickly eliminate inflationary expec­
tations and then allow the real economy to recover while prices
remained stable.
No responsible officials supported this strategy, however. The
final economic report of the Carter administration envisaged two
, after which growth
quarters of slow growth in the first half of
would accelerate, but the brief moderate slowdown would be
enough to set the inflation rate on a gradual downward path. The

1981-1982

1980

1975

1980




1981

1981

R e a l GN P, 1 9 5 0 -1 9 8 7
Billions of 1982 dollars (ratio scale)

T o t a l E m ploym ent, 1 9 5 0 -1 9 8 7

(civilian and resident armed forces)
M illions (ratio scale)

Calendar year

Calendar year

N ote: 1987 is author’s estimate.

N ote: Ju ly 1987 data used for 1987.

So u rce: Survey o f Current Business.

So u rce: Bureau o f Labor Statistics.




P e r c e n t a g e C h a n g e in R e a l G N P , fr o m

U n e m p lo y m e n t R a t e , 1 9 6 0 -1 9 8 7

P r e r e c e s s io n P e a k Q u a r t e r s 1 9 7 3 :Q 4 a n d 1981: Q 3

(unemployed as a percentage of civilian labor force and
resident armed forces)

Percentage change

Percent

Calendar year

N ote: July 1987 data used for 1987.
So u rce:

Survey o f Current Business.




S o u rce : Bureau o f Labor Statistics.

C o n su m er P r ic e In d ex a n d H o u r ly

F

C o m p en satio n , 1960-1986

(annual percentage change)

a s a

e d e r a l

P

G

o v er n m en t

er c en t a g e o f

R

e c e ip t s

GN P, 1 9 6 0 -1 9 8 7

Percent

Percent

Fiscal year
Calendar year

S o u rce: Historical tables, B u d g et o f th e U nited S tates G overnm en t,
S o u rce: Bureau o f Labor Statistics.




1988.

F ed era l G o v ern m en t B u d g et S urplus
a n d C u rren t A c c o u n t S urplu s
a s a P e r c e n ta g e o f G N P, 1960-1986

F e d e r a l B u d g et O utlays
a s a P e r c e n ta g e o f G N P, 1 9 6 0 -1 9 8 7
Percent

Percent

Calendar year
Fiscal year

S o u rce : H istorical tables, B u d g et o f th e U nited S tates G overnm en t,
1 988.




N o t e : Current account surplus is balance o f payments for trade in
goods and services, investment incom e, and unilateral transfers.

S o u rce : S u rvey o f C u rren t B u sin ess.

Afterword

388

economists of the Reagan administration had a similar view, but
pushed the period of “sogginess” back from the beginning of
to
the middle. (This pattern seems to be characteristic of governments
facing inflation. They recognize the need for restraint of inflation but
are unwilling to predict a recession during their time in office; so
they hopefully count on a slowdown too small to be a recession but
big enough to turn the inflation down.) The Federal Reserve was less
precise and less optimistic in its promises, but it also described a
policy of gradual monetary restraint to achieve gradual disinflation.
None of the responsible parties wanted or planned as much
reduction of total demand and output and as much rise of unemploy­
ment as we got in
and
, and none expected as much
decline in the inflation rate as we had by the end of
. There are
two questions: ( ) Why did demand and output fall so much? ( )
Why did inflation fall so much?
Some observers attributed the unexpected depth of the
recession to an unexpectedly sharp contraction of the money supply.
This explanation does not hold, however. In fact, the slowdown of
monetary growth was quite moderate. As the
Annual Report of
the Council of Economic Advisers pointed out, if historic relations
between the money supply and nominal GNP had persisted, the
actual growth of the money supply would have led to a 10 percent
increase of nominal GNP in
instead of the actual percent that
occurred.
Neither can the depth of the recession be attributed to fiscal
policy, at least according to any standard theory of the way fiscal
policy works. By the fall of
, after the big tax cut had been
enacted, the deficit was rising rapidly and it was becoming clear that
unusually large deficits were here to stay for some time. In the
standard theory of the past fifty years large deficits should have been
expansionary, at least for a time, and in earlier, classical theory they
should have had no effect on total demand and total output, although
they would affect the composition of output.
There was, and may still be, a theory that the tax cuts contributed
to the recession because the cuts were phased in over three years and
people were waiting for the lowest tax rates to take effect before they
engaged in income-earning activity. This does not, however, seem
credible as a description of the 12 million unemployed at the end of




1981

1981

1982

1982

1

2

1981-1982

1983

1982

1981

4

389

Afterword

1982 or of many other people either.
The depth of the recession can be “explained” by pointing to the
decline in the velocity of money— the relation between nominal
GNP and the money supply— that occurred after
. But this is
not really an explanation; it only restates the question of why
nominal GNP grew so much less than was expected. Part of the
explanation may be the decline of interest rates during
and
, which reduced the cost of holding money. Some recent
studies suggest that the common forecasts of economists underesti­
mated the degree to which velocity would be affected by the decline
of interest rates. The size of the drop in interest rates was caused in
part by the depth of the recession, which it cannot therefore explain.
The decline of interest rates may also have been caused by a marked
change in expectations about the future rate of inflation— a subject to
which I shall return.
In part the decline in velocity was caused by a change in banking
regulations and practices, which increased interest payments on
checkable bank deposits and so increased the desire to hold them.
Even so, the size of the decline in velocity probably cannot be
explained without invoking the magic word— expectations.
We are in a similar condition in trying to answer the second
question. Why, given the decline in velocity and in nominal GNP,
did the inflation rate decline so far so fast? Before the disinflation
began economists had estimated how much recession, as measured
by unemployment, would be required to get the inflation down by
any given amount— say, by one percentage point. The estimates
varied a good deal, but it is probably fair to say that the inflation rate
fell more in
than most of the estimates would have predicted
even in a recession of the kind we experienced. Part of the explana­
tion is the rise in the exchange rate of the dollar, which reduced the
prices of imports and intensified competition for American pro­
ducers. The rise of the dollar in turn requires explanation, which is
not definitely available, but the answer surely includes the rise of the
budget deficit and the tax cut of
, both of which attracted capital
to the United States. So in a peculiar and rather unexpected way the
administration’s fiscal policy contributed to the decline of the infla­
tion rate.
Whether the rise of the dollar is sufficient to explain why the

1981

1981

1982




1982

1981

Afterword

390

inflation rate fell more than was conventionally predicted is a subject
of dispute among economists. One possibility, of course, is that the
estimates of economists were simply wrong and that they had
exaggerated the amount of recession that would be required to get
the inflation down, so that there is really no mystery, even without
the added factor of the rising dollar. But it can be convincingly
argued that something more was involved. (See Phillip Cagan,
“Containing Inflation,” in Contemporary Economic Problems,
American Enterprise Institute,
.) This something more was a
change of expectations about inflation.
A plausible story is that sometime in
the private sector came
to expect with confidence that the inflation rate would come down
soon and significantly. This expectation made people willing to hold
more money and therefore caused the decline of velocity. It also
made businesses and workers willing to set and accept smaller price
and wage increases and so contributed to the decline of the actual
inflation rate.
But the source of this change of expectations as a cause of the
disinflation and not as a consequence of it is difficult to see. The
Reagan administration did not come into office with strong creden­
tials as inflation fighters. The only specific economic program of the
Reagan campaign in
had assumed a high rate of inflation
continuing for five years. The budget revisions submitted by the
Reagan administration soon after entering office implied a very slow
reduction of the inflation rate. By the fall of
general recogni­
tion that the administration’s fiscal policy implied large budget
deficits for a long time would ordinarily have been a signal of more
inflation. The main contribution of the administration to the idea of a
marked change in the economic outlook in
was probably the
president’ s refusal to give in to the wage demands of the air traffic
controllers when they went on strike.
The Federal Reserve may have had more to do with a change of
inflationary policy expectations. Paul Volcker’s appointment in
as chairman of the Federal Reserve was quite explicitly tied to
the need to curb inflation. His shift in operating procedures, with
more emphasis on the supply of money and less on interest rates as a
target, was interpreted in some circles as a sign of more disciplined
focus on fighting inflation. But still, in both
and
the

1986

1981

1980

1981

1981

1979




1981

1982

Afterword

391

forecasts, and presumably also the objectives, of the Federal Re­
serve for reducing the inflation rate were moderate— significantly
less than was actually achieved.
A change in inflationary expectations may have contributed more
to developments during the expansion after the fall of
than
during the recession up to that point. If we consider the period
to
as a whole, the failure of inflation to rise during the
expansion is more remarkable than the decline of inflation during the
recession. By the time of the expansion, expectations were being
influenced by the experience of the recession. This experience was
not only the actual decline of the inflation rate in
. It was also
the rather calm response of the administration, the Federal Reserve,
and the public to the recession as the unemployment rate rose to
almost
percent in
. The view developed that in the ReaganVolcker regime the danger of being stampeded into inflationary
monetary policy by fear of unemployment was less than it had been
in earlier regimes. This perception helped to keep inflation low
during the expansion.
The low actual and expected inflation during the
expansion is somewhat ironical because the growth of the money
supply was extraordinarily rapid during this period. But there was
growing recognition, in and out of the Federal Reserve, that changes
in financial regulations and structures had broken previous relations
between the money supply and inflation, at least temporarily and
within some limits. The Federal Reserve seemed to be operating
pragmatically, trying to adapt its course to observed events, with
heavy emphasis on the rate of inflation.
To recapitulate, despite general avowal of a policy of gradualism,
there was a disinflationary shock to the economy in the form of a
recession whose depth was unplanned and unexpected by both the
fiscal and the monetary authorities. If the depth of the recession had
been foreseen, the authorities almost certainly would have tried to
avert it by expansionary measures. In that sense the disinflation was
triggered by accident. The main contribution of the policy makers
was to tolerate the disinflationary recession they had not caused or
wanted and not to try to get out of it quickly.
A more general explanation may be offered of our disinflationary
experience. Back in
I incautiously said that the American

1982

1987

1981

1982

11




1982

1982-1986

1974

Afterword

392

people got the inflation they deserved. I was widely criticized for
that, but I only meant that if the American people had demanded or
even had seemed willing to tolerate noninflationary policy they
would have had it. By
the people had experienced more than a
decade of inflation trauma and had learned that nostrums like price
controls did not work. They then “deserved” anti-inflationary pol­
icy; President Reagan and Chairman Volcker were the instruments
by which they got it. This turn in public attitude was self-reinforc­
ing. The public’s willingness to tolerate anti-inflationary policy
supported the expectation that inflation would come down, and that
expectation made the decline of inflation easier and less costly in
output and employment.

1980

Policy and the Real Economy
In many dimensions the performance of the real economy in the past
ten years was a continuation of earlier trends. Total employment
(and employment as a percentage of the working-age population)
rose more or less as they had since
. Total output and total
output per hour of work rose at the slow rate that had begun after
— slow at least by comparison with the previous twenty-five or
fifty years.
The shift to a slower trend of output and productivity growth, now
seen to have come after
, was not clearly recognized until
around the beginning of the period under review here. It became a
matter of increasing concern in the first half of our decade. Students
of productivity trends were unable to reach any agreed and confident
explanation of the slowdown of productivity growth. Among the
factors commonly listed as causes were a slower rate of growth of
capital per worker, the debilitating effects of rising marginal tax
rates, the costs of regulation, the costs of adapting to higher energy
prices, and the uncertainties resulting from inflation.
Some of the alleged causes seemed open to correction by policy.
The concern with the slowdown of growth and the belief that it had
major roots in policy helped to rationalize the “supply-side” turn of
policy, or policy rhetoric, associated with the advent of the Reagan
team. This turn focused on two things: ( ) reducing marginal tax
rates, which would increase saving, investment, and labor-force

1961

1973




1973

1

393

Afterword

participation as well as a less-measurable ingredient like innovative­
ness; and (2) reducing government regulation of the economy,
which would allow the private sector to function more efficiently and
relieve it of heavy compliance costs. Perhaps a third route to
strengthening the supply side of the economy should be added— re­
ducing the uncertainties caused by rapid inflation.
It appears that the results sought were not achieved. One has to
say “appears” because the statistics about total output, productivity,
and saving, are all in dispute; but still the judgment is supported by
the best information we now have. National saving did not rise but
declined as a fraction of GNP. Investment in the United States in
real terms did not rise as a fraction of GNP. (Investment declined
relatively in current dollars but remained a constant fraction in real
terms because the prices of investment goods rose less than the
general price level.) Labor participation rates continued their rising
trend but did not accelerate. The growth of output and productivity
fluctuated cyclically but did not rise above its low growth trend.
This lack of response should not be surprising. For one thing, the
steps in tax reduction and deregulation came slowly. Although
reduction of marginal income tax rates began in
, the lowest
rates will not be reached until
. For many taxpayers, the effect
of a reduction in the income tax rate was offset by higher rates of
social security payroll taxes. The total ratio of federal taxes to GNP
leveled out after
but did not fall. Deregulation consisted
mainly of slowing down the pace of new regulation, rather than
severely curtailing existing regulation. Indeed, when account is
taken of increased regulation of international trade, total regulation
may not have decreased at all.
Moreover, some of the gains from supply-side increases may
appear only after a long period has passed, especially if patterns of
participation in the labor force are to change. And there may be
benefits or consequences of some of these measures that do not show
up in total output and productivity. For example, airline deregulation
benefits travelers by making lower fares available, partly at the
expense of the earnings of airline employees, which may be a gain
or a loss depending on one’s point of view.
Still, the enthusiastic expectations of the beneficial effect of
supply-side measures were almost certainly unjustified. These ex­




1988

1981

1981

Afterword

394

pectations relied on a strength of response of savings and labor that
was not supported by information available at the time and that has
not been demonstrated since.
The key test is the behavior of saving and investment. Experts
disagree on the size of the effect of the national investment rate on
the growth of productivity. But almost everyone would agree that
the investment rate, and the saving rate upon which it depends, is
important and that it is probably the most important element on
which policy can have a substantial and prompt effect. The Reagan
administration program relied heavily on an increase in private
saving. Private saving had to increase sufficiently to exceed the rise
in the federal budget deficit, so that the total of national saving
(private and public) would rise, permitting an increase in private
investment by Americans. In fact, this did not happen, as can be
seen in table . Private saving as a percentage of GNP fell while the
federal deficit rose, so that the United States saving available to
finance private investment fell sharply, from
percent of GNP in
to
percent in
. A large inflow of foreign
capital partly offset this decline as far as the amount of investment in
the United States was concerned, but could not offset the decline in
the amount of investment owned by Americans.
The saving picture has two parts— the decline in private saving
and the rise in the federal deficit. The decline in the ratio of private
saving to GNP is a mystery. The rise in the federal deficit is the
subject of a rather silly debate between people who say that expendi­
tures rose relative to revenues and those who say that revenues did
not keep up with expenditures. These are two ways of saying the
same thing. But the big change between the early part of the decade
and the latter part was in the rate of increase of revenues. Between
and
total federal revenues in real terms rose at an annual
rate of
percent. Between
and
they rose by
percent. Revenues other than social security taxes rose by
percent per year from
to
, whereas they declined by
percent per year from
to
. In real terms federal expendi­
tures rose by
percent per year from
to
and by
percent per year from
to
.
I have already noted that the deficiency of U.S. saving was in
some degree made up by an influx of capital. This had as its

1

1977-1981 13.7

1977

1981
4.1




3.6

1982 1986

1981

1977 1981
1981 1986

1981 1986

17.4

1986

1977

1.1
3.9
0.6

1981

3.9

395

Afterword

counterpart a large net inflow of goods and services, commonly
called the trade “deficit.” This deficit was widely regarded as a great
problem of the Reagan administration. In my opinion it was not a
problem at all but a condition that helped to ease the real deficiency
of capital caused by our budget deficit and low saving rate. I mention
this condition, the trade deficit, only to show that I have not
forgotten it.
Nations do not live by GNP alone. What they do with GNP is also
important. The most significant change in the use of output during
the decade was the rise in the share of GNP going to defense— from
percent in
to
percent in mid. (The share of total
goods and services used is slightly smaller because the United States
used more goods and services than it produced in both periods,
importing the difference.) The increase in the defense share was, of
course, the result of policy initiated in the latter days of the Carter
administration and accelerated in the Reagan administration.
Relative to the total GNP or total private consumption this is a
trivial change. But relative to saving and investment, or to govern­
ment expenditures or to the budget deficit, these numbers are signifi­
cant. To put the matter a little differently, given the unwillingness to
reduce the share of additional resources going to consumption, by
far the largest claimant of total resources, the increase in defense had
a measurable effect on other resource uses and on the economy.
The real significance of the increase in defense spending is, of
course, not in these obviously “economic” dimensions but in its
contribution to the national security. This is often considered a
noneconomic consequence. But nothing is more vital to our future
economic growth and prosperity than provision for the national
security.

