The Corner

Emending Mr. Manzi (If I May)

Jim Manzi’s critique of Fareed Zakaria’s big new thesis strikes me as judicious and entirely correct–almost. I’d offer a couple of smallish emendations:

1. “[The Reagan economic] program,” Jim writes, “was focused on two things: sound money and deregulation….” It was also focused, with considerable intensity, on a third thing: cuts in personal income tax rates. Reagan himself insisted on this. In 1983, as the recession deepened and the deficit began growing, Jim Baker, Dick Darman, David Stockman and others persuaded Reagan to raise certain taxes, in effect taking back part of his 1982 tax cuts. But on personal rates, Reagan just wouldn’t budge. (When Arthur Burns pestered him, Reagan famously replied, “Arthur, never mention a tax hike in my presence again.”)

2. “The ability of the U.S. economy to defy historical gravity for the past 25 years has not been automatic,” Jim also writes. “[I]t was earned in a set of pivotal political battles that were pretty much complete by 1984.” I’d change that from 1984 to 1986, the year of Reagan’s second major tax reform, which simplified the tax system and (again) lowered some rates. The reform was finally enacted, moreover, after a political battle so pitched that even Dick Writhlin, the president’s pollster, who ordinarily had a very high estimate of Reagan’s ability to move the public, advised Reagan to let it drop.

When I talked with Gary Becker about the Reagan years not too terribly long ago, by the way, Becker suggested that the 1986 reform may well have proven Reagan’s most important economic achievement. (I’m partial to the 1982 tax cuts myself, but since Gary holds a Nobel Prize for economics, I thought it best not to quibble.)

Peter Robinson — Peter M. Robinson is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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