Who’s to Blame for ObamaCare? Two Conservatives!

I wrote the following article for Human Events, but apparently it was too controversial and was removed after about 100 e-letters of commentary, both favorable and critical. Read here’s the original op-ed, uncensured.)

by Mark Skousen

This week the Senate grinches stole Christmas. The Obama Nation is getting Obama Care.

It’s easy to blame the sixty Democrats, as the Wall Street Journal does, for “the worse bill ever.” It solemnly declares: “These 60 Democrats are creating a future of epic increases in spending, taxes and command–and control regulation.”

True enough. But what’s the root cause of this disaster?

Sorry, friends, it’s not the Democrats, nor the American people who elected them.

The real culprits are two “conservative” Republicans who ran the show the previous eight years: George W. Bush, and his “master political strategist” Karl Rove. If it weren’t for these two fools in the White House, the Democrats wouldn’t have sixty Senators, including a professional comedian from Minnesota, to close off debate and ram down our throats a bill worse than Hillary Care.

The fact is that the Bush & Rove comedy act pushed through a litany of ruinous government policies that led to the lowest approval numbers in history:

–the undeclared and costly War in Iraq and its stepchild the unconstitutional Patriot Act.
–the monstrous No Child Left Behind Act that dramatically increased federal intervention in private education.
–the Prescription Drug Act that gave the American people another benefit-corrupted entitlement and unfunded liability.
–large and growing deficits and national debt (according to the Cato Institute, George W. Bush was the biggest spender since LBJ: http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/2009/12/19/george-w-bush-biggest-spender-since-lbj/)
–the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, largely due to their failure to reform government-sponsored agencies Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

The supply-side tax cuts were probably the only major piece of economic legislation that Bush/Rove deserve credit for, but even then, they blundered in not making the tax cuts permanent. So now even if the Republicans take back Capitol Hill in the 2010 elections, all President Obama has to do is veto an extension of the Bush tax cuts, a voila, taxes will increase automatically.

In short, we are paying a heavy price for the “compassionate conservativism” of Bush/Rove.

Once Obama Care becomes law, like Medicare and other “Great Society” programs, it will never end. We will be stuck with national health care for the rest of our lives.

And how are Bush and Rove rewarded? Fortunately, we aren’t seeing much of George Bush, who is quietly in retirement in Texas.

The tragedy is Karl Rove, who has been rewarded by conservatives. He’s treated like a triumphant general on Fox News almost every night, and was signed on as a regular columnist in the prestigious Wall Street Journal.

Shame.

In liberty, AEIOU,
Mark Skousen

From Poverty to Riches: Is There a Magic Elixir?

From The President’s Desk
Published in Ideas on Liberty
July 2002

by Mark Skousen

“The problem of making poor countries rich was much more difficult than we thought.”

—William Easterly, World Bank1

“If there is one formula for our success, it was that we were constantly studying how to make things work, or how to make them work better.”

—Lee Kuan Yew, former Prime Minister, Singapore2

William Easterly has spent his entire adult life working for the World Bank, living in the Third World, and helping poor countries develop into rich countries. You would think he would severely lecture the World Bank and his fellow economists about the dumb policies governments have pursued.

Instead, Easterly throws his hands in the air and offers no clues to the “elusive” quest for growth. He confirms a few economic truths, such as “incentives matter” and “government can kill growth,” but ultimately he thinks luck has as much to do with it as anything. “There are no magic elixirs,” he sighs. The almighty empirical evidence solemnly declares it. Foreign aid doesn’t work. Foreign investment doesn’t work. High savings don’t work. Investment in machinery doesn’t work. Education doesn’t work. Technology doesn’t work. Tax cuts don’t work. All have failed to live up to expectations. It’s time for the economist to be humbled: “It’s very, very hard to predict success in sports, music, and politics—as well as in economics.”3

Over the years I have witnessed a split in the economics profession. Some adhere to the view that we live in an Age of Ignorance; that we know very little about how the world economy really operates and what government policies should be pursued. They are in large measure armchair critics and doubting Thomases.4 Others believe we live in an Age of Enlightenment; that despite maddening uncertainties about the marketplace, we do know with some assurance how a freely competitive market economy works and we have learned a great deal about what governments should and should not do. It is sad commentary to see that despite his honesty, Easterly, a seasoned veteran in the war on world poverty, tends to fall into the former category. He certainly lost an opportunity to clear the air and reveal the root causes and cures of poverty.