5.4

1977 7.0

1987

•

•

•

Economic developments of the past ten years had three main ele­
ments— two things that changed and one that did not. The changes
were the reduction of the inflation rate and the increased devotion of
resources to defense. What failed to change was the rate of growth
of output and productivity. The relations of these developments to
economic policy were different. Real growth failed to accelerate in



Afterword

396

spite of policy measures intended to achieve growth. Defense ex­
penditures increased clearly as a result of policy. The reduction of
inflation was in part accidental from the standpoint of policy. The
recession of
, which set the stage for the disinflation that
continued thereafter, was not intended or expected by policy
makers. But by the early
s the public aversion to inflation may
have been so strong that ways to get the inflation rate down would
have been found even if the accidental reduction of
had
not occurred.
At the end of
, after five years of noninflationary growth,
there was a belief in the country that economists and the politicians
they advised had discovered the key to managing the economy. The
key was an American
s version of Keynesianism. The country
spent the next fifteen years learning that the belief of
was
wrong.
We are, one must hope, unlikely to make the same error again.
The recent performance of the economy, although good in some
respects, is mixed, the record of policy is unclear, and economists
are much less confident than they once were of the state of their own
knowledge. There is much to do and the instruments to do it with are
uncertain.




1981 1982

1980

1981-1982

1965

1960

1965

Economic Fashions
of the Times,

1977-1987

like fashions in
women’s clothes. Economics can offer an explanation for this.
Having a new idea is profitable; its originators, the publicists who
first write about it, and the politicians who first exploit it get
advantages in fame, votes, or money. But once the idea is common­
place there is no great gain in having it— like a K-Mart copy of a
Lauren original. Also, there is no completely reliable way of demon­
strating that one economic idea is better than another— or, at least,
of demonstrating it to everyone who feels entitled to have an idea.
So there is nothing to keep any idea from being displaced by another
one. The market is always open for new ideas.
The foregoing is something of an exaggeration. But certainly the
history of economic thought is closer to the history of women’s
fashions than to the history of astronomy or physics. Many of the
economic ideas that are “ new” today are rediscoveries. The mone­
tarists rediscover Irving Fisher, Simon Newcomb, David Hume.
Protectionists rediscover Friedrich List, Alexander Hamilton, the
th century mercantilists. And so on. Aside from the mathematics,
“it’s all there” in the writings of an earlier generation.

F a s h io n s

in

e c o n o m ic

id e a s

com e

and

go,

17




397

Afterword

398

I do not intend here to take such a long view of the matter.
Continuing the review of the ten years
want to recount
some of the ups and downs of talk about economic policy in that
decade.

1977 1987,1

1977
Looked at from 1987, the 1977 discussions of economic policy seem

Fashions of

quaint. We can hardly remember that we used to talk about such
subjects and say such things.
Five examples stand out:

1

.
We were still in the era of fine tuning fiscal policy to stabilize
the economy. As distinguished from earlier days, the main instru­
ment of this fine tuning was on the tax side, rather than the expendi­
ture side, of the budget. But still, what now seem to us rather small
changes in the size of the budget deficit were proposed and evaluated
in terms of the effort to affect the level of total demand, output, and
employment in the very short run.
Skepticism about this approach, on both political and economic
grounds, had been growing for some time. When the Nixon admin­
istration took office in
it specifically disavowed this policy of
ad hoc fiscal management. In early
President Nixon tried to
introduce a more stable policy of balancing the budget at high
employment. But this idea was not widely understood or accepted,
and it fell by the wayside when the government confronted the
necessity to do something about a recession. So the Nixon adminis­
tration proposed a tax cut in the fall of
. The Ford administra­
tion did the same in
, and the Carter administration did the same
in
. These proposals were defended and debated by reference to
models of the economy in which the fiscal changes would quickly
and durably affect total economic performance. They were also
discussed in the context of the belief that monetary policy would be
insufficient to achieve the desired result or would not be available for
the purpose.
We no longer even hear discussion of such proposals. This is not
because economists have learned more about their effectiveness than
they knew ten years ago, or because the problem of instability has
gone away, or because we have learned better ways to deal with it.

1969

1977




1975

1971

1971

399

Afterword

The reason, I believe, is that the problem of the counter-cyclical use
of fiscal policy has been drowned out by what is conceived to be the
greater problem of the persistent deficit. Thus, it now seems to be
conventional wisdom that if the deficit is $200 billion in good times,
any deliberate move to increase the deficit in a recession is out of the
question. But I have seen no argument at all in support of this
proposition, which I suppose is why it is conventional wisdom and
not some other kind.
.
In
incomes policy was widely considered to be an
available option for achieving price stability. Probably the standard
doctrine of the time was that full employment and price stability
could not be simultaneously achieved or maintained without some
direct government intervention in the process of determining prices
and wages.
We had implemented an extreme version of this doctrine with the
comprehensive, mandatory price and wage controls of
.
That effort was agreed to have been a failure, although there was
disagreement about whether the failure revealed an intrinsic defect
of the policy or a deficiency of a Nixon administration that did not
really “believe” in the controls. But the idea remained common
among economists, politicians, and assorted intellectuals that some­
thing short of comprehensive mandatory controls was feasible and
essential. That something was incomes policy. The idea was that the
government, possibly in consultation with representatives of busi­
ness and labor, would set out some general guidelines for wages and
prices. These guidelines would not be mandatory, but certain sanc­
tions were contemplated. Offenders would at least be exposed to
public shame. They might lose defense contracts. In one version
popular among economists there would be tax penalties for noncom­
pliance.
President Carter tried to implement these ideas in various forms,
with repeated calls for a partnership of government, business, and
labor. Some may still vaguely remember that Robert Strauss was
once Mr. Carter’ s inflation czar and that Alfred Kahn later held that
position. It was big headline stuff. But that has all disappeared— at
least for the time being. Just when and why it disappeared is hard to
say. Surely it was still around in
and surely it was not around in
. The arrival of Reagan probably had much to do with it, but

2

1977

1971 1974

1982




1980

Afterword

400

1981

that did not by itself seem sufficient. I thought at the time, in
,
that Mr. Reagan’s promise to get the inflation down painlessly might
yet trap him into some version of incomes policy. Moreover, Mr.
Reagan’s arrival does not explain why the Democratic opposition
gave up an idea to which they had been devoted for over twenty
years. The decline of inflation in
surely had much to do with it
also, but the inflation was coming down with a painful recession,
just the condition that incomes policy was supposed to avoid.
To say that incomes policy has been tried and failed is too simple.
There are always versions of an idea that have not yet been tried and
therefore have not yet failed. Probably boredom with the idea had
some effect, as did the association of incomes policy with Carterism
— itself a synonym for ineffectuality, at least in the early
s. This
history does not mean that incomes policy is dead forever, any more
than the long dismal history of price controls has killed that idea
permanently. But incomes policy is in a deep sleep.
.
Ten years ago almost any list of the three or four most
important economic policies of government would have included
energy policy. Any list of the three most important economic con­
cerns would have included inflation, unemployment, and the energy
supply. That is, energy was not just another micro problem, even a
big one, like housing or agriculture. It had been elevated to the
macro level, as one of the things intimately tied in with the inflation
rate, the unemployment rate, the growth rate, and the balance of
payments.
The oil shock of
and its continuing repercussions was the
main explanation of the emphasis placed on energy. Probably if the
price of a bushel of wheat had risen to $ , wheat would have been
given a central place in economic thinking. But the brute fact of the
big increase in oil prices had to be combined with a certain percep­
tion of what the government’s proper response should be before
energy policy could assume its central role. That perception, which
called for direct action by the government to control prices, subsi­
dize production, and allocate supplies, was perhaps natural but not
self-evidently correct.
Energy policy has now receded from the front ranks of govern­
mental concerns and responsibilities because of the decline in the
relative price of energy. At some prices of oil, energy would again

1982

1980

3




1973

50

Afterword

401

be regarded as a serious problem by some people. Probably a price
of oil below
a barrel or above
a barrel would generate calls
for government action from some people, the people being different
in the two cases. Whether there has been any change in the general
perception of the government’s responsibility— so that the reaction
to a supply-price shock of great magnitude now would be different
than it was ten to fifteen years ago— is unclear.
. Ten years ago economic planning was still fashionable in some
circles. These were not the innermost circles of decision making but
were nevertheless “respectable.” The fashion was fading, having
or so, but it had still not passed
probably reached its peak in
entirely. This was the period of the Humphrey-Javits bill and the
Humphrey-Hawkins bill, both of which seemed important at the
time but have now been forgotten even though Humphrey-Hawkins
was enacted.
In an article published in
I pointed out that interest in
economic planning had fluctuated over the years, reaching peaks
when things seemed not to be going well, as in the
s, the
immediate postwar period, and the period beginning in
. But
what was meant by planning was never very clear, except that the
government was to manage or “influence” the economy in more
detail and to do so in line with some comprehensive top-down view
of the way the economy should behave. Although the word “plan”
had favorable resonance to many people (and set others’ teeth on
edge), the idea was too abstract and vague to get much support
outside intellectual circles or to be implemented even if it were
supported. The interest in economic planning in the mids
passed away, but aspects of it would return with other names before
the ten years were out.
. Economic planning was the pet idea of intellectuals, with some
support from fashionable business people. The pet idea of the
business and financial community was capital shortage, and that
had some support from intellectuals. That the economic policy of
government was depressing private investment and so restraining
economic growth had been the chronic complaint of business people
for a long time and their main argument for less taxation of the return
to capital. This complaint was given added weight by several devel­
opments in the mids. The slowdown in the rate of growth of

$15

$25

4

1975

1975

1930
1974

1970

5




1970

Afterword

402

labor productivity was becoming increasingly clear. The rate of
increase of the capital stock, and especially of capital per worker,
was diminishing. Inflation was increasing the tax burden on capital
by reducing the real value of depreciation allowances. (This was to
some extent offset by the reduction in the real value of business debt
as a result of inflation, but this point was not widely recognized until
later.)
This combination of developments made the complaint about
capital shortage look like something more than the self-serving
argument of business people who wanted to pay less taxes. It
became a more or less national concern and was reflected in several
proposals made during the Carter administration for reducing taxes
on investment income.
The issue of capital shortage has disappeared, at least in the terms
of the mids discussion, and has been swallowed up in the
budget deficit issue. As an argument for cutting the tax burden on
investment, the capital shortage complaint, while possibly still
valid, is no longer promising. The burden on investment has been
reduced, and the budget deficit seems to rule out more tax reduction.
When the Reagan team concentrated its influence on the across-theboard reduction of individual income tax rates the possibility of
relieving investment income of tax burdens ran into a limit. The only
hope was in a substitution of a general consumption tax for part of
the income tax, a platform that few found attractive. Moreover,
analysis of the consequences of the budget deficit was revealing that
the main limitation on investment was not tax deterrents but the
available supply of saving. Furthermore, the Reagan administration,
whose supply-side orientation would logically have made them
supporters of the capital shortage idea, found themselves on the
other side of the argument. They had to show that “their” deficit had
not crowded out private investment and that private investment was
indeed as high as ever— although more than ever of it was owned by
foreigners. So the hot “conservative” idea of the mids was left
without its natural supporters.

1970

1970

Fashions of Mid-Decade

1. Of course, the most spectacular example in recent history of an
economic idea that rose like a rocket and then fizzled out was what I



403

Afterword

call punk supply-sidism. The adjective is important. That the supply
of resources and output is important, that it is affected by govern­
ment policy, including tax policy, and that the growth of supply is
one of many legitimate objects of government policy— these are old
ideas. Even the idea that a general reduction of tax rates in the
United States would raise the revenue was not new. It was regularly
put forth by the older Republican members of the House Ways and
Means Committee, people usually not considered sources of ideas,
let alone new ones. What was new in
was that the idea was
embraced by people who had national attention— academics, edito­
rial writers, and most important of all, the presidential wing of the
Republican party.
Punk supply-sidism is also an example of the paradoxical impli­
cations of the proposition that ideas have consequences. The propo­
sition is true, but it means that people choose the ideas whose
consequences they want. The idea that cutting taxes would raise the
revenue was attractive to many people not because there was evi­
dence of its validity but because it had consequences they wanted. It
enabled them to appeal to those voters who wanted their taxes
reduced— which is surely 100 percent of them— without alienating
that fraction who had an attachment to balancing the budget.
Punk supply-sidism is not entirely dead. There are still people
who rely on it in a negative sense by insisting that a tax increase will
not raise the revenue. But despite the large budget deficit, which
“everyone” wants to reduce, no one, not even the president, sug­
gests that cutting taxes would raise the revenue.
If one is strict about evidence, the decline of punk supply-sidism
is puzzling. It was a ceteris paribus proposition, saying that if
everything else remained constant a tax cut would raise the revenue.
But, of course, everything has not been the same since the
tax cuts, as it never is. And, of course, revenue has risen
since the tax cut, as it does in almost every year in a growing and
somewhat inflationary economy. So to isolate the effects of the tax
cuts on the revenue is not easy. The dazzling rise of the public or
political use of the idea was due to its convenience, and its subse­
quent fall was due to its lack of intuitive credibility. As far as the
mainstream of economics is concerned, the situation is different.
The original claims of punk supply-sidism were not believed to be
supported by the evidence available at the time. An extraordinary

1980

1981-1983




Afterword

404

1981

surge of revenue after the
tax cut might have cast doubt on the
earlier evidence and supported the supply-side view, but no such
surge occurred.
. Monetarism in some sense is a very old idea. At least the idea
that the quantity of money is a major determinant of the price level is
very old. A more specific version of this proposition that became
popular among economists held that the relation between the quan­
tity of money and the price level was sufficiently stable that a
constant rate of growth of the money supply would come closer to
stabilizing the price level than any other policy. It also held that
stabilizing the price level should be the prime objective of monetary
policy.
These ideas seemed to become national policy between
and
, which is why I include them in the fashions of that period
despite their longer history. When Paul Volcker became chairman of
the Federal Reserve, the Federal Reserve’s description of its opera­
tions began to concentrate on its management of the money supply,
rather than on other variables. Also, disinflation clearly became the
top priority. The Fed was less outspoken about its plans for the rate
of growth of the money supply. But the economists of the new
Reagan administration filled that gap by describing their preferred
strategy as one of gradually reducing and then stabilizing the rate of
growth of money.
Through
and much of
monetary policy seemed to be
following the monetarist prescription. But by mid
the econ­
omy was clearly falling much faster than monetarist analysis would
have predicted. That is, the velocity of money was falling with
unexpected speed. By the fall of
the Federal Reserve had given
up any pretense of stabilizing the growth of the money supply. A
rapid but variable growth of money began, which was accompanied,
at least through
, by a gradual decline of the inflation rate and a
strong steady recovery of the real economy.
Attempts have been made to show that the experience of
did not contradict monetarist analysis. Some have
shown that the
relation between the money supply and
the inflation rate does not look so unusual if one takes a different
definition of the money supply than what used to be the most
common one. Others have said that the relation is reasonably stable

