Both Republicans and Democrats at the national level have put us down a path of slow growth, massive deficits, and high inflation. With a new Republican majority in the U.S. House and the daunting debt ceiling fight over the bloated $31.4 trillion national debt almost exclusively due to excessive spending, there’s a proven pro-growth, pro-liberty path.
In 2022, the U.S. had real GDP growth of just 0.9 percent (Q4-over-Q4), the highest inflation in 40 years, the highest mortgage rates in 20 years, and the worst stock market in 14 years. Average real weekly earnings have now declined year-over-year for 22 straight months.
Fortunately, history is a good guide for how to overcome this mess. The two of us have served as chief economists at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), though 50 years apart. One of us (Arthur Laffer, originator of the “Laffer Curve”) was the first chief economist of the OMB in the Nixon White House. The other (Vance Ginn) was the last associate director for economic policy at the OMB in the Trump White House.
While much has changed since the OMB was formed in 1970, the problems are basically the same today. There remains a lot of unjustifiable government spending, prosperity-killing taxes, unwarranted regulations, excessive liquidity, and harmful interference in international trade. But just because counterproductive economic policies have been around for a long time doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try for a better world.
Each of the above areas is the subject of intense debate. In politics, these debates have their short-term winners and losers as judged by elections. But the principles of economics aren’t determined by votes. The remedy for economic malaise has been and is less government, not more. Free-market, pro-growth policies are the cure.
The legacy of the 1970s is now called the era of stagflation, and the 2020s are shaping up to be known for the same, or worse. Even with 50 years of experience, many people still haven’t learned a lesson.
During the Nixon and Ford administrations, the economy was stifled at every turn. The dollar was taken off gold and devalued, resulting in higher inflation. Then there was the imposition of wage and price controls, which did nothing to stop inflation but instead ravaged the economy. Government spending was out of control. Taxes were raised, and tariffs imposed, including a 10 percent import tax surcharge; such was the wisdom of the D.C. crowd.
The consequences were rising inflation, stock market collapse, impeachment, and a weak economy. Then, President Jimmy Carter tried to do more of the same with the same consequences.
There followed a true renaissance, led by President Ronald Reagan’s tax and regulatory cuts and Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker’s sound monetary policy. Inflation crashed, the stock market soared, new jobs surged, and Reagan won re-election in a landslide, winning 49 states.
And then there was the sad interlude of George H.W. Bush, who broke his promise by raising taxes, leading to a one-term presidency.
President Bill Clinton, partnering as he did with House Speaker Newt Gingrich, cut government spending by 3 percentage points of GDP, cut capital gains tax rates while exempting owner-occupied homes from this tax altogether, and finally, he and the Republicans pushed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) through Congress. On the bad side, he raised the top two tax rates. But the spending restraint contributed to a budget surplus for four straight years.
President George W. Bush, with a penchant for spending more and for temporary tax cuts, was followed by President Barack Obama, with a desire on steroids to spend even more, plus he nationalized health care. Stagnation took hold, and prosperity faded.
In his first two years, President Trump reversed some of the prior 16 years of bad policy with substantial tax cuts, historic deregulation, and other measures that helped get government out of the way, contributing to the lowest poverty rate and the highest real median household income on record. But with the onset of the pandemic, prosperity was cut short by the ill-advised massive spending increases and lockdowns.
Today, we’re once again mired in a sea of bad policies and bad consequences despite President Joe Biden’s self-serving narrative. With tax hikes, massive spending, oppressive energy regulations, soaring debt levels, trade protectionism, and a bloated Fed balance sheet, stagflation was given a brand-new lease on life.
We should follow the proven, pro-growth path (not currently taken) of sound money, minimal regulations, free trade, flat taxes, and most of all, spending restraint for the sake of the economy and human flourishing. It’s also great politics. With this elixir in hand, it would be springtime again in America. And that is something Americans can believe in.