Singapore’s Economic Miracle

Perhaps one reason Easterly’s story ends in tragedy is that he apparently spent too much time in failed economies and not enough time in successful ones. I notice that his book says almost nothing about Chile, the economic model of Latin America, or the Four Tigers—Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore.

Contrast Easterly’s confused story with Lee Kuan Yew’s autobiographical account of Singapore. Lee became president of the tiny, poverty-stricken British colony after it was granted independence in 1965. In one generation, he oversaw its transformation into an Asian giant with the world’s number-one airline, best airport, busiest port of trade, and the world’s fourth-largest per capita real income.

How did this economic miracle happen?

First, Lee offered real leadership. He was a seminal figure in Asia who accomplished extraordinary things. He built an army from scratch, won over the unions, and destroyed the communists after the British left a vacuum. Despite strong opposition, he insisted on making English one of four official spoken languages, knowing it was fast becoming the language of international business. Singapore, like other Southeast Asian countries, was known for its nepotism, favoritism, and covert corruption; Lee cleaned up the courts, police, and immigration and customs offices. Today Singapore is ranked as the least corrupt country in Asia. Singapore was also dirty, so Lee began a “clean and green” campaign. Rivers, canals, and drains were cleaned up and millions of trees, palms, and shrubs were planted.

The Lee government tore down dilapidated shacks and replaced them with high-rise apartments. He imposed law and order by demanding severe sentences for murder and other crimes. Today Singapore ranks no. 1 in the world for security. To reduce traffic congestion, a huge problem in Asian cities, Singapore built an underground subway system, and imposed an electronic road-pricing program. Every vehicle has a “smart card” on its windshield, and the toll amount varies with the road used and the time of day. During rush hour, the price goes up. “Since the amount people pay now depends upon how much they use the roads, the optimum number of cars can be owned with the minimum of congestion.”5 A sound economic principle!

Lee rejected Soviet-style central planning and domestic heavy industry, although he did target certain industries for development. He focused on a two-pronged plan to advance Singapore: First, his government encouraged domestic industry to leap over their neighbors and link up with the developed world of America, Europe, and Japan, and tried to attract their manufacturers to produce in Singapore. Second, Lee wished to create a First World oasis in the Third World by establishing top standards in security, health, education, communications, and transportation, and a government offering a stable currency, low taxes, and free trade. Singapore would become a “base camp” for multinational corporations from around the world. And, after years of effort, it worked.

Under Lee’s brilliant leadership, Singapore has advanced far beyond anyone’s dreams. Yet we cannot ignore his mistakes—his paternalistic strong-arm tactics, his interventionist targeting of industries, his forced saving programs, his denial of a free press, and his excessive punishments for certain crimes. It will be interesting to see how Singapore performs, both as a people and economy, after Lee Kuan Yew is gone. We can only hope that economic freedom will lead to political liberty.

1. William Easterly, The Elusive Quest for Growth (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001), p. 291.
2. Lee Kuan Yew, From Third World to First: The Singapore Story, 1965–2000 (New York: Harper Collins, 2000), p. 687.
3. Easterly, p. 208. Despite Easterly’s failure to come to any clear conclusions, his book offers an honest and often entertaining appraisal of development literature.
4. See my columns, “Is This the Age of Ignorance—or Enlightenment?,” June 1994; “European Unemployment: The Age of Ignorance, Part II,” January 1995; and “The Age of Confusion,” August 1995.
5. Lee, p. 206.

Mark Skousen is president of FEE.

This Icon of Capitalism Had the Answers

October 2001
PERSONAL SNAPSHOTS
Forecasts & Strategies

by Mark Skousen

“The business career is a stern school of all the virtues. The business man pursues fortune.”— Andrew Carnegie

After moving to New York last month to become the president of the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE), I took the opportunity to pay my respects to an icon of capitalism, Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919). His body is buried only a few miles up from FEE headquarters in Sleepy Hollow cemetery. In three ways, Carnegie reflects the spirit of FEE — was a fierce defender of free-enterprise capitalism, he gave generously to good causes, and he worked hard for the cause of world peace and democracy.

“CAPITALISM IS MORE NOBLE THAN COMMUNISM “

As a joint creator (along with J.P. Morgan) of U.S. Steel, the first billion-dollar corporation in the world, Carnegie was a successful entrepreneur who benefited humanity by offering cheaper and better steel with which to build a modern world. He rejected the “robber baron “title. Capitalism was not a device to enrich the rich at the expense of the poor, as the Marxists contend; “Capitalism,” he said, “is about turning luxuries into necessities.” He started out as a poor Scotch immigrant, a classic Horatio Alger. He liked to be different; his favorite advice to young men was, “Attract attention.”