2

1979

1982

1981

1982

1982

1986

1982-1986




1982-1986

-1982

Afterword

405

if other variables, like interest rates and inflation rates, actual and
expected, are introduced. Monetarism came to look more and more
like the definition I flippantly gave of it in
: “The theory that
there is a stable and predictable relation between the price levels as
effect and the supply of money as cause. This theory has firm
empirical support if the definition of the money supply is allowed to
vary in an unstable and unpredictable way.”
Monetarists could convincingly say that they had never promised
that the relation between money and inflation was exact and invar­
iant or even that the variations would always be within a certain
range. They had only maintained that relying on this stability and
therefore stabilizing the growth of the money supply would yield
better results than the fine-tuning, discretionary strategy that had
been followed earlier. What was most embarrassing for monetarism
was the generally admirable performance of the economy during the
four years from
through
when monetarist rules were
ignored.
The attempt to discover or create a reliable relationship between
the money supply and the rate of inflation goes on, as it must,
because without it we will have no free-market anchor for the price
level. But for the time being monetarism has been recalled to the
factory for repairs.
. For a long time almost all American economists— conserva­
tives and liberals, Keynesians and monetarists— have agreed that
deregulation of the economy, or at least of some aspects of it, would
be a good thing. In a survey of economists taken in
,
percent
agreed with the proposition that “reducing the regulatory power of
the ICC, CAB [Interstate Commerce Commission, Civil Aeronatics
Board], et al. would improve the efficiency of the U.S. economy,”
percent agreed with provisions and 22 percent said that they
generally disagreed. After all, the virtue of “the market” is one of
the first things every American economist learns. Even Walter
Heller, the epitome of the “liberal” economist, once said that he
appreciated the free market, even though he didn’t make a “fetish”
of it. The interest of economists in deregulation grew during the
s for two reasons. They were looking for ways to deal with
what they thought was “cost-push” inflation, and deregulation
seemed a way to get costs down. They were also looking for

1979

1983

1986

3

1978 47

31

1970




Afterword

406

explanations of the slowdown in productivity growth, and govern­
ment regulation seemed to belong on the list.
Deregulation became a popular theme, as distinguished from an
economist’s theme, late in the
s. Probably the best sign of this
was Senator Kennedy’s becoming a champion of airline deregula­
tion. The popularity of deregulation at that time was greatly en­
hanced by the recognition that much regulation was protecting
established businesses, such as airlines, banks, and trucking compa­
nies. Thus, one could be for deregulation without being probusiness.
By the time the Reagan administration came into office some
major steps had been taken in deregulation and “everyone” was for
it. The new administration made it a main plank in its platform. But
after a few years— say by
— public interest in the subject faded
and the policy effort languished. Probably the subject was not one
that could have maintained popular interest for very long, because
the economic logic supporting deregulation was difficult and coun­
terintuitive. Moreover, the policy soon brought the deregulators into
a number of unpopular positions, even though they were correct by
economists’ standards. Thus they had to be “for” brown lung disease
and environmental pollution. Even where consumers benefited from
deregulation, in some respects the public got an unclear picture.
Airline fares dropped, for example, but concerns about safety,
delays, and discomfort rose. Some telephone rates fell, but com­
plaints about service increased. These negative effects may not have
been necessary consequences of the deregulation, but to reach that
conclusion required finer distinctions than many people would
make. Moreover, notorious scandals in financial markets led to
disillusionment about the virtues of unregulated markets. None of
this means that the analysis underlying the case for deregulation was
wrong, although it probably means that this analysis had to be more
discriminating, more aware of conditions creating exceptions, than
it had been. But popular and political enthusiasms faded.
. Supply-side, monetarism, and deregulation were ideas sup­
ported by the Reagan administration, but not held exclusively by it.
Since “new ideas” had become as essential a part of political
campaigning as make-up men, the opposition also had a need for
new ideas. The new opposition idea of the early
s was indus­
trial policy. This reached its height of fashionableness in Robert

1970

1984

4




1980

Afterword

407

1983

Reich’s
book, The Next American Frontier, which was en­
dorsed by Senators Mondale and Hart.
But industrial policy was not a new idea at all. It was a new
version of the recurring idea that the American economy needed
planning. Industrial policy was economic planning without a plan. It
called for government action to promote industries believed to be
carriers of future progress and adjustment assistance for industries in
difficulty. The whole idea was stimulated by Japan, in two ways.
Japanese competition was causing trouble for some American in­
dustries, and Japanese economic success seemed to be due to a
Japanese industrial policy that we were urged to emulate.
Industrial policy had its period in the media limelight, but it
disappeared without a trace. The idea was not accepted by “main­
stream” economists, even on the Democratic side. Charles Schultze,
who had been chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers in the
Carter administration, wrote one of the most powerful critiques of
industrial policy. Moreover, the industries that were to be the
presumed beneficiaries of the policy were not much interested. The
“leading” industries that were to be stimulated did not need or want
the government intervening in their affairs. The “lagging” industries
did not want adjustment— they wanted protection.
Fashions o f

1987

Fashions in economic ideas differ from fashions in women’s clothes
in at least one respect. Women presumably know that this year’s
fashions will pass just as the fashions of earlier years have. But
while we are aware that earlier fashions in economics have passed,
we tend to think of this year’ s ideas as the last and lasting word. Of
course, that is a mistake. I will not speculate on the future of this
year’s ideas except to suggest that they too will yield to the vicissi­
tudes of history.

1

. The hot idea in budget policy these days is what I call robotic
budgeting. Some people have discovered that governments are not
very good at governing— or at least that governments do not govern
the way they would like. Therefore, they seek ways of getting the
government out of governing. The standard suggestion for doing this
has been a constitutional amendment requiring that the federal




Afterword

408

budget be balanced. While this suggestion was still hovering over
the country an interim version was adopted— the Gramm-RudmanHollings Act of
. This not only prescribed a path for the size of
the deficit over the next five years. It also prescribed an exact
arbitrary pattern for distributing expenditure cuts among each of
several thousand items of the budget in the highly probable event
that the deficit targets were not met otherwise. With the assistance of
the Constitution and the Supreme Court, however, the government
broke back into the process of governing and neither the deficit
targets nor the expenditure cuts were achieved. But as this is written
our governors are again engaged in trying to devise new ways to
avoid the necessity of governing.
2. Competitiveness has become the banner under which a variety
of people justify a variety of measures for influencing the behavior
of the economy. For some it has merely superseded “growth” as the
reason for supporting rather traditional kinds of government activity
— education, research, or the tailoring of tax policy to encourage
investment. For others it has replaced economic planning and indus­
trial policy as the explanation for a variety of new government
activities in support of selected industries by procurement policy,
protection, loans, adjustment assistance, and other means. No one
r has yet given any compelling explanation of what competitiveness
is, why the country should be concerned about it, or how the
recommended measures will correct it. The constant recourse to
competitiveness is an outstanding example of the use of an appealing
association to sell irrelevant policies, like the association of beer
with good fellowship and sports cars with sexiness.
. Economists have had a keen interest in the international
coordination o f economic policy ever since they discovered the joys
of French cuisine while attending meetings of the Organization for
Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. Interest at higher
levels of government has grown recently, as shown by the attention
paid to the Plaza Agreement, the Louvre Agreement, and others.
This interest has been stimulated by the unusually large changes in
balances of payments and exchange rates of the past five years.
Governments found that if they devoted their monetary and fiscal
policies to achieving their objectives for inflation and the allocation
of the national output they did not have instruments available for

1985

3




409

Afterword

managing their exchange rate or their balance of payments. So each
country thought it would be assisted in achieving its goals if it could
have the assistance of the policies of other countries. Thus, the
United States would have a better chance of achieving its goals if it
could employ German monetary policy in its service. Germany
would have a better chance of achieving its goals if it could manage
America’s budget for Germany’s purposes.
So it seemed natural to believe that if the governments could get
together and pool their instruments they could achieve results they
could not achieve separately. But the effort to do this ran into the
difficulty that getting together did not increase the number of instru­
ments. If America’ s budget were to be used to help solve Germany’s
economic problems, it could not also be used to solve America’s
problems— or at least that would often be the case. For this and other
reasons efforts at international coordination have so far been disap­
pointing. That does not deny the usefulness of the effort, but it does
suggest that what can be achieved under what conditions has not yet
been realistically defined. And there is a good possibility that the
subject of international coordination will recede as concern over
“imbalances” in the international economy subsides, either (a) be­
cause the imbalances subside or (b) because we realize that they are
not imbalances after all. (The subject of international coordination
was discussed at greater length in the August
issue of the AEI
Economist.)
. From time to time people find it necessary to demonstrate that
despite the “superficially” good performance of the American econ­
omy, Marx’s predicted “immiseration” of the population is proceed­
ing. The current version of this demonstration is the allegation of a
decline o f the middle class. This notion has become popularly
accepted, as disseminated on national TV and elsewhere. The basic
claim is that although employment has been increasing rapidly,
more and more of the employment has been in low-paying, dead-end
jobs— symbolized by the hamburger server. As a consequence,
while average real incomes are increasing in America the number of
poor is increasing and the few rich are getting richer.
The proposition is on its face incredible. One has to ask, If the
middle class is disappearing who is buying the new houses, automo­
biles, restaurant meals, airline tickets, and all the other paraphema-

1987

4




Afterword

410

lia of middle-class life? Not just Bill Cosby and Ivan Boesky. A
more scientific evaluation of the case is provided in the conclusion of
a recent article by Marvin Kosters (Public Opinion, July/August
, p. ), director of Economic Policy Studies at AEI:

1987

46

The enviable record of the U.S. economy for creating new jobs
in recent years is increasingly haunted by fears that the quality
of jobs is deteriorating. These fears have been generated and
nurtured by works with provocative titles like these: “The
Shrinking Middle Class,” “The Deindustrialization of Amer­
ica,” “The Grim Truth about the Job Miracle,” and “American
Job Machine Has Begun to Sputter.” These titles might suggest
that the evidence is firm and conclusive.
That this view can be seriously challenged has gone largely
unrecognized, even though much of the evidence supporting it
is subject to serious criticism. Support for fears that a wide­
spread deterioration in the quality of jobs is occurring rests on
analytical foundations that are extremely weak. Evidence that
points in the opposite direction suggests that concerns about
declining job quality are not just exaggerated, they are instead
essentially unfounded.
The fact is, nevertheless, that definitions are so flexible, data so
limited, the possibilities of statistical manipulation so great, and
standards of scholarship so elastic that almost any argument in this
field can be said to have empirical support and a Ph.D. to certify it.
So the idea of the declining middle class will probably persist, at
least through the
election.
. The decline andfall o f America is the highbrow version of the
competitiveness and declining middle-class propositions, espoused
by people who have read, or at least heard of, Edward Gibbon.
Reflections of the idea that the United States faces imminent decline
and fall are found in articles in Foreign Affairs, the Atlantic Monthly
and the New Yorker. The basic proposition is an extension from
economic developments to political-security developments. The
economic developments involved are the slowdown of economic
growth as compared with earlier periods, lower economic growth in
America than in some other places, budget deficits and budget
“stringency,” balance of trade deficits, and inflow of capital. As a

5




1988

Afterword

411

consequence the United States is said to be losing its “hegemonic”
(their favorite word) power— as leader of the free world coalition
and bulwark against the Soviet barbarians.
This is all rather puzzling— the twilight of America setting in so
soon after President Reagan carried forty-nine states on the thesis
that it was morning in America. Some of the economic develop­
ments cited are indeed facts, but their significance is misinterpreted.
Our budget deficits and “stringency” are the result of political
priorities and decisions, not of economic necessities. Our trade
deficits and capital inflows were for many years the result of the high
confidence of foreign private investors in the United States as a place
to put their money. More recently the trade deficit and influx of
capital result from the desire of other governments to prop up the
dollar rather than expose their economies to competition from the
United States, as they would with market-determined exchange
rates. The economic growth rate in the United States has declined
since
, as it has in most of the advanced world. But the United
States is still by far the world’s strongest economy and has much
greater resources than any other country to devote to its international
political and security needs without satisfying other essential claims
on the national output.
If one wants to find economic deficiencies and difficulties that are
weakening political-security leadership, one can surely look to the
Soviet bloc. The economic strength of the United States is rising
vis-a-vis the Soviet bloc, and the economic strength of the free
world is rising even more relative to the Soviet bloc. The U.S.
leadership of the free world is not derived from economic domi­
nance of other free-world countries. It is derived from greater ability
and willingness to bear the responsibilities of leadership in defend­
ing free-world values. Insofar as that ability derives from the econ­
omy, it is not declining.
There is more to America than economic strength. The possibility
of an American decline may lie in political, cultural, or moral
spheres. This possibility deserves attention and is being discussed by
serious commentators. But economics is the area of our greatest, not
least, strength and the source from which decline, if it is coming, is
least likely to come.

1973










Appendix




I. GNP, the Price Level and Money

Year

GNP,
in 1972
dollars
(billions)

% change
in real
GNP, from
previous
year

GNP
deflator
(1972
= 100)

% change
in GNP de­
flator from
previous
year

GNP,
current
dollars
(billions)

Money
(M l)
supply
(billions)*

1929

315.7

NA

32.8

NA

103.4

26.4

1930
1931
1932
1933
1934
1935
1936
1937
1938
1939

285.6
263.5
227.1
222.1
239.1
260.0
295.5
310.2
296.7
319.8

- 9 .5
- 7 .8
- 1 3 .8
- 2 .2
7.6
8.7
13.7
5.0
- 4 .4
7.8

31.7
28.9
25.7
25.1
27.3
27.9
28.0
29.3
28.7
28.4

- 3 .1
- 9 .1
-1 1 .1
- 2 .1
8.7
2.1
0.4
4.6
- 2 .2
- 0 .8

90.7
76.1
58.3
55.8
65.3
72.5
82.7
90.0
85.0
90.0

25.4
23.6
20.6
19.4
21.5
25.5
29.2
30.3
30.0
33.6

1940
1941
1942
1943
1944
1945
1946
1947
1948
1949

344.1
400.4
461.7
531.6
569.1
560.4
478.3
470.3
489.8
492.2

7.6
16.3
15.3
15.1
7.1
- 1 .5
- 1 4 .7
- 1 .7
4.1
0.5

29.1
31.2
34.3
36.1
37.0
37.9
43.9
49.6
53.0
52.5

2.2
7.5
9.9
5.3
2.4
2.4
15.7
12.9
6.9
- 0 .9

100.0
125.0
158.5
192.1
210.6
212.4
209.9
233.1
259.5
258.3

39.0
45.8
55.2
72.3
85.2
99.1
105.9
111.0
111.5
110.2

1950
1951
1952
1953
1954
1955
1956
1957
1958
1959

534.8
579.4
600.8
623.6
616.1
657.5
671.6
683.8
680.9
721.7

8.7
8.3
3.7
3.8
- 1 .2
6.7
2.1
1.8
- 0 .4
6.0

53.6
57.1
57.9
58.8
59.6
60.8
62.8
64.9
66.0
67.6

2.1
6.6
1.4
1.6
1.2
2.2
3.2
3.4
1.7
2.4

286.5
330.8
348.0
366.8
366.8
400.0
421.7
444.0
449.7
487.9

113.0
118.3
124.4
127.7
129.6
133.9
135.6
136.3
137.9
142.3

1960
1961
1962
1963
1964
1965
1966
1967
1968
1969

737.2
756.6
800.3
832.5
876.4
929.3
984.8
1011.4
1058.1
1087.6

2.2
2.6
5.8
4.0
5.3
6.0
6.0
2.7
4.6
2.8

68.7
69.3
70.6
71.7
72.8
74.4
76.8
79.1
82.5
86.8

1.6
0.9
1.8
1.5
1.5
2.2
3.2
3.0
4.4
5.1

506.5
524.6
565.0
596.7
637.7
691.1
756.0
799.6
873.4
944.0

141.4
144.3
147.9
152.4
158.3
165.1
172.7
179.5
191.9
203.4

1970
1971
1972
1973
1974
1975
1976
1977
1978
1979

1085.6
1122.4
1185.9
1255.0
1248.0
1233.9
1298.2
1369.7
1438.6
1479.4

- 0 .2
3.4
5.7
5.8
- 0 .6
- 1 .1
5.4
5.5
5.0
2.8

91.4
96.0
100.0
105.7
114.9
125.6
132.3
140.1
150.4
163.4

5.4
5.0
4.2
5.7
8.7
9.3
5.2
5.8
7.4
8.6

992.7
1077.6
1185.9
1326.4
1434.2
1549.2
1718.0
1918.3
2163.9
2417.8

211.2
225.5
241.6
259.2
272.2
285.0
301.0
324.0
350.5
377.6

1980
1981
1982
1983

1475.0
1512.2
1480.0
1534.7

- 0 .3
2.5
- 2 .1
3.7

178.4
195.6
207.4
215.3

9.2
9.6
6.0
3.8

2631.7
2957.8
3069.3
3304.8

401.5
458.4
458.0
509.1

* Annual average o f daily M l figures.
Source: Board o f Governors of the Federal Reserve.




