This should be the central argument and theme for this fall’s elections.
We know, based on economic experience, theory, and logic, how to create another economic boom that will last 25 years, or a generation into the future. We achieved that in America from the end of 1982 to the end of 2007, with only two, short, shallow recessions that barely interrupted sustained, robust, economic growth. But that was not the only instance of success. Several times in the last 100 years, whenever the nation’s economic policies adhered to the timeless principles of economic growth and prosperity, our economy has boomed. When it has departed from those policies, it has fallen into stagnation, or worse.
Moreover, as we will discuss next week, such booming economic growth is much more beneficial for working people and the poor than counterproductive, socialist redistribution to achieve equality of results. A booming market economy produces a much higher standard of living for working people and the poor. This is especially so when policies are structured to channel the flows of booming economic growth through working people and the poor, as we will explain. Economic experience, theory, and logic shows that outdated, throwback, socialist redistribution, by contrast, inevitably leads to lower standards of living, stagnation and decline.
America today once again desperately needs to return to the timeless principles of economic growth, to restore our traditional, world leading prosperity, and the American Dream. This should be the central argument and theme for this fall’s elections.
A Hundred Years of Supply-Side Economics
Last year, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute produced a brilliant, overlooked book that recounted the history of supply-side economics — Econoclasts: The Rebels Who Sparked the Supply-Side Revolution and Restored American Prosperity, by Brian Domitrovic. As explained in that book, the roots of supply-side economics go back to 1913, when the national income tax and the Fed were first adopted. “For restraining the institutions created that year — the income tax and the Federal Reserve — is the essence of supply-side thinking,” Domitrovic writes.
It didn’t take long for trouble to brew. The top tax rate of 7% soared to 77% by 1918. Moreover, the income tax, sold as a tax on the rich, began to apply at just $1,000 in income (equivalent to about $20,000 today). In addition, during World War I, the Fed essentially doubled the money supply relative to the economy. Inflation consequently soared by 84% over the 4 years from 1916 to 1919. The Fed then slammed on the brakes, draining 60% of the excess money, and throwing the economy into steep recession as a result. Unemployment soared to 12%, 50% higher than in any previous recession.
Warren Harding, newly elected President in 1920, appointed the enormously successful Pittsburgh banker Andrew Mellon Secretary of the Treasury, with the duty of fixing the economy. Mellon adopted what became the supply-side economic formula. He slashed the top income tax rate to 25%, and the bottom rate from 8% to 1%, increasing the income level to which it first applied by 50%. Moreover, Mellon led the Fed to stop the money supply drain, return interest rates to standard levels, and devote itself to stable prices. The Fed would look to market price levels, particularly commodities, including gold, for its guide.
The result was the Roaring '20s, the greatest boom in American history to that point, essentially beginning the modern American economy. Real output galloped, stock prices tripled, real wages advanced with productivity increases, and prices were stable. “It was in the twenties that Americans bought their first car, their first radio, made their first long distance telephone call, took their first vacation,” as Domitrovic quotes Richard Vedder and Lowell Galloway.
Domitrovic explains, “The essence of supply-side economics lies in using the two levers of governmental economic leverage for the specific uses at which they are most adept. Monetary policy is capable of maintaining the price level. Tax policy is capable of spurring growth. The ‘policy mix’ of stable money plus tax cuts is the secret to escaping stagflation.”
Tax policy spurs growth by reducing tax rates, as Mellon did. The lower rates spur incentives for productive activity, like savings, investment, work, business creation and expansion, and job creation, by allowing the productive to keep a higher proportion of what they produce. These incentives, moreover, apply to every economic decision with every dollar in the economy, at home and around the world in regard to the American economy, not just to the amount of any tax cut. Supposed tax cuts involving credits or rebates are just giveaways like welfare and other government spending, without the powerful incentive effects of rate cuts.
Monetary policy controls the price level because inflation is too many dollars chasing too few goods, everywhere and always caused by printing up too much money in relation to the demand for money. The one and only solution to inflation is to restrain money supply growth to equal money demand. Maintaining stable prices means also avoiding deflation by maintaining money growth to keep pace with money demand. The Fed should follow this policy by monitoring market prices, particularly the most sensitive prices such as commodities, including gold.
Monetary policy cannot be used to stimulate the economy because in the long run it just washes out in affecting only the overall price level, and not the level of real output. In the short run, trying to control the economy by monetary policy just adds to instability, sometimes grievously, causing booms and busts, bubbles and crashes. Keynesian economics is even more inept, because economic prosperity is not caused by increasing government spending and deficits, which are at best a wash, and more likely a drag, as the private sector would use the resources more productively and efficiently than central-planning government bureaucracies lacking market incentives for guidance.
These are the timeless principles of economic growth and prosperity.
Going Off the Rails: The Depression Keynesian Blunder
The Depression arose and worsened as America departed from these pro-growth policies. Instead of maintaining stable prices, the Fed allowed the money supply to decline precipitously, even while dollar demand was soaring as the world sought a stable store of value. This created ruinous deflation. Mellon’s tax rate policies were also ruinously reversed, with the top income tax rate raised first to 63%, and then to 79%, with the lower tax rates raised even more in percentage terms. The Smoot-Hawley tariff added another tax burden that killed international trade. President Roosevelt tried to restore prosperity with soaring Keynesian government spending and deficits, which failed miserably as the Depression dragged on for over 10 years. By 1933, unemployment was at 25%, and GDP was down 57% nominally, 22% in real terms.
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