For him, there were other values in the world than just those of the business culture: He loved books and became friends with intellectuals, writers and statesmen such as Herbert Spencer, Mark Twain and William Gladstone. He was intensely competitive, even glorying in beating his friends in golf. In business, he drove down the cost of steel, even as he improved the quality. “Cheaper and better ” became the American way. “Watch the costs, and the profits will take care of themselves,” he explained in his book, The Gospel of Wealth, first published in 1900. He made no apologies for his ruthless competitive spirit, which he justified as a Darwinian form of “survival of the fittest “and as a fulfillment of Jesus ’s parable of the talents. Like an old-fashioned Hank Reardon in Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged, Carnegie wasn’t merely an apologist for anarchic individualism; he was its celebrant. Carnegie objected strenuously to the “progressives “who favored socialism and communism over individualism. He said communism had been tried, and failed.

“The Man Who Dies Rich Dies Disgraced.”

Following his retirement in 1901,the Man of Steel did not live it up with ostentatious mansions, limousines and hundred-dollar cigars, which Thorstein Velben labeled “conspicuous consumption “of the idle rich. Like The Millionaire Next Door, Carnegie spoke of the millionaire’s duty to live a “modest” lifestyle, shunning extravagant living and administering his wealth for the benefit of the community. To do otherwise, he warned, would encourage an age of envy and invite socialistic legislation attacking the rich through progressive taxation and other onerous anti-business regulations.

Carnegie practiced what he preached, giving away over $350 million in his lifetime. One of his first acts after U.S. Steel went public was to put $5 million into a pension and benefit plan for his workers. He was careful in his philanthropy, avoiding at all costs “indiscriminate charity.” He disdained the conventional practice of accumulating wealth solely to be bequeathed to heirs, which he regarded as “sterile” and even “perverse” if it resulted in profligate living. Instead, he spent millions building 2,811 public libraries, donating 7,689 organs to churches, and establishing Carnegie Hall in New York and the Carnegie Institution in Washington. He financed technical training at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and established a pension fund for teachers through the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. I cannot help but think that were he alive today, he would be a major donor to FEE!

“Democracy Means That Privilege Shall Cease.”

Finally, Carnegie devoted the rest of his life to promoting world peace and democracy. He was convinced that the United States surpassed Europe economically in part because Europe was constantly embroiled in wars with its neighbors while the United States largely avoided such conflicts.(If the U.S. must maintain a high defense budget to eradicate terrorism, it could severely retard economic growth.) He was a passionate believer in democracy, universal suffrage and equality of opportunity through free public education. But he opposed equality of property or ability, and argued that all citizens had the right to choose their own occupation and had the right to earn income in any amount and spend it as they wished. He expressed distaste for royalty, aristocracy and any form of state religion.

The Spirit of Andrew Carnegie Lives at FEE

Today I am happy to report that the world has a goodly share of modern-day Andrew Carnegies. As the new president of FEE,I have had the pleasure of becoming aware of these unique men and women of the business world who have not only added value to the global economy through their entrepreneurial efforts, but have sacrificed time and money to promote FEE and its mission. For example, last week Larry Reed, president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and a FEE trustee, told me about a FEE donor who spent half his life sponsoring FEE seminars on free-market economics in his hometown, often a considerable personal sacrifice of time and financial resources. Another individual, upon hearing that a FEE student seminar might need to be canceled due to a lack of attendees, stepped up and arranged for several dozen students to attend. The seminar turned out to be a great success. Hundreds of other FEE supporters have arranged conferences, raised funds and distributed copies of our flagship publication, Ideas on Liberty, to their friends and acquaintances. And with your help we are planning many new programs to spread of the gospel of FEE and to “attract attention,” as Andrew Carnegie would advise.

How to Help FEE

I am developing some new ways to help FEE teach Americans and the rest of the world the simple but powerful principles of economics. One goal is to dramatically increase the circulation of Ideas on Liberty. If you haven ’t subscribed yet, you should —$30 for a 12 subscription to: Foundation for Economic Education, Irvington on Hudson, New York 10533, telephone 914/591-7230. We are also spending money to create a top-notch interactive website at www.fee.org. We are planning special seminars on “Fast Track Executive Economics Courses “at various investment conferences (Money Shows, New Orleans, Atlanta, etc) to explain the basics of the roller-coaster global economy. Plus we’re expanding our student and business seminars to teach future generations the benefits of the free market. If you give $100, you become a “Friend of FEE “and will receive many benefits. I look forward to hearing from you.

Where Are the Best Schools in Austrian Economