Monday, February 15, 2010

Similar to 1981? 

Minnesota Majority, a conservative advocacy group, has made a nice video of Ronald Reagan from his first inaugural address (text here.) Here's the video they made:

I like this passage. But what I found in MM's description was this:
When Ronald Reagan took office on January 20, 1981, our nation was facing a terrible economic crisis, similar to what we are experiencing today. This video contains excerpts of Reagan's first inaugural address. His prescription to solve the economic crisis was vastly different than the policies being pursued by the Obama administration.
Emphasis mine. But the speech describes a far different world than the one Obama is in. Reagan said:
These United States are confronted with an economic affliction of great proportions. We suffer from the longest and one of the worst sustained inflations in our national history. It distorts our economic decisions, penalizes thrift, and crushes the struggling young and the fixed-income elderly alike. It threatens to shatter the lives of millions of our people. Idle industries have cast workers into unemployment, human misery and personal indignity.

Those who do work are denied a fair return for their labor by a tax system which penalizes successful achievement and keeps us from maintaining full productivity. But great as our tax burden is, it has not kept pace with public spending. For decades we have piled deficit upon deficit, mortgaging our future and our children�s future for the temporary convenience of the present. To continue this long trend is to guarantee tremendous social, cultural, political, and economic upheavals.

You and I, as individuals, can, by borrowing, live beyond our means, but for only a limited period of time. Why then should we think that collectively, as a nation, we are not bound by that same limitation?
Who among us would think that story is similar to today? Inflation has not been an issue this past decade -- if anything, we faced deflationary pressures in the recession and may yet face more. Tax rates in 1980, particularly on high-income earners, were much higher than they are now -- in fact, twice as high at the top end. Productivity growth was substantially higher in the late 1980s and 1990s than in the 1970s, and so far has accelerated through this recession.

I certainly have said enough to readers to understand that I think Obama fiscal policy has made several missteps. But a simple hearkening to the days of the Gipper is a poor substitute to thinking through new policies.

This isn't new. We have people constantly holding up conservatives against the Reagan yardstick and finding out nobody measures up. The recent kicking of Paul Ryan is but one example. But none of them would know what Reagan would have said about this current situation or how he would have voted. Rep. Ryan has explained his votes; you can draw your own conclusions, but suffice to say purity is a rare thing.

As are parallels between 1981 and 2008-09.

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Friday, August 07, 2009

Thought of the day 

Commenting on a Newsweek story that says Britain is no longer Great, MEP Daniel Hannan writes:
I don�t deny that he�s got a point, particularly about the debt levels. This Labour Government, like the last, has left Britain diminished and dishonoured, its Treasury empty, its credit exhausted. Then again, see how quickly these things can be turned around.
Americans were saying much the same thing about Britain three decades ago. �Britain is a tragedy - it has sunk to borrowing, begging, stealing until North Sea oil comes in,� said Henry Kissinger in 1978. The Wall Street Journal was blunter: �Goodbye, Great Britain: it was nice knowing you�.
But look what happened next. This happened. It is one of our national tragedies that we tend to leave things until almost too late. But, when we rouse ourselves, we are capable of extraordinary resolve.
The timing is a bit off for us, as Britain will rid itself of its Labour Government sooner than we can. But 18 months passed between Thatcher and Reagan. I find myself both keenly interested in what is happening in Great Britain, and optimistic that the US has the same extraordinary resolve Mr. Hannan sees in the British.

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Why DID Carter lose? 

I came up for air long enough to scan a transcript of the Bradley Symposium, "Making Conservatism Credible Again." (h/t: Arnold Kling.) It turns out to have much more to do with making the GOP credible again rather than conservatism. Art Brooks (president of the American Enterprise Institute) puts the question to the panel "How do we make conservatism accessible?" and the answer comes back that the Republican Party is the vehicle that does that.

What was most striking to me was the quote Kling stuck in his post, from Rich Lowry:
despite all of his incredible political skills, [Ronald Reagan] wouldn't have won election if it weren't for inflation, if it weren't for gas lines, if it weren't for the reigning hostage crisis, if it weren't for Afghanistan, if it weren't for the entire litany of Carter administration failures. And when you are as far as Republicans were in the late 1970s, and as far down as they are today, you need the other side to fumble, and for its vision to be discredited. And at the moment, Barack Obama has the ball, and he is going to have the ball until he commits some sort of turnover.
I was a first-year grad student in the spring of 1980, and I had to go back and check, but Carter was down to Reagan by the end of the primaries by a fair amount, and this had to do primarily with his handling of the economy. Reagan slid in the summer and early fall. He hadn't done a very good job in the early campaign. The hostage crisis had not even moved to the stage of the abortive rescue attempt. Reagan of course won by more than most people expected (it even lead to questions about polling -- guess they've been around for a long time!) The attacks on Reagan were the Goldwater strategy (without Daisy) and the snobbish appeal that he was an actor, a lightweight.

Michael Barone a few years ago remembered what had pushed people towards Reagan:
Those of us who remember the 1980 campaign sometimes forget how dire things seemed as we entered that election year. Busch begins his narrative with an account of Jimmy Carter's July 15, 1979 "malaise" speech (which, as he notes, never included that infamous word), and quickly sketches how we'd come to that point. He reminds us that in the 1970s, Time magazine featured cover stories like "Can Capitalism Survive?" Keynesian economics, which had promised us endless low-inflation economic growth, had in fact produced high-inflation economic stagnation�"stagflation," as it came to be called.
My professors at the time (except for the fellow that taught second-semester macro, who seemed impervious to the times) offered pieces on post-Keynesianism, incomes policies, and all manner of early third-way economics. None of it, we thought, seemed to work.

There are many times in life, though, where things that don't seem to work nonetheless dazzle us, bring us some good emotions that we consume. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels says later that voting Obama was a "luxury purchase" and a "fashion statement." We live in a country that can afford a few foolish purchases (yes, even now). But frugality almost always follows frivolity because to continue in extravagance is disastrous. Carter was, as Obama is in Daniels' estimation, "the natural desire for change after a period of poor results", but the results so far are like a rebound romance. Eventually one moves on.

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