415

II. Employment, Unemployment and Productivity
Year

Total
employment
(millions)*

1929

47.9

3.2

NA

1930
1931
1932
1933
1934
1935
1936
1937
1938
1939

45.7
42.7
39.2
39.0
41.2
42.5
44.7
46.6
44.6
46.1

8.7
15.9
23.6
24.9
21.7
20.1
16.9
14.3
19.0
17.2

NA
NA
NA
NA
NA
NA
NA
NA
NA
NA

1940
1941
1942
1943
1944
1945
1946
1947
1948
1949

48.1
52.0
57.7
63.5
65.4
64.3
58.7
58.6
59.8
59.2

14.6
9.9
4.7
1.9
1.2
1.9
3.9
3.9
3.8
5.9

NA
NA
NA
NA
NA
NA
NA
NA
5.3
1.5

1950
1951
1952
1953
1954
1955
1956
1957
1958
1959

60.6
63.1
63.8
64.7
63.5
65.2
66.7
66.9
65.6
67.2

5.3
3.3
3.0
2.9
5.5
4.4
4.1
4.3
6.8
5.5

7.9
2.8
3.2
3.2
1.6
4.0
1.0
2.5
3.1
3.2

1960
1961
1962
1963
1964
1965
1966
1967
1968
1969

68.3
68.3
69.5
70.5
72.0
73.8
76.0
77.8
79.4
81.4

5.5
6.7
5.5
5.7
5.2
4.5
3.8
3.8
3.6
3.5

1.5
3.3
3.8
3.7
4.3
3.5
3.1
2.2
3.3
0.2

1970
1971
1972
1973
1974
1975
1976
1977
1978
1979

81.9
81.8
84.6
87.4
89.0
88.0
90.9
94.1
98.2
100.9

4.9
5.9
5.6
4.9
5.6
8.5
7.7
7.1
6.1
5.8

0.8
3.6
3.5
2.6
- 2 .4
2.2
3.3
2.4
0.6
1.2

1980
1981
1982
1983

101.4
102.5
101.7
103.0

7.1
7.6
9.7
9.6

- 0 .5
1.9
0.2
2.7

Unemployment
{%, civilian)

% Change in
productivity!

♦Figures for 1929-1946 include persons 14 years and over; figures for 1947-1983
include persons 16 years and over.
fOutput per hour o f all persons, business sector.
Source: Department of Labor, Bureau o f Labor Statistics.

416



III. Government Expenditures and Receipts as a Percent of GNP*
State and
local
receipts

Total
expenditure

Federal
expenditure

State and
local
expenditure

Total
receipts

1929

9.9

2.5

7.4

10.9

3.7

7.2

1930
1931
1932
1933
1934
1935
1936
1937
1938
1939

12.2
16.2
18.3
19.2
19.7
18.5
19.4
16.5
19.7
19.3

3.0
5.5
5.5
7.1
9.8
9.0
10.5
8.1
10.1
9.8

9.2
10.7
12.8
12.1
19.9
9.5
8.9
8.4
9.6
9.5

11.9
12.5
15.2
16.7
16.0
15.7
15.6
16.9
17.7
16.9

3.4
2.7
2.9
4.8
5.4
5.5
6.1
7.7
7.6
7.4

8.5
9.8
12.3
11.9
10.6
10.2
9.5
9.2
10.1
9.5

1940
1941
1942
1943
1944
1945
1946
1947
1948
1949

18.4
23.0
40.4
48.6
48.9
43.6
21.7
18.2
19.5
23.0

10.0
16.4
35.4
44.7
45.3
39.8
17.0
12.8
13.4
16.0

8.4
6.6
5.0
3.9
3.6
3.8
4.7
5.4
6.1
7.0

17.7
20.0
20.6
25.6
24.3
25.1
24.2
24.4
22.7
21.7

8.6
12.3
14.5
20.4
19.5
20.0
18.6
18.5
16.7
15.0

9.1
7.7
6.1
5.2
4.8
5.1
5.6
5.9
6.0
6.7

1950
1951
1952
1953
1954
1955
1956
1957
1958
1959

21.3
23.9
27.0
27.7
26.5
24.5
24.8
26.0
28.4
26.9

14.3
17.5
20.4
21.0
19.0
17.0
17.1
17.9
19.8
18.6

7.0
6.4
6.6
6.7
7.5
7.5
7.7
8.1
8.6
8.3

24.1
25.8
25.9
25.8
24.5
25.3
26.0
26.2
25.6
26.5

17.5
19.4
19.3
19.1
17.4
18.1
18.5
18.4
17.5
18.4

6.6
6.4
6.6
6.7
7.1
7.2
7.5
7.8
8.1
8.1

1960
1961
1962
1963
1964
1965
1966
1967
1968
1969

26.9
29.4
28.4
28.1
27.6
27.2
28.2
30.3
30.8
30.4

18.4
19.4
19.5
19.1
18.5
17.9
19.0
20.5
20.7
20.0

8.5
10.0
8.9
9.0
9.1
9.3
9.2
9.8
10.1
10.4

27.5
27.6
27.7
28.2
27.3
27.3
28.1
28.5
30.1
31.4

19.0
18.7
18.8
19.2
18.0
18.0
18.8
18.8
20.0
20.9

8.5
8.9
8.9
9.0
9.3
9.3
9.3
9.7
10.1
10.5

1970
1971
1972
1973
1974
1975
1976
1977
1978
1979

31.6
31.7
31.3
30.6
32.1
34.5
33.5
32.5
31.5
31.0

20.6
20.5
20.6
19.9
20.9
23.0
22.4
22.0
21.3
21.1

11.2
10.7
10.7
11.2
11.5
11.1
10.5
10.2
10.0

30.5
29.9
31.1
31.1
31.7
30.4
31.3
31.6
31.5
31.6

19.3
18.4
19.2
19.5
20.1
18.5
19.3
19.6
19.9
20.4

11.2
11.5
11.9
11.6
11.6
11.9
12.0
12.0
11.6
11.2

1980
1981
1982
1983

33.0
33.3
35.5
35.3

22.9
23.3
25.0
24.8

10.1
10.0
10.6
10.5

31.9
32.3
31.8
31.3

20.6
21.1
20.1
19.4

11.3
11.2
11.7
11.9

Year

11.0

Federal
receipts

♦Federal grants to state and local governments are subtracted from state and local
receipts and expenditures.
Source: Department o f Commerce, Bureau o f Economic Analysis.




417

IV. Federal Outlays as a Percent of GNP
Fiscal
year

Total

Payments to
individuals

Interest

Defense

Other

1940
1941
1942
1943
1944
1945
1946
1947
1948
1949

10.0
12.5
25.3
44.4
45.2
42.7
27.3
15.6
12.1
14.8

1.7
1.6
1.3
0.9
0.9
1.0
2.8
4.1
3.7
3.9

0.9
0.9
0.8
0.9
1.1
1.4
2.0
1.9
1.8
1.7

1.7
5.9
18.5
37.7
39.2
38.2
21.1
5.8
3.7
5.0

5.7
4.1
4.7
4.9
4.0
2.1
1.4
3.8
2.9
4.2

1950
1951
1952
1953
1954
1955
1956
1957
1958
1959

16.1
14.6
20.0
21.1
19.5
18.0
17.1
17.7
18.6
19.4

5.2
3.3
3.2
3.1
3.5
3.8
3.7
4.0
4.8
4.8

1.8
1.5
1.4
1.4
1.3
1.3
1.2
1.2
1.3
1.2

5.2
7.5
13.6
14.6
13.5
11.2
10.3
10.5
10.6
10.3

3.9
2.3
1.8
2.0
1.2
1.7
1.9
2.0
1.9
3.1

1960
1961
1962
1963
1964
1965
1966
1967
1968
1969

18.5
19.2
19.5
19.3
19.2
18.0
18.6
20.3
21.4
20.2

4.9
5.5
5.4
5.4
5.3
5.1
5.2
5.8
6.1
6.3

114
1.3
1.3
1.3
1.3
1.3
1.3
1.3
1.3
1.4

9.7
9.7
9.5
9.2
8.9
7.7
8.0
9.2
9.9
9.1

2.5
2.7
3.3
3.4
3.7
3.9
4.1
4.0
4.1
3.4

1970
1971
1972
1973
1974
1975
1976
1977
1978
1979

20.2
20.4
20.4
19.6
19.4
21.9
22.2
21.5
21.4
20.8

6.8
8.0
8.4
8.5
8.9
10.6
11.2
10.8
10.3
10.1

1.5
1.4
1.4
1.4
1.6
1.6
1.6
1.6
1.7
1.8

8.4
7.6
7.0
6.1
5.8
5.8
5.2
5.2
5.0
4.9

3.5
3.4
3.6
3.6
3.1
3.9
4.2
3.9
4.4
4.0

1980
1981
1982
1983

22.4
22.8
23.9
24.7

11.0
11.5
11.9
12.5

2.0
2.4
2.8
2.8

5.2
5.5
6.1
6.5

4.2
3.4
3.0
2.9

Source: “Total Government Finances—1985 Budget Data,” Office of Management
and Budget, February 1984.

418



V. Federal Receipts as a Percent of GNP
Fiscal
year

Total
receipts

Individual
income
taxes

Corporate
income
taxes

Social
insurance
contributions

Other

1940
1941
1942
1943
1944
1945
1946
1947
1948
1949

6.7
7.9
10.3
13.4
21.9
20.8
19.5
17.3
17.0
15.1

1.2
1.5
2.3
3.7
10.0
8.5
8.0
8.1
7.9
5.9

1.0
1.7
3.4
5.4
7.6
7.5
6.1
3.9
3.9
4.3

1.8
1.8
1.7
1.7
1.7
1.6
1.5
1.5
1.6
1.5

2.7
2.9
2.8
2.6
2.7
3.2
3.9
3.8
3.6
3.4

1950
1951
1952
1953
1954
1955
1956
1957
1958
1959

14.9
16.5
19.5
19.3
19.1
17.2
18.1
18.4
18.0
16.7

5.9
6.9
8.2
8.2
8.1
7.6
7.8
8.2
7.8
7.8

3.9
4.5
6.3
5.9
5.8
4.7
5.1
4.9
4.5
3.6

1.7
1.8
1.9
1.9
2.0
2.1
2.3
2.3
2.5
2.5

3.3
3.3
3.1
3.2
3.2
2.9
2.9
3.0
3.1
2.8

1960
1961
1962
1963
1964
1965
1966
1967
1968
1969

18.6
18.5
18.2
18.4
18.2
17.7
18.1
19.2
18.4
20.5

8.2
8.1
8.3
8.2
7.9
7.4
7.7
7.9
8.3
9.6

4.3
4.1
3.7
3.7
3.8
3.9
4.2
4.4
3.4
4.0

2.9
3.2
3.1
3.4
3.6
3.4
3.5
4.2
4.1
4.3

3.1
3.0
3.0
3.1
3.0
3.1
2.7
2.7
2.6
2.7

1970
1971
1972
1973
1974
1975
1976
1977
1978
1979

19.9
18.1
18.4
18.4
19.1
18.9
18.2
19.1
19.1
19.7

9.3
8.4
8.4
8.2
8.6
8.3
8.0
8.5
8.7
9.2

3.4
2.6
2.8
2.9
2.8
2.7
2.5
2.9
2.9
2.8

4.6
4.6
4.7
5.0
5.4
5.7
5.5
5.7
5.8
5.9

2.6
2.6
2.5
2.3
2.2
2.1
2.1
1.9
1.8
1.7

1980
1981
1982
1983

20.1
20.8
20.3
18.6

9.5
9.9
9.8
9.0

2.5
2.1
1.6
1.1

6.1
6.3
6.6
6.5

1.9
2.4
'2 .3
2.0

Source: “Federal Government Finances—1985 Budget Data,” Office of Manage­
ment and Budget, February 1984.




419

VI. Federal Expenditures in Constant
(Billions of
Dollars)

1972

1972 Prices

Fiscal
year

Total

Payments to
individuals

Interest

Defense

Other

1940
1941
1942
1943
1944
1945
1946
1947
1948
1949

35.5
46.6
104.0
211.6
249.0
260.5
159.1
88.3
67.0
85.3

5.3
5.3
4.9
4.2
4.1
5.0
12.1
17.8
16.3
17.7

3.1
3.1
3.1
4.3
5.9
8.1
9.9
8.8
8.3
8.4

6.4
21.2
71.7
171.7
209.5
232.1
128.2
36.5
23.0
31.9

20.7
17.0
24.3
31.4
29.5
15.3
8.9
25.2
19.4
27.3

1950
1951
1952
1953
1954
1955
1956
1957
1958
1959

93.8
97.3
134.6
144.4
131.3
126.4
128.7
131.0
135.3
146.6

24.2
17.2
17.5
17.3
19.6
22.2
23.2
25.3
30.2
32.4

9.0
8.2
8.0
8.6
8.0
7.9
8.1
8.2
8.4
8.4

34.5
55.5
96.4
104.0
95.7
83.2
82.2
81.1
80.7
81.2

26.1
16.4
12.7
14.5
8.0
13.1
15.2
16.4
16.0
24.6

1960
1961
1962
1963
1964
1965
1966
1967
1968
1969

143.3
149.7
162.1
162.8
170.3
166.9
183.0
207.5
224.6
220.2

33.6
38.3
39.8
41.6
42.8
43.4
47.6
55.1
60.3
65.7

10.0
9.5
9.7
10.7
I I.1
11.5
12.2
12.9
13.5
14.7

78.4
80.0
83.4
81.1
81.5
74.1
81.3
96.8
105.7
101.6

21.3
21.9
29.2
29.4
34.9
37.9
41.9
42.7
45.1
38.2

1970
1971
1972
1973
1974
1975
1976
1977
1978
1979

220.2
222.6
230.7
233.3
236.8
260.1
274.3
280.7
293.8
297.1

71.8
85.4
94.8
102.4
109.1
127.0
140.6
143.5
145.0
147.2

15.8
15.5
15.5
16.6
19.1
18.9
20.3
21.2
23.6
26,1

94.0
84.9
79.2
71.8
69.6
69.2
67.0
67.3
67.2
69.5

38.6
36.8
41.2
42.5
39.0
45.0
46.4
48.7
58.0
54.3

1980
1981
1982
1983

316.6
327.6
339.1
354.5

159.2
170.3
176.2
187.0

29.6
35.2
40,7
41.2

71.3
74.6
80.0
85.9

56.5
47.5
42.2
40.0

Source: “ Federal Government Finances— 1985 Budget Data,” Office o f Manage­
ment and Budget, February 1984.

420



V II. Federal Taxes and Income

Year

Federal
personal
income
taxes as %
o f personal
income

Federal
corporate
income
taxes as %
o f book
profits

Federal
corporate
income
taxes as %
o f real
profits

1929

1.4

12.0

13.3

1930
1931
1932
1933
1934
1935
1936
1937
1938
1939

1.3
0.8
0.6
0.8
0.8
1.0
1.1
1.8
1.8
1.2

18.9

12.1
33.3

—

—

52.1
26.1
22.2
19.0
18.8
22.5
16.7

69.0
32.0
25.5
23.2
24.3
22.6

1940
1941
1942
1943
1944
1945
1946
1947
1948
1949

1.3
1.7
3.3
10.7
10.4
10.8
9.5
10.5
9.0
7.7

26.0
40.8
51.2
53.7
51.7
51.5
34.7
33.7
32.9
32.9

30.2
51.8
57.5
57.9
53.0
53.7
51.8
48.0
39.8
35.4

1950
1951
1952
1953
1954
1955
1956
1957
1958
1959

7.9
10.2
11.4
11.2
10.1
10.1
10.6
10.7
10.2
10.4

39.9
48.8
47.0
47.3
43.7
42.9
42.1
42.4
43.0
42.9

50.4
56.1
51.5
53.7
48.0
46.4
47.8
47.2
46.8
45.4

43.0
43.2
40.7
39.2
39.2
37.4
37.8
37.6
40.7
41.5

45.0
44.2
39.6
39.6
37.7
36.1
36.9
36.4
40.4
42.3
42.8
40.3
37.9
40.0
47.5
39.4
39.5
36.8
37.0
38.1
40.1
34.6
29.3
29.3

1960
1961
1962
1963
1964
1965
1966
1967
1968
1969

11.0
10.9
10.9
11.1
9.7
9.9
10.5
10.7
11.6
12.7

—

1970
1971
1972
1973
1974
1975
1976
1977
1978
1979

11.7
10.7
12.3

11.7
10.6
11.3
11.7
12.0
12.6

40.6
38.7
36.4
34.5
33.0
33.0
32.8
31.6
31.1
29.4

1980
1981
1982
1983

12.8
13.3
12.8
11.8

30.0
29.7
28.1
29.4

11.0

—

Source: Department o f Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis.




421

V III. Federal Surplus and Debt (Held by Public)
as a Percent of GNP

Federal
Surplus
debt as %
as % of
Fiscal
of GNP*
year
GNP
45.0
-3.3
1940
44.2
-4.6
1941
48.7
-15.0
1942
72.2
1943
-31.1
91.5
1944
-23.3
108.4
-21.9
1945
119.7
1946
-7.8
101.4
1947
1.7
1948
88.1
4.9
81.9
1949
0.2
82.6
1950
-1.2
68.5
1951
2.0
1952
-0.4
63.3
60.4
1953
-1.8
1954
61.6
-0.3
1955
59.5
-0.8
1956
54.0
1.0
1957
50.6
0.7
1958
-0.7
51.1
1959
49.5
-2.7
1960
47.6
0.1
1961
46.8
-0.7
1962
45.3
-1.3
1963
44.0
-0.8
1964
41.7
-1.0
1965
-0.5
39.7
1966
-0.5
36.6
1967
34.4
-1.1
1968
-3.0
35.0
1969
0.4
30.7
1970
29.4
-0.3
1971
-2.2
29.5
1972
-2.1
28.7
1973
-1.2
27.4
1974
-0.4
25.1
1975
-3.6
26.8
1976
-4.5
29.3
1977
-2.9
29.6
1978
-2.8
29.2
1979
-1.7
27.3
1980
-2.9
27.8
1981
-2.7
27.6
1982
-4.2
30.4
1983
-6.5
35.4
♦Federal debt at end of period, amount held by public.
Source: “Total Government Finances—1985 Budget Data,” Office of Management
and Budget, February 1984; Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analy­
sis; Department of the Treasury.

422



IX . Payments to Individuals
(Billions of 1972 Dollars)

Year

Total
federal
payments
to indi­
viduals

Social
security
payments

Employee
retirement
benefits

Public- Unemploy­
ment
Medical assistance
benefits
and food
care

Other

1940
1941
1942
1943
1944
1945
1946
1947
1948
1949

5.3
5.3
4.9
4.2
4.1
5.0
12.1
17.8
16.3
17.7

0.4
0.6
0.7
0.7
0.8
0.9
1.0
1.3
1.4
1.6

1.3
1.2
1.1
1.1
1.4
1.7
2.8
3.7
3.3
3.3

0.3
0.3
0.3
0.3
0.3
0.4
0.6
1.1
1.1
1.2

1.5
1.6
1.6
1.5
1.3
1.4
1.5
1.9
2.0
2.4

1.6
1.4
1.1
0.5
0.1
0.2
2.5
1.7
1.5
2.3

0.3
0.2
0.2
0.1
0.2
0.4
3.7
8.2
7.0
7.0

1950
1951
1952
1953
1954
1955
1956
1957
1958
1959

24.2
17.2
17.5
17.3
19.6
22.2
23.2
25.3
30.2
32.4

1.9
3.1
3.9
5.0
6.0
7.7
9.2
10.8
12.8
14.6

3.6
3.6
3.6
3.9
4.0
4.2
4.4
4.5
4.8
5.1

1.5
1.4
1.4
1.4
1.2
1.3
1.4
1.4
1.4
1.5

2.8
2.8
2.8
3.1
3.3
3.4
3.5
3.7
4.1
4.4

3.6
1.5
1.7
1.6
2.8
3.2
2.3
2.6
4.7
4.5

10.8
4.8
4.1
2.3
2.3
2.3
2.4
2.4
2.4
2.3

1960
1961
1962
1963
1964
1965
1966
1967
1968
1969

33.6
38.3
39.8
41.6
42.8
43.4
47.6
55.1
60.3
65.7

16.5
17.9
20.2
21.7
22.6
23.3
27.0
27.9
29.1
32.2

5.1
5.3
5.4
5.9
6.3
6.6
7.1
7.8
8.7
8.0

1.5
1.6
1.8
2.0
2.2
2.3
3.1
7.9
10.7
12.6

4.6
5.0
5.3
5.7
5.8
6.0
5.9
5.7
6.2
6.6

3.8
6.5
5.1
4.4
4.2
3.6
2.9
3.1
2.9
2.9

2.1
2.0
1.8
2.0
1.8
1.7
1.7
2.9
2.7
3.5

1970
1971
1972
1973
1974
1975
1976
1977
1978
1979

71.8
85.4
94.8
102.4
109.1
127.0
140.6
143.5
145.0
147.2

34.0
38.6
41.6
48.7
51.2
55.4
58.2
62.7
64.7
66.1

9.5
10.6
11.4
12.5
13.4
14.9
16.2
17.2
17.9
18.5

13.5
14.6
16.9
17.3
19.0
21.8
24.7
27.1
29.0
30.6

7.0
8.1
9.1
8.2
9.1
10.2
11.1
11.3
11.3
10.3

3.7
6.4
7.1
5.2
5.4
10.9
14.9
10.9
7.9
6.6

4.2
7.0
8.8
10.6

1980
1981
1982
1983

159.2
170.3
176.2
187.0

68.5
74.0
77.4
79.3

19.5
20.9
21.5
22.0

32.7
35.5
37.8
40.1

11.3
11.6
10.9

10.1
10.1
11.5
14.7

17.0
18.2
17.1
20.0

Source: “ Payments for Individuals— 1985 Budget,
Budget, February 1984.




11.0

11.0
13.8
15.6
14.3
14.2
15.1

Office o f Management and

423

NOTES

CHAPTER i (1 5 -2 6 )
1. Carter-Reagan Debate, October 2 8 ,1 9 8 0 , Cleveland, Ohio.
2. F or example, in 1980 real per capita disposable income was 7.5 per­
cent higher than in 1976 and the unemployment rate was lower than
in 1976.
3. The Constitution of Liberty (Chicago: Henry Regnery, i 9 6 0 ) , pp.
- H.
4. See Henry C. Simons, “Introduction: a Political Credo,” in Economic
Policy for a Free Society (Chicago, University of Chicago Press,
1 9 4 8 ), p. 1.
5. See Herbert Stein, “New York, Chicago, Main St. . . .” Washington
Post, November 2 9 ,1 9 6 4 , p. E l .
6. There were such moments, for example, in 1972 and 1975. In the
spring of 1972 I held a press conference on the economic statistics
for the first quarter, which showed little inflation and a large increase
of output. I said that this was the best combination of economic
statistics in recorded history and then, not wanting to seem boastful,
added the qualification “at least in the Christian Era.” But those good
statistics did not last, of course.

397 4

424




Notes

425

CHAPTER 2 (27-63)
1. As estimated many years after the fact from fragmentary data.
2. See Jude Wanniski, The Way the World Works (New York: Basic
Books, 1978), p. 125.
3. They were looking through a set of glasses that never saw a reason
for a tax increase.
4. For an explanation of this decision see Herbert Stein, The Fiscal
Revolution in America (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1969),
pp. 26-38.
5. I have done so in Fiscal Revolution, pp. 39-130.
6. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1936.
7. Extreme supply-siders believed that there was unemployment because
high tax rates curtailed incentives to work and high welfare benefits
increased incentives to idleness.
8. One example of the revival of Say’s Law is George Gilder, Wealth
and Poverty (New York: Basic Books, 1981), once regarded as the
Bible of the Reagan administration.
9. Seep. 47.
10. “ Mr. Keynes on the Causes of Unemployment,” Quarterly Journal of
Economics, 1937, p. 149.
11. Milton Friedman, A Theory of the Consumption Function (Prince­
ton: Princeton University Press, 1957), p. 235.
12. Martin Feldstein, various articles, Journal of Political Economy,
1974, pp. 905-926, 1982, pp. 630-642, Journal of Public Economics,
1980, pp. 225-244, Review of Economics and Statistics, 1979, pp.
361-368.
13. Speaking of inequality in the distribution of income or power, Simons
said: “Surely there is something unlovely, to modem as against me­
dieval minds, about marked inequality of either kind.” “A Positive
Program for Laissez-Faire,” 1934, reprinted in Economic Policy for
a Free Society (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), p. 51.
14. State and local economic regulation has been pervasive throughout
our history, but its influence is limited by interstate competition. See
Jonathan R. Hughes, The Governmental Habit: Economic Controls
from Colonial Times to the Present (New York: Basic Books,
)15. Some of the “ conservative” farm organizations criticized the farm
programs, but many supported them.

1977

C H A P T E R 3 (65-87)

1. Friedrich A . von Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (Chicago: Univer­
sity of Chicago Press, 1944).




Notes

426

2. John Maynard Keynes, How to Pay for the War (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1940).
3. Personal income is here defined as in the national income and product
accounts except that government transfer payments are excluded, be­
cause they are not taxable, and employee contributions to social in­
surance are included.
4. One evidence of the national concern was the Pabst contest. The
Pabst Brewing Company had celebrated its fiftieth anniversary in
1894 by giving away tin trays for serving beer. In 1944 it thought
that the national situation called for something more serious. There­
fore it sponsored a contest for essays on how to achieve high employ­
ment after the war. Forty-six thousand essays were submitted, the
more eligible ones were selected by staff of Columbia University, and
the winners were chosen by a jury of four distinguished persons.
Much national publicity attended the announcement of the winning
plans. In terms of the classification of positions given above in this
chapter, the winning essay, by the present author, fell in the category
of conservative macroeconomics, and the second-place essay, by Leon
H. Keyserling, was in the category of reformers and planners, whereas
many of the honorable mentions were strictly Keynesian. (Both
Keyserling and I later became chairmen of the President’s Council of
Economic Advisers.) The Winning Plans in the Pabst Postwar Em­
ployment Awards, 1944.
5. Paul T . Homan and Fritz Machlup, eds., Financing American Pros­
perity: a Symposium of Economists (New York: Twentieth Century
Fund, 1945).
6. American Economic Review, 38: 248 (June 1948).
7. Theodore O. Yntema, Howard B. Myers, Herbert Stein.
8. See Stephen K . Bailey, Congress Makes a Law (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1950).
9. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1948. There are many later editions, which
adapted to the subsequent evolution of economic thought.
10. Committee for Economic Development, New York, 1947.
11. U.S. Congress, Joint Committee on the Economic Report, Subcom­
mittee on Monetary, Credit and Fiscal Policies, Report, 81st Con­
gress, 2nd Session, 1950.
12. Milton Friedman and Anna Jacobson Schwartz, A Monetary History
of the United States (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968).
13. Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 52, No. I (March 1944), pp.

1- 25*

14. See Chapter 4, note 3.




421

Notes

CHAPTER 4 (89-131)
1. For an evaluation of the economic growth problem as it looked in
i960, see Edward F. Denison and Herbert Stein, “ High Employment
and Economic Growth,” in Goals for Americans (Englewood, N.J.:
Prentice-Hall, i960), pp. 163-190.
2. J. K. Galbraith, The Affluent Society (Boston: Houghton Mifflin,
1958), p. 257. Another influential book of this period that dramatized
the alleged deterioration of the quality of American life through the
abuse of the environment was Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (Boston:
Houghton Mifflin, 1962).
3. Professor James Tobin, who was a member of President Kennedy’s
Council of Economic Advisers, estimated the percentage of families
with real incomes below what was considered the poverty level in
1965 as follows:
Percentage of families with annual incomes below $3,000
1965 dollars
Year

Percent

1899
1918

67
63

1935-36
1950
i 960
1965

51
30
20

17

Cited in James J. Patterson, America’s Struggle Against Poverty
1900-1980 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981),

p. 79-

4. Joseph A . Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy (New
York: Harper, 1942).
5. A . W. Phillips, “The Relation between Unemployment and the Rate
of Change of Money Wage Rates in the United Kingdom, 18611957,” Economica, November 1958, pp. 283-299.
6. See Goals for Americans (Englewood, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, i960).
7. Annual Report of the Council of Economic Advisers, January 1962,
pp. 185-190.
8. Stein, Fiscal Revolution, p. 372.
9. As Walter Heller later wrote: “As early as May, 1963, Kenneth
O’Donnell told me: ‘Stop worrying about the tax cut. It will pass—
and pass big. Worry about something else.’ We did. We turned to
the question of those whom the tax cut would leave behind. By mid1963, I had sent President Kennedy our economic and statistical




Notes

428

analysis of the groups beyond the reach of the tax cut and had offered
some groping thoughts on ‘an attack on poverty.’ ” Walter W . Heller,
New Dimensions o f Political Economy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
University Press, 1 9 6 6 ), p. 20.
10. Herbert Stein, “Curriculum for Economics, 1981: Poverty and the
Budget,” A E I Economist, October 1980. Calculation based on data
in G. William Hoagland, “The Effectiveness of Current Transfer
Programs in Reducing Poverty,” April 19, 1980, paper presented at
Middlebury College Conference on Economic Issues.
CHAPTER 5 (1 3 3 -2 0 7 )
1. Mr. Nixon loved these football metaphors. “Three yards in a cloud
of dust” referred to a style of cautious, slow-moving play in which
the offense plows methodically along the ground. The “long bomb”
refers to a more daring attempt to gain rapidly by a long pass.
2. In 1966 and 1967, before the surcharge, federal receipts were 18.8
percent of GNP. In 1980 they were 20.5 percent of GNP and in
1981 21.4 percent.
3. During the 1972 campaign President Nixon preferred to discuss
economic questions on the radio at noon, thinking that his audience
would be mainly farmers on tractors and not people who would be
diverted from anything more absorbing.
4. “The Role of Monetary Policy,” American Economic Review, March
1968, Vol. 58, pp. 1-17.
5. There were people at that time who considered an unemployment
rate of 4 percent as too high and aiming at it as evidence of lack of
compassion. For example, Mr. Whitney Young, head of the National
Urban League, called a 4 percent unemployment goal “unacceptable.”
New York Times, October 27, 1969.
6. Members were the President, Vice-President, Secretaries of Treasury,
Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Housing and Urban Development,
counselors to the President (Burns and Moynihan), director of the
Bureau of the Budget, Deputy Under Secretary of State for Economic
Affairs and chairman of the CEA.
7. “Inflation, The Fundamental Challenge to Stabilization Policies,” re­
marks to the American Bankers Association, May 18, 1970, reprinted
in Reflections of an Economic Policy Maker (Washington: American
Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research), pp. 9 1 -1 0 2 .
8. The annual rates of change of the consumer price index were: De­
cember 1969 to December 1970, 5.5 percent; December 1970 to
March 1971, 2.8 percent; March 1971 to June 1971, 5.3 percent;
June 1971 to August 1971, 2.5 percent.
9. Public Papers o f the Presidents: Richard Nixon, 1970, pp. 5 0 2 -5 0 9 .




429

Notes

10. Address to the National Association of Manufacturers, December 4,
1970 (Presidential Papers, 1970, pp. 1085-1095).
11. In a statement on July 18, 1970, the President said: “In raising the
issue of budget deficits, I am not suggesting that the Federal Govern­
ment should necessarily adhere to a strict pattern of a balanced
budget every year. At times the economic situation permits—even calls
for—a budget deficit. There is one basic guideline for the budget,
however, which we should never violate: Except in emergency condi­
tions, expenditures must never be allowed to outrun the revenues that
the tax system would produce at reasonably full employment. When
the Federal Government’s spending actions over an extended period
push outlays sharply higher, increased tax rates or inflation inevitably
follow. We had such a period in the i96o’s. We have been paying
the high price—and higher prices—for that recently.” Public Papers of
the Presidents: Richard Nixon, 1970, p. 60, Presidential Papers, 1970,
p. 601.
12. Public Papers of the Presidents: Richard Nixon, 1971, p. 52.
13. He is usually erroneously reported as having said, “We are all
Keynesians now.” It was Milton Friedman who said that, in 1965.
Seep. 113.
14. Walter Heller, testifying before the Joint Economic Committee on
July 27, 1972: “As I say, now that we are again on the move the
voice of overcautious conservatism is raised again at the other end of
Pennsylvania Avenue. Reach for the brakes, slash the budget, seek
an end to wage-price restraints.”
15. See President Nixon’s message signing this bill on July 1, 1972.
Presidential Papers, 1972, pp. 723-724.
16. In connection with the President’s defense I prepared a statement of
the economic argument to show that the Employment Act of 1946
which directed that the government use all its powers to achieve
maximum production, employment and purchasing power implicitly
authorized the President to impound funds. The statement was written
with unusual concern for the qualifications and uncertainties of the
argument, perhaps because I had to swear to it before a notary, an
exceptional procedure for a statement of an economist.
17. See Chapter 3, note 3.
18. Survey of Current Business, April 1982, p. 26.
CH APTER 6 (209-233)
1. Public Papers of the Presidents: Gerald Ford, 1974, p. 228.
2. Joseph J. Minarik, “The Size Distribution of Income During Infla­
tion” (Washington: Brookings Institution, 1980).
3. In 1979 married couples with two dependents and incomes below




430

Notes

$25,000 in 1980 dollars paid less federal income tax than similar
families with the same real income had paid in i960, but families
with $35,000 or above paid more. Marginal rates had been reduced
for families with incomes below about $20,000 1980 dollars and
raised for higher-income families (with an exceptional marginal-rate
increase for low-income families who were near the point at which
the refundable earned income credit phased out). For many low- and
middle-income families the increase in social security taxes was
larger in dollars than the increase in income taxes, but that seemed
to generate less resentment.
4. See Herbert Stein, “What Margaret Thatcher Knows,” A E I Econo­
mist, August 1979.
CHAPTER 7 (235-262)
1. See Herbert Stein, “Some Supply-Side Propositions,” Wall Street
Journal, March 19,1980.
2. Paper entitled “The Decline of the Budget-Balancing Doctrine or
How the Good Guys Finally Lost” (March 25, 1976), published in
James M. Buchanan and Richard E. Wagner, eds., Fiscal Responsi­
bility in a Constitutional Democracy (London/Boston: Martins
Nechoff, 1978).
3. See Don Fullerton, “On the Possibility of an Inverse Relationship
between Tax Rates and Government Revenues,” National Bureau of
Economic Research, Working Paper No. 467, April 1980.
4. Herbert Stein and Murray F. Foss, ‘Taxes and Saving,” A EI Econ­
omist, July 1981.
5. See Arthur B. Laffer in ‘Tw o Views of the Kemp-Roth Bill,” AEI
Economist, July 1978.
6. Wanniski, The Way the World Works.
7. Report of the Joint Economic Committee, Congress of the United
States on the January 1980 Economic Report of the President together
with Additional Views, February 28,1980.
8. Barry Goldwater, The Conscience of a Conservative (Woodland
Hills, Calif.: Victor Publishing Company, i960), pp. 62-63.
9. I had an encounter with Reagan’s optimism the first time I met him,
which was at the first meeting of the President’s Economic Policy
Advisory Board in February 1981. Sitting across the table from him
in the Cabinet Room of the White House I wondered what was the
essential thing to say to this powerful person. 1 decided to say that
although we all hoped that his program was going to work, econo­
mists could not forecast well enough to be sure that the inflation
would come down without a recession. I thought he should warn the
country of that, to prevent future public disappointment that might




431

Notes

force him to do things he would prefer not to do. He was unmoved
by my advice and seemed not to want to consider the possibility.
10. Most of the preceding three paragraphs is based on Rowland Evans
and Robert Novak, The Reagan Revolution (New York: Dutton,
1 981).
CHAPTER 8 (2 6 3 -3 0 6 )
1. “Avoiding a GOP Economic Dunkirk,” December 1980. This memo
was unsigned but widely “known” to be by David Stockman and un­
published but widely distributed. One purpose of starting the new
program quickly and decisively was to avoid Thatcherization. By
1983, after Mrs. Thatcher was reelected as British Prime Minister by
a wide margin, Thatcherization did not look like such a bad fate.
2. By mid-1983 the administration’s estimate of this increase was 2.5
percent, which would leave real GNP in 1985 6.5 percent below the
figure forecast by the Reagan administration in March 1981.
3. See Herbert Stein, “Another New Economics,” A E I Economist,
April 1981; also Rudolph G. Penner in New York Times, February
22, 1981, and Rudolph G. Penner, “A Loyalist Reflects on the Reagan
Plan,” New York Times, August 16, 1981.
4. Signing the budget and tax bills on August 13, 1981, the President
said that “they represent a turnaround of almost a half a century of
a course the country’s been on and mark an end to the excessive
growth in government bureaucracy, government spending, govern­
ment taxing.” Presidential Papers, 1981, p. 706.
5. Reported in Herbert Stein, “Why Deficits Matter,” A E I Economist,
January 1982.
6. “Report to the Congress on the Role of Gold in the Domestic and
International Monetary Systems,” U.S. Treasury, March 1982.
7. See Milton Friedman, “What Could Reasonably Have Been Expected
From Monetarism: The United States,” paper for Mont Pelerin So­
ciety Meeting, Vancouver, August 29, 1983.
CH A PTER 9 (3 0 7 -3 7 6 )
1. Milton Friedman and Rose D. Friedman, Free to Choose: A Personal
Statement (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1 9 8 0 ), pp. 3 0 1 309. In addition to limiting government spending the amendments
dealt with international trade, wage and price controls, occupational
licensure, tax structures, the money supply and inflation protection.
2. It is conceivable that if the government runs very large deficits for a
long period the total debt will rise substantially relative to the G NP,
and government interest payments will rise substantially relative to




Notes
the GNP. In that case there is danger that deficits will rise continu­
ously relative to the GNP. But there is a limit to this process. The
deficit cannot exceed the gross saving of the country (aside from
capital imports) and before that point is reached there would be a
slowdown of economic growth, or even a decline of output, that the
society will find intolerable. There would then be a strong temptation
to escape from this situation by inflation that would reduce the real
value of the debt. But it is one thing to say that inflation may be a
politically tempting alternative to taxation in certain budgetary posi­
tions. It is another thing to say that inflation is a necessary alternative.
In any case, the argument against allowing an endless escalation of
deficits relative to the GNP is compelling, even if the result is not
inflation.
The use of the expression “the money supply” requires explanation
now that everyone is conscious of a number of different definitions of
money. There are several kinds of assets that serve some of the func­
tions of money—
currency, checkable deposits with various interest
rates and subject to various limitations on their activity, deposits that
are not checkable but instantly convertible to checkable deposits,
other liquid assets of different maturities. Whatever list of assets we
combine and call “money” the relation between it and nominal GNP
will depend on the proportions in which the different kinds of assets
exist. Thus, if we define money as currency plus checkable deposits,
now called Mi, the relation between Mi and nominal GNP will de­
pend in part upon the quantity of the liquid assets that are excluded
from Mi. There is a considerable range of professional opinion about
how much difference this makes. In any case, I include the existence
in variable proportions of a variety of money-like assets as one of
the reasons for saying that the relation between the supply of money,
however defined, and nominal GNP is not constant and predictable.
. B. divided by A. = real GNP and rises by 3 percent per annum,
the assumed normal growth of real GNP. B. divided by C. = ve­
locity, and rises by 3 percent per annum, the predicted trend of
velocity.
. Herbert Stein, comment on paper “Economic Growth as an Objective
of Government Policy” by James Tobin, Proceedings of American
Economic Association, December 2 7 -2 9 , 1963 (published May
1964), pp. 2 4 -2 7 .
. In thinking about the proper size of deficits it is necessary to look out
even beyond the five-year period suggested here for setting targets.
The deficits run during one five-year period will determine the size
of the debt with which the next five-year period begins, and that will
affect the difficulty of holding deficits in that next five-year period
to a level that may be consistent with national growth objectives. This




Notes

433

only means that it is desirable to avoid deficits of a size that, although
tolerable or helpful today, excessively limit the freedom of action of
future generations.
7. A more explicit use of this reasoning to arrive at this recommendation
appeared in an article by Cagan, Fellner, Penner and Stein, “Eco­
nomic Policy for Recovery and Growth,” A E I Economist, January

1983.
8. Special Analyses, Budget of the United States Government, Fiscal
Year 1984, G 3 1 -3 3 .




Index

92,
Afghanistan, Soviet invasion of, 16
AFL-CIO, 143, 146, 159
agrarian economic conservatism, 18
agricultural sector:
deregulation of, 195-96
economic regulation of, 60, 61
inflation and, 185, 186, 209, 221
poverty in, 92
Agricultural Adjustment Adminis­
tration (AAA), 61
Aid to Families with Dependent
Children, 282,283
airline deregulation, 393,406
American Economic Association,
75, 140- 41,325
Anderson, John, 257
Anderson, Martin, 257
Ash, Roy, 212
Atlantic, 273,410
automobile industry, decline in,
317, 365
Baker, Howard, 249,257
balanced budget, 80-81
agrarian economic conservatism
and, 18

advertising, demand created by,

97

434




80
271 291-92
311-12

CED and,
conservative economics and,
,
constitutional amendment for,

235,

35
172-76
265 267 268 269
407-8

FDR’s goal of,
at full employment,
Reagan and,
,
,
,
robotic budgeting,
see also deficit spending
bank deposits, federal insurance of,

45,62

196

banks, deregulation of,
Barr, Joseph,
Bell, Clive,
Bismarck, Prince Otto von,
Bloomsbury set,
Blount, Winton M.,
Budget and Impoundment Control
Act (
),
Bureau of the Budget, 68,
Employment Act (
) and,

197
49
49

57

152-53
1974 200
198
1946
76,77
Bums, Arthur, 138- 39, 145, 147,
151, 153, 154- 56, 212, 218,
258
Bush, George, 233, 256,257

business cycles, unemployment and,

42

435

Index
Business Roundtable, 325
Cabinet Com m ittee on Econom ic
P olicy, 152
capital gains taxes, 2 4 8
capital shortage, 4 0 1 - 2
Carter, Jim m y , 19, 2 3 7 , 309
Carter adm inistration, 2 3 , 3 4 , 104,
2 1 6 - 3 3 ,2 7 5 ,2 8 6 ,3 0 7 ,3 1 4 ,
3 1 7 ,3 2 2
energy policy o f, 191
Federal Reserve Board in, 2 2 9 230
fiscal policy o f, 2 1 8 , 2 3 0 , 2 3 1 , 398
incom es policy o f, 2 3 0 , 2 5 0 , 3 9 9
K em p-Roth B ill and, 2 4 9 , 2 6 0
monetary policy o f, 2 1 8 , 2 3 0 ,
2 3 1 , 232
1980 budget o f, 231
1981 budget o f, 2 8 0
productivity during, 2 1 9 , 2 3 0
unemployment and, 2 1 6 -1 8
Carterism , 2 3 0 - 3 2 , 2 3 5 ,4 0 0
C B S , 167
C E D , s e e Com m ittee for E conom ic
Developm ent
Charts and table:
Annual Change in Output per
Hour (B usiness S ecto r), 128
Annual Percent Change o f GN P
Adjusted fo r Inflation, 124
Annual Percent Change in Price
Index fo r G N P, 126
Consumer P rice Index and
Hourly Com pensation, 3 8 6
Em ploym ent, Unemploym ent
and Productivity, 398
Federal Corporate Profit T axes
as Percent o f Profits, 131
Federal D ebt Held by the Public
as a Percent o f G N P, 132
Federal Expenditures in C on­
stant 1972 P rices, 130, 4 0 2
Federal Outlays as a Percent o f

GNP,

130, 386,400

Federal Personal Incom e Taxes
as a Percent o f Personal
Incom e, 131




Federal Receipts as a Percent
o f GN P, 1 2 9 ,3 8 7 ,4 0 1
Federal Surplus and Debt (Held
by Public) as a Percent o f
GN P, 387, 404
Federal Taxes and Incom e, 4 0 3
GN P (In Current D ollars), 1 25, 3 8 4
GN P Adjusted fo r Inflation, 124
G N P, Percent Change, 384
G N P, the Price L evel and
M oney, 397
Government Expenditures and
Receipts as a Percent o f GN P,
128, 1 2 9 ,3 9 9
Government Surplus as a Per­
cent o f G N P , 132
Levels o f M anufacturing Output,
381
M oney Supply (M I), 125
Payments to Individuals, 405
Price Index for GN P (1 9 7 2 =
10 0 ), 126
Saving and Investm ent as a
Percentage o f GN P, 384
Total Em ploym ent, 127, 385
Unemploym ent R ate, 127, 385
Civil A eronautics Board (C A B ),
5 9 ,8 4
C ivilian Conservation Corps
(C C C ), 38
Com m erce Departm ent, 6 8 , 75
Com m ission on National G oals, 100
Com m ittee for Econom ic D evelop­
ment (C E D ), 7 5 , 7 9 - 8 0 , 8 1 ,
106, 107, 1 4 0 ,1 7 4 ,3 2 5 , 3 4 8
com m odity m oney, 302
com petitiveness, 4 0 8 , 4 1 0 -1 1
Connally, Jo h n , 145, 1 6 2 -6 4 , 1 6 8 ,
257
conscription, 144, 195
conservatism , 1 5 -1 9
contradictions w ithin, 1 7 -1 8
nationalist, 1 6 -1 7
o f R eagan , 309
social, 17
trad itio n alist, 17
conservative econ om ics, 1 5 -2 2
agrarian, 18

Index

436

conservative economics (cont.)
balanced budget and, 235, 271,
291-92
of big business, 18
British liberal tradition and, 1718
budget deficits opposed by, 18,
58

Carterism and, 231-32
diversity of, 17-18
economic regulation and, 84
fiscal policy of, 291-92
Great Depression and, 29
growth and, 93
Keynesian economics and, 38,
44, 46,47-48,49,74
liberal economics vs., 27-28
as negative attitude, 15-16, 19
Nixon administration and, 133,
135-36, 137-39, 206-7
planning opposed by, 36-37
poverty and, 94
transfer programs opposed by,
57-58
conservative macroeconomists, 73,
75
Constitution, U.S., balanced budget
and, 311-12
construction costs, 152-53, 160-61
Construction Industry Collective
Bargaining Commission, 153
Construction Industry Stabilization
Committee, 160—
61
consumer price index:
demand and, 24
in 1966, 120
in 1967, 121
in 1968, 134
in 1974-1976, 215
1977-1987, 382
in 1979,219
consumer product safety, 190, 194
Consumer Product Safety Commis­
sion, 194
consumption, 379
Coolidge, Calvin, 28-29
corporations:
Democratic party and, 201
taxation of, 53, 55, 58,74, 109,



137,203,357
cost-benefit analysis, 226
deficit spending and, 292-93
Cost of Living Council, 180, 181—
182
oil prices and, 191-92
Council of Economic Advisers,
77-78,324
environmental regulation and,
194-95
in Ford administration, 217
in Johnson administration, 143,
151
in Kennedy administration, 103,
104
in Nixon administration, 135,
139-47, 149,150, 151, 153154, 158,159,163,169-71,
211
in Reagan administration, 273,
274,298
wage and price controls opposed
b y ,144,159-60,192
Daley, Richard, 99
Davis-Bacon Act (1931), 161
defense budget, 22,25, 199, 229
of Carter administration, 395
of Kennedy administration, 104
liberals vs., 346
of Nixon administration, 184
of Reagan administration, 265,
267,273,274,293,308,315,
395, 396
after Vietnam War, 115
after World War II, 69, 86
deficit spending, 25
as campaign issue in 1984, 278
conservative opposition to, 18,
58
as corrective, 65-66
cost-benefit analysis and, 292-93
GNP and, 347
in Hoover administration, 32, 35
inflation and, 168, 188-89, 228,
233, 274
interest rates and, 287-89, 299
in Johnson administration, 168
Keynesian economics and, 51,

Index

deficit spending (cont.)
54, 78, 287
monetarism vs., 287
1977-1987, 388, 394
in Nixon administration, 173-74,
188-89
private investment and, 350—
51
in Reagan administration, 273275,279,286, 292-94,307
recession and, 288
in Roosevelt administration, 35
significance of, 345-55
standard of living and, 289
unemployment and, 51, 76, 78,
289
see also balanced budget
demand:
advertising and, 92, 97
consumer price index and, 24
fiscal policy and, 110-11
fluctuations in, 24
Great Depression linked to de­
cline in, 23-24,39,53
inflation and, 24, 71, 183,320,
328
Kennedy administraton and, 101
money supply and, 24, 110-11
in 1981-82, 24
unemployment and, 24, 39, 53,
101
demand-side economics, 108
Democratic party:
anti-corporation line of, 201
in 1968 election, 236
Reagan tax cut and, 271
Depression, Great, 23-24, 29-30
confidence and, 224
demand and, 23-24, 39, 53
economic thinking and, 29
Federal Reserve Board during,
45
gold reserves during, 33,44 ,4 5 ,
62
Hoover tax policy during, 33
liberalism as reaction to, 27
monetarist approach to, 44-45
money supply and, 2 4 ,31 ,3 3 ,
44-45,62
populism in, 56



437

unemployment in, 30, 38
deregulation, 20-21, 22
in agricultural sector, 195-96
of banks, 196
evaluation, 405-6
of exchange rate, 195
productivity growth decline, 393-94
Reagan goal of 265, 309
of transportation, 196
see also regulation, economic
disability insurance, 53, 204
disinflation:
expectations and, 225
unemployment and, 227-28, 252
Domestic Policy Council, 198
draft, 144, 195
Dunlop, John, 146, 153, 192
economic performance, 1977-1987,
377-96
economic policies, 1977-1987,
397-411
economic regulation, see regulation,
economic
Economics: An Introductory Analy­
sis (Samuelson), 78

education, federal aid to, 85, 96,
101,282, 283
Education Department, 311
Eisenhower, Dwight D., 100
Eisenhower administration, 23
anti-intellectualism in, 98
balanced budget and, 80, 172
economic health during, 89-90,
98-99
labor unions and, 105
tax program of, 237, 256
elections, presidential:
economic slumps before, 104
in 1932, 19-20, 35, 89
in 1948, 84, 255
in 1960, 89, 90, 98-100, 135,
138, 139
in 1964, 101, 104,114-15, 148,
236,255
in 1968, 134, 136, 198, 236
in 1972, 149, 156, 158, 187, 236
in 1976, 255-56
in 1980, 16-17, 19, 220, 226-27,

438

elections, presidential (cont.)
256,261-62,308-9
electronics industry, 317, 319
employment:
growth, 378, 392
see also unemployment
Employment Act (1946), 76-78,
324,325
revision of, 326, 342-43
Energy Department, 311
energy regulation, 19Q-93, 400-401
entrepreneurship, 17
Keynes and, 49
Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA), 194
environmental regulation, 144, 190,
193-95
equilibrium inflation rate, 183, 185
Europe, reconstruction of, 69
exchange rates, 389-90
excise taxes, 274-75
expectations, economic, 224-25,
228,334
inflation rate and, 140-43, 390-92
externalities, 93, 190, 194
Federal Communications Commis­
sion (FCC), 84
Federal Deposit Insurance Cor­
poration (FDIC), 344
Federal Emergency Relief Admin­
istration (FERA), 38
Federal Energy Office, 192
Federal Open Market Committee,
340, 344-45
Federal Power Commission (FPC),
59,84
Federal Reserve Board, 33
bank reserves controlled by, 229
bond support program of, 82-83
in Carter administration, 229-30
in Coolidge administraton, 29
during Great Depression, 45
Humphrey-Hawkins Bill and,
341-42,343
independence of, 83,229,295,
344
inflation reduction, 390-91
interest rates and, 229, 296



Index

in Johnson administration, 120,
121, 122,134
legislative mandate of, 340-41
membership on, 339, 344
monetarism and, 294-301, 302,
305, 306
New Deal and, 45-46
in Nixon administration, 138,
151,152,154-56,184,189
nominal vs. real targets of, 338
reorganization of, 45-46, 343-45
staff of, 339-40, 345
in World War II, 82
fine-tuning, 95, 135, 147, 154, 169,
172,210, 338,340, 398-99
fiscal dividend:
and Vietnam War, 137, 198,201,205
and War on Poverty, 115
fiscal policy, 290-91
of Carter administration, 218,
230,231
of conservative economics, 291—
292
demand and, 110-11
fine-tuning, 398-99
functional-finance, 71, 291, 3 16
of Kennedy administration, 101,
102-12
Keynesian economics and, 46,
50, 63, 69-70, 291
long-run use of, 224
of Nixon administration, 136,
169-76, 187-89, 197-205,
210-11
of Reagan administration, 290291,292
of Roosevelt administration,
39
supply-side economic perspec­
tive of, 241
Fiscal Revolution in America, The

(Stein), 107, 292
flat taxation, 359
food stamps, 144, 282, 283, 292
Ford, Gerald R., 212
Ford administration, 23, 212-16,
236-37
Council of Economic Advisers
in, 217

Index

Ford Administration ( cont.)
inflation program of, 213-14,
215 ,
supply-side economics and, 213
tax program of, 214, 398
Foreign Affairs, 410
foreign aid, 69, 102
France:
economic growth in, 91
planning in, 318
free market economics, 15
currency exchange rates and,
164-65
externalities in, 93, 190, 194
future of, 364-66
Galbraithianism and, 97-98
labor unions and, 146
Nixon administration and, 136
see also conservative economics
Friedman, Milton:
constitutional amendments pro­
posed b y ,311
Dunlop and, 146
on exchange rates, 164-65
on inflation, 82, 151, 140-43,
150-51,331
on Keynesian economics, 113
McCracken and, 140
on natural rate of unemploy­
ment, 140-43, 150-51, 331
Nixon and, 137-38, 145
presidential address of, to Amer­
ican Economic Association,
140-43, 225
on Reagan economics, 258, 287,
296-97, 299, 303-4
Friedman, Rose, 311
Full Employment Act (1978)
(Humphrey-Hawkins), 217218,318,341-42,343,401
full-employment budget standard,
172-75, 398
functional-finance fiscal policy, 71,
291,316
Galbraith, John Kenneth, 92,98,
136, 144,167
Galbraithianism, 97-98
gasoline, shortages in, 209-10



439
General Theory of Employment,
Interest and Money, The

(Keynes), 38, 39,42,45, 139,
222, 224
Germany, West, economic growth
in, 91
gold:
ending convertibility of, 164-66,
178, 180, 195
foreign trade and, 164
Great Depression and reserves
of, 3 3 ,4 4 ,4 5 ,6 2
monetarism and, 297-98, 299,
300-302
Reagan administration and, 298,
299, 302,311
restrictions on ownership of,
45
supply-side economics and, 300302
Gold Commission, 302
Goldwater, Barry, 148, 236, 255,
257
Government Procurement and Regu­
lations Review Board, 160
Gramm-Rudman-Hollings
Act of 1985,408
grant-in-aid programs, 198-99
Great Britain:
Thatcherism in, 232-33, 235
voluntary wage and price con­
trols in, 104
Great Depression, see Depression,
Great
Great Society, 115-18
inflation and, 115, 118
Vietnam War and, 119, 134
Greenspan, Alan, 212, 258, 259,
284
growth, economic:
budgetary surplus and, 223-24
as conservative objective, 93
government’s role in, 351-52
inflation balanced against, 21-22
in Japan, 91, 221
liberal target of, 91,93
private investment and, 352
tax programs for, 228-29
growth dividend, 99

Index

440

Hart, Gary, 407
Hayek, Friedrich, 18, 66
Heller, Walter, 95, 103, 206, 405
Helms, Jesse, 302
high-employment budget standard,
172-75
high technology industries, 317-18
unemployment and, 319
wages and, 320
high tech (industrial) policy, 25,
317-21, 365-66
Hoffman, Paul, 75
Hoover, Herbert, 28, 52, 224
liberalism of, 29
Hoover administration:
deficit spending in, 32, 35
interventionism under, 29, 3233
tax policy of, 33, 55, 289
hours legislation, 60, 84
House Ways and Means Commit­
tee, 188
Houthakker, Hendrik, 139
How to Pay for the War (Keynes),
67
Humphrey, Hubert H., 314, 317,
322
Humphrey-Hawkins Bill, 217-18,
318,341-42,343,401
Humphrey-Javits Bill, 318, 401
impoundment of funds:
in Johnson administration, 199200

legislative limitations on, 200
in Nixon administration, 200,
394
incomes policy, 227-28, 367-69
Carter administration and, 230,
250,399
evaluation of, 399-400
Nixon administration and, 143—
144, 399
tax-based (TIP), 370
industrial policy, 25, 317-21, 365366,406-7
inflation, 326-45
acceptable rates of, 332-34
agricultural sector and, 185,



186, 209,221
Carter program for, 230
cold turkey approach to, 228
deficit spending and, 168, 188—
189, 228, 233, 274
demand and, 24, 71, 183, 320,
328
demand-management approach
to ,329-45
expansionism and, 71
expectations and, 225, 228, 334,
390-92
Ford administration and, 213—
214, 215
Great Society financed by, 115,
118
growth balanced against, 21-22
harm of, 219-20
in Japan, 329
Keynesian economics and, 49,
50,51
Korean War and, 119-20
labor union and, 104-5, 182
liberal approach to, 315-16
long-run effects of, 220
monetary policy and, 328, 335345, 383, 388
money supply and, 24, 212, 223,
228
in mid-1960s, 23, 118-22
in mid-1970s, 16
in 1971,183
in 1977, 209
1977-1987, 381-83, 388-92,
395-96
in 1978-1981,332
in 1979,219
in 1981, 264
in 1983, 21, 307, 327, 332
nominal vs. real goals in, 332
oil prices and, 185, 192-93, 221,
329
productivity and, 220
Reagan’s tax policy for, 33
supply-side economics and, 251,
328-29,330
in Switzerland, 329
tax burden and, 203, 219, 221—
222, 277

Index

inflation (cont.)
Thatcherism vs., 232-33
unemployment vs., 24, 76, 83,
96-97, 140-41, 223, 225, 235,
236, 250-53,297,331, 333
Vietnam War and, 112, 113,
170
wage and price controls vs.,
182-83
World War II and, 120
Inflation Alerts, 159
Inflation Summit Conferences, 213
interest rates:
decline in money velocity and, 389
deficit spending and, 287-89,
299
deregulation of, 196
Federal Reserve Board and, 229,
296
monetary policy and stabilization
of, 302-3
money supply and, 43-44, 102,
229,
296, 303
in 1981,264,273,274, 299
trade deficits and, 102
Treasury bills, 382
International Association of Ma­
chinists, 121
international coordination of
economic policy, 408-9
Interstate Commerce Commission
(ICC), 59
investment, private:
economic growth and, 352
foreign, 379
private savings and, 350, 351, 394
supply-side economics and, 289290
tax-rate reductions and, 109, 392-93
investment tax credits:
business opposition to, 105-6,

201

Johnson suspension of, 121
Kennedy administration and,
105-6, 201
Nixon administration and, 137,
201-2, 203
Iran, hostage crisis in, 16, 309




441

Japan:
economic growth in, 91, 221
economic lessons gained from,
366, 407
high technology industry in, 317
inflation in, 329
trade balance with, 165
Javits, Jacob, 318
Johnson, Lyndon B., 89
FDR and, 114
Johnson administration, 23, 101,
113-22, 321
Council of Economic Advisers
in, 143, 151
deficit spending in, 168
Federal Reserve Board in, 120,
121, 122,134
impounded funds in, 199-200
inflation and, 115, 118-22
labor unions and, 121
tax policy of, 112-13
unemployment in, 122
Joint Economic Committee, 80,
251,324
Kahn, Alfred, 399
Kemp, Jack, 237, 246,249, 253,
256,258
Kemp-Roth Bill, 246, 249, 258
Carter administration vs., 249,
260
Reagan and, 256, 257, 258
Kennedy, Edward M ., 227,406
Kennedy, John F., 20, 89-90, 95
assassination of, 107, 113
Kennedy administration, 23, 89113
balanced budget and, 80, 172
business community and, 105-6
Council of Economic Advisers
to, 103, 104
defense budget of, 104
fiscal policy of, 101, 102-12
full-employment budget of, 106-7
full-employment goal of, 101,
102-3
investment tax credits and, 105—
106, 201

442

Kennedy administration {cont.)
Keynesian economics and, 81,
101, 103, 107
manpower training program of,
57, 104
monetary policy of, 101, 102
poverty and, 113—14
regional development program
of, 104
space program and, 100
steel industry vs., 105
tax program of, 102-3, 105-8,
109-12
trade deficit program of, 102
wage and price guidelines of,
104-5
Keynes, John Maynard:
in Bloomsbury set, 49
expansionist fiscal policy and, 39
long-run effects belittled by, 222,
375
on Time cover, 113
Keynesian economics, 21, 33, 3753,62-63, 224
assumptions of, 50
conservatives and, 38,44, 46,
47-48,49, 74
deficit spending and, 51, 54, 78,
287
demand-deficiency theory in,
39-40
demand side stressed in, 241
depression as explained in, 38-39
economics profession dominated
by, 67, 113, 139
expectations and, 224
fiscal policy and, 46, 50, 63, 6970,291
free market system and, 46
inflation and, 49, 50, 51
interventionism and, 48
in Kennedy administration, 81,
101, 103, 107
liberal economics and, 95-96
monetary policy and, 71, 79, 81
Nixon administration and, 135,
138, 173,174
politicians’ use of, 50-51, 52
postwar, 76-81



Index

private savings and, 351
quantification of, 67
Reagan administration and, 278
Say’s Law as explained in, 40-42
tax cuts and, 260, 348
wages and, 47, 50
Kissinger, Henry A., 163
Korean War:
financing of, 119-20
income tax rates during, 68
inflation and, 119-20
Kosters, Marvin, 410
Kristol, Irving, 246, 249
Labor Department, full employ­
ment goal of, 103
labor force growth, 393
labor unions:
economic regulation and, 60-61
Eisenhower administration and,
105
free market economics and, 146
inflation and, 104-5, 182
Johnson administration and, 121
Nixon administration and, 159,
160-61
social security opposed by, 5758
Taft-Hartley limitations on, 85
wage controls and, 182, 185
WPA opposed by, 57
Laffer, Arthur, 2 4 5^7 , 249, 258
Laffer Curve, 246—
48
liberal economics:
conservative economics vs., 2728
conservative trends in, 314-15
fine-tuning in, 95
goals of, in 1960s, 90-93
Great Depression and, 27
incomes policy and, 315-16
industrial policy and, 317-21
inflation and, 315-16
Keynesian economics and, 95-96
Roosevelt administration and,
28
libertarianism, 18
Libertarian Party, 18
Liberty bonds, 82

Index

Long, Huey, 56

McCracken, Paul, 139-40, 142-43,
151, 163, 166-67, 201,258
McGovern, George, 187
macroeconomics, conservative, 73,
75
manpower training programs, 57,
104
manufacturing output, 379
Martin, William McChesney, 120,
151
Marx, Karl, 409
Meany, George, 146, 159
Medicaid, 116
Medicare, 116, 117, 254, 283, 393
growth of, 197
Mellon, Andrew, 31
middle class, decline of, 409-10
Miller, G. William, 218
Mills, Wilbur, 188
minimum wage, 60, 61, 84
unemployment and, 61
Mondale, Walter F., 407
monetarism, 15, 294-306
deficit spending and, 287
gold standard and, 297-98, 299,
300-302
money supply growth and, 295,
304-6, 404-5
“Monetary and Fiscal Framework
for Economic Stability, A”
(Friedman), 75
monetary policy:
of Carter administration, 218,
230, 231,232
CED and, 80
conservative macroeconomists
and, 73
function of, 335
inflation and, 328, 335-45, 383,
388
interest rate stabilization and,
302-3
of Kennedy administration, 101,

102

Keynesian economics and, 71,
79, 82
long-run use of, 224



443

during New Deal, 44-46
Nixon administration and, 137—
138,151-52, 154,189-90
optimum feasible path and, 171
Reagan administration and, 294306,
387-88
money supply, 397
demand and, 24, 110-11
Great Depression and, 24, 31,
33,44-45,62
inflation and, 24, 212, 223,
228,391
interest rates and, 43-44, 102,
229, 296,303
monetarism and growth of, 295,
304-6
in 1977-1979,218
1981-1982 recession, 388, 389
real value of, 43
reducing growth of, 227, 228
stabilizing growth rate of, 21
unemployment and, 43
Moore, George, 49
Morgenthau, Henry, Jr., 35
Moulton, Harold G., 39
Moynihan, Daniel, 139, 145, 147,
198
Mundell, Robert, 246
MX missile, 292, 334
National Association of Manufac­
turers, 66, 74
National Commission on Produc­
tivity, 159
nationalism, 16-17
National Labor Relations Act
(1935) (Wagner Act), 47,
60, 74, 84-85
National Planning Association, 74,
325
National Planning Board, 36
National Recovery Act (1933)
(NRA), 24, 25, 35, 36, 59, 61
National Resources Board, 36
National Resources Committee, 36
National Resources Planning
Board, 36
natural rate of unemployment,
140-43, 150-51,331

444

neo-conservatism, 17
New Deal, 34-63
economic regulation during, 5962
Keynesian economics and, BB­
SS, 62-63
monetary policy during, 44-46
National Association of Manu­
facturers vs., 66
planning in, 36-37, 318
public works projects in, 37-38,
57
Reagan’s support for, 255
Supreme Court vs. programs of,
61-62
transfer programs of, 53-59
Newsweek, 167
New Yorker, 410
New York Times, 167
Next American Frontier, The

(Reich), 407
Niskanen, William, 274
Nixon, Richard M., 89
1971 State of the Union Message
of, 172-73
Nixon administration, 23, 104
133-207
big business and, 136-37
conservative economics and, 133,
135-36, 137-39,206-7
Council of Economic Advisers
in, 135, 139-47, 149, 150,
151,153-54,158,159,163,
169-71,211
defense budget in, 184
deficit spending in, 173-74, 188189
deregulation and, 195-96
energy regulation and, 190-93
environmental regulation and,
193-95
expenditures encouraged by,
184,187
Federal Reserve Board and, 138,
151, 152, 154-56, 184, 189
fiscal policy in, 136,169-76,
187-89,197-205,210-11
full-employment balanced budget
of, 172-75, 187, 398




Index

impounded funds in, 200
incomes policy in, 143-44, 399
investment tax credit and, 137,
201-2,203
Keynesian economics and, 135,
138, 173, 174
labor unions and, 159, 160-61
monetary policy and, 137-38,
151-52, 154, 189-90
optimum feasible path in, 171—
172
poverty and, 144,202
price and wage controls of, 24,
25, 157, 161-62, 166-67,
176-87, 210, 236, 250, 367
revenue sharing and, 198-99
tax policy of, 136-37, 169, 178,
197, 198, 200-204, 256
unemployment and, 135, 140143
Vietnam War tax surcharge and,
169, 197,200-202
occupational health and safety,
190, 194
Occupational Safety and Health
Administration (OSHA), 194
Office of Management and Budget
(OMB), 145, 172, 177, 264,
267-68
Office of Price Administration
(OPA), 68, 136, 163
oil prices, 185,186,190-93, 221,
310, 329
OPEC, 181, 192,209
optimum feasible path (OFP),
171-72
organized labor, see labor unions
output:
increases, 1977-1987, 377378,392
manufacturing, 379
payroll taxes, for unemployment
insurance, 56
Phillips, A. W .,96
Phillips curve, 96-97
planning, 16, 25-26
conservative opposition to, 36-37

Index

planning (cont.)
French, 318
Keynesians and, 72
industrial policy and, 317-21
during New Deal, 25, 36-37,
318
after World War II, 72-73, 74
during World War II, 66
populism, 56
poverty:
conservative economics and, 94
distribution of, 92-93, 100
federal expenditures on, 117
government programs against,
25, 56
Kennedy administration and,
113-14
liberal target of, 92-93
Nixon administration and, 144,

202

proportion of Americans in, 24,
86-87,381
Reagan administration and, 281,
285
see also War on Poverty
President’s Economic Policy Ad­
visory Board, 269
price controls, 25, 84, 367-70
Council of Economic Advisers
vs., 144, 159-60, 192
Keynesians and, 72
during Korean War, 119-20
Nixon administration and, 24,
25,133, 157, 161-62, 166167, 176-87,210, 236, 250,
367,369,399
on oil, 190-93
voluntary, 104-5, 181, 369-70
during World War II, 66, 136,
163
productivity:
Carter program for, 230
declining acceleration of, 210,
219,378,392-96
inflation and, 220
in 1982-1983, 276
protective tariffs, 59, 196, 363
public works projects, 372-73
criticism of, 57



445

FDR and, 37-38
Hoover and, 32, 37
Puerto Rico, business taxes in, 248
punk supply-sidism, 402-4
purchasing power, 341
quality of life, liberals’ view of,
91-92,93
Reagan, Ronald, 220, 227, 233,
249
conservatism of, 309
Goldwater and, 255, 257
Kemp-Roth Bill and, 256, 257,
258
1980 campaign of, 235-62
oratorical skills of, 313
personality of, 309
popularity of, 310
Republicanism of, 255
Reagan administration, 34, 263306
budgets of, 267-94, 354-55
confidence in, 263
Council of Economic Advisers
in, 273, 274, 298
defense budget of, 265, 267, 273,
274, 293,308,315
deficit spending by, 273-75, 279,
286, 292-94, 307
deregulation and, 265, 309,406
economic mandate of, 19-20,
308-9
economic program in election of,
20, 255-61
fiscal policy of, 290-91, 292, 402
gold standard and, 298, 299,
302,311
inflation and, 390-92, 399—
400
Keynesian economics and, 278
long-run outlook of, 264
monetary policy and, 294-306
neo-conservatism in, 17
Roosevelt administration vs., 1920,312
social conservatism of, 17
social security system and, 274,
283-84
state and local governments and,

446

Reagan administration (cont.)
281,284
tax program of, 21, 33, 136, 236,
268-70, 271-72, 274-75,
276-77, 278, 279, 289, 293,
308,310,312,355-56
recession:
deficit spending and, 288
in 1937, 54, 62, 73
in 1949, 86
in 1953-54, 86
in 1958, 86
in 1960, 86, 102, 135, 138, 139
in 1970,157
in 1973-1975, 16, 209, 221
in 1980, 298
in 1981-1982,21,24,366, 378,
383, 388-89
Reconstruction Finance Corpora­
tion (RFC), 33
regional development programs,
104
regulation, economic, 85, 93
of agriculture, 60, 61
competitiveness, 408
conservative opposition to, 84
cost-benefit analysis of, 226
Cost of Living Council and, 180,
181-82, 191-92
Council of Economic Advisers
and, 144
of energy costs, 190-93
evaluation of, 401
international, 408-9
Keynesians and, 72
of labor, 60-61
during New Deal, 59-62
small business protected by, 60
see also deregulation; price con­
trols; wage controls
Reich, Robert, 406-7
Republican National Committee,
237
supply-side economics and, 246
Republican party:
expenditure cuts and, 253-54
Great Depression and, 30
inflation as economic issue of,
134



Index

revenue sharing and, 198
tax cuts and, 237-40
revenue sharing, 198-99
right-to-work laws, 85
Road to Serfdom, The (Hayek), 66
Robinson-Patman Act (1936), 60
robotic budgeting, 407-8
Rockefeller, Nelson A., 136
Romney, George, 136
Roosevelt, Franklin D., 261
Hundred Days of, 264
LBJ and, 114
personality of, 62, 63
Roosevelt administration, 15, 23,
24,33-63
deficit spending in, 35
fiscal policy in, 39
planning in, 25, 36-37, 318
public works projects of, 37-38,
57
Reagan administration vs., 1920,312
Supreme Court and, 61-62
tax programs of, 53, 55
see also New Deal
Roth, William, 246
Rush, Kenneth, 212
Russell, Bertrand, 49
Samuelson, Paul, 78, 95
savings, private:
appropriate level of, 352-53
government deficit and, 350-51
Keynesian economics and, 351
1977-1987, 379,383
private investment and, 350, 351,
394
tax programs and, 244, 245
Say, Jean Baptiste, 40
Say’s Law, 40-42
Schultze, Charles, 407
Schumpeter, Joseph A., 95
Schwartz, Anna Jacobson, 82
Sears, John, 256, 258
Securities and Exchange Commis­
sion (SEC), 84
Senate Finance Committee, 259,
268
Sherman Act (1890), 59

Index

Shultz, George, 139, 143, 145-47,
151, 158, 159, 163, 172, 182,
192-93,212, 213,258
silent majority, 135
Simon, William, 192,211,212
Simons, Henry, 18, 56, 85
Smith, Howard K., 173
Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act (1930),
31
social program spending, 22, 25
growth of, 116, 197-98
inflation and, 115
social security system, 53, 54-55,
117, 254, 362
conservatives and, 85
federal debt limit and, 188
growth of, 197
labor’s opposition to, 57-58
Reagan administration and, 274,
283-84
tax increases for, 203-4, 277
“Some Reflections on Syndicalism”
(Simons), 85
Soviet bloc, 411
Soviet Union:
Afghanistan invaded by, 16
crop failures in, 181, 185
economic growth rate of, 91
Kennedy defense budget and,
104
space program, 100
standard of living, 24, 240
deficit spending and, 289
shortages as threat to, 210
trade-offs in, 91-92
state and local governments:
Reagan administration and, 281,
284
revenue sharing with, 198-99
steel industry:
decline in, 317, 365
Kennedy administration vs., 105
Nixon administration vs., 160
Stevenson, Adlai, 95
Stockman, David, 264, 267-68,
272, 273
Strachey, Lytton, 49
Strauss, Robert, 399
subsidy programs, 73,363,372



447
see also transfer programs
supply-side economics, 15,36, 108,
240-49
application of, 242-43
expenditure reductions and,
281-82,284-85
Ford administration and, 213
gold standard and, 300-302
inflation and, 251, 328-29, 330
poverty and, 281, 285
private investment and, 289-90
private savings and, 351
public policy and, 241
punk supply-sidism, 402-4
success of, 277-78, 285
tax-rate reduction and, 108-10,
241, 243-44, 246-48, 252,
289-90
unemployment and, 251-52, 390
welfare programs and, 252, 253,
281-82,390
Supreme Court, U.S.:
appointments to, 62
New Deal and, 61-62
Switzerland, inflation in, 329

Taft, William Howard, 29
Taft-Hartley Act (1947), 85
tariffs, protective, 59, 196, 363
tax-based incomes policy (TIP),
370
“Taxes and the Budget: A Pro­
gram for Stability in a Free
Society” (CED), 79-80
tax programs, 25
of Coolidge, 29
deductions in, 359-60
of Eisenhower, 237, 256
of FDR, 53, 55
flat, 359
of Ford, 214
Great Depression and, 31, 33
growth and, 228-29
high marginal rates in, 25
of Hoover, 33, 55, 289
ofJohnson, 112-13
Kemp-Roth, 246, 249
of Kennedy, 102-3, 105-8, 10912,392

448

tax programs (cont.)
Keynesian, 260, 348
during Korean War, 68
Laffer curve and, 246-48
middle class and, 358, 361-63
of Nixon, 136-37, 169,178,
197,198,200-204, 256
poverty and, 94
of Reagan, 21, 33, 136, 236,
268-70, 271-72, 274-75,
276-77, 278,279,289,293,
308,310,312, 355-56
recession and, 388, 392-93
Republican, 237-40
savings and, 244, 245
supply-side economics and, 108—
10, 241,243-44,246-48,
252,289-90
transfer programs and, 53-54,
55,
58-59
of Truman, 237, 238, 260
value-added tax in, 360-61
after World War 11,70
during World War II, 68
tax transfer programs, see transfer
programs
television, influence of, 100
Thatcher, Margaret, 232
Thatcherism, 232-33, 235
Time, 113, 167
TIP (tax-based incomes policy),
370
Tobin, James, 95
Tokyo Round, 196
trade deficits:
Council of Economic Advisers
approach to, 144
of 1960s, 101-2
1977-1987, 379,395
Treasury Department and, 163—
164
transfer programs:
conservative opposition to, 57-58
of New Deal, 53-59
Reagan administration and, 281,
385
reformers’ support for, 73
tax programs and, 53-54,55,
58-59



Index

War on Poverty and, 117
after World War II, 73
transportation, deregulation of, 196
Treasury bills, 382
Treasury Department, 68, 198
monetarists in, 298, 303
trade deficits and, 163-64
Truman, Harry S., 255
Truman administration, 23
balanced budget and, 80
Supreme Court appointments
during, 62
tax program of, 237, 238,260
Ture, Norman, 245
Twentieth Century Fund, 74—
75
undistributed profits tax of 1937,
55
unemployment:
acceptable levels of, 77, 83, 103,
217,221,393
business cycles and, 42
Carter administration vs., 216-18
CED approach to, 79-80
deficit spending and, 51, 76, 78
289
demand and, 24, 39, 53, 101
demand-deficiency theory of,
39-40
of disadvantaged youth, 61
disinflation and, 227-28, 252
during Great Depression, 30, 38,
39
high technology industries and,
319
incomes policy and, 227-28
inflation vs., 24, 76, 83, 96-97,
140-41,223,225,235,236,
250-53,297,331,333
in Johnson administration, 122
Keynesian asumptions on, 50
liberal target of, 90-91, 93
minimum wage and, 61
money supply and, 43
natural rate of, 140-43, 150-51,
331
in 1971,183
in 1975,209,212,214

Index

unemployment icont.)
in 1977, 216
1977-1987 cycle, 378-79, 388,
391
in 1981,273,274, 299
in 1982, 30, 305
in 1983, 21
Nixon administration and, 135,
140-43
optimum feasible path and,
171-72
supply-side economics and,
251-52
during World War II, 65
unemployment insurance, 53, 5556, 57, 70, 204
value-added tax (VAT), 360-61
veterans’ benefits, 69
Vietnam War:
defense budget after, 115
financing of, 112, 119, 120, 169,
197
fiscal dividends after, 137, 198,
201,205
Great Society vs., 119, 134
inflation and, 112, 113, 143, 170
Viner, Jacob, 51
Volcker, Paul, 229, 230, 307, 390,
392, 404
Volpe, John A., 152-53
wage controls, 25, 367-70
conservative support for, 18
Council of Economic Advisers
vs., 144, 159-60
labor unions and, 182, 185
Nixon administration and, 24,
133, 157,161-62,166-67,
176-87, 210,236,250,367,
369
voluntary, 104-5, 181, 369-70
in World War II, 136, 163
wages:
expectations and, 225
federal minimum, 60, 61, 84
high technology industry and,
320
incomes policy and, 227-28, 230



449

Keynesian economics and, 47, 51
1977-1987, 382
Wages and Hours Act (1938), 60
Wagner Act (1935) (National
Labor Relations Act), 47, 60,
74, 84-85
Walker, Charls, 258
Wallace, Henry A., 74
Wall Street Journal, 246, 249
Wanniski, Jude, 246
War on Poverty, 113, 115, 117, 197
fiscal dividend and, 115
middle-income beneficiaries of,
117
Washington Post, 166, 167
Way the World Works, The

(Wanniski), 246
welfare programs, 53, 56-57
Reagan administration and, 281,
282
supply-side economics and, 252,
253,281-82
see also transfer programs
West Germany, economic growth
in, 91
“Why I Am Not a Conservative”
(Hayek), 18
Will, George F., 356
Wilson, Woodrow, 28
Wilson administration, economic
regulation during, 59
WIN buttons, 214
withholding taxes, 69,70
Wolfe, Tom, 95
Woolf, Leonard, 49
Woolf, Virginia, 49
work ethic, 49
Works Progress Administration
(WPA), 38, 57
labor union opposition to, 57
World War I:
financing of, 68
inflation during, 209
World War II:
Federal Reserve Board during,
82
financing of, 67-69
income tax rates during, 68
inflation and, 120

450

World War II (cont.)
planning during, 66
U.S. economy during, 65-66
wage and price controls during,
66, 136, 163
WPA, see Works Progress Admin­
istration
Wriston, Walter, 258
yen, exchange rate of, 164, 165




Index

AB O U T TH E AUTH OR

Herbert Stein earned his B .A . from Williams College and his
Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He writes frequently
for The Wall Street Journal and Fortune magazine. He is
editor o f The A EI Economist, Senior Fellow of the American
Enterprise Institute, A . Willis Robertson Professor of Eco­
nomics Emeritus at the University of Virginia, and former
Chairman o f the President’s Council of Economic Advisers
(
- ).

1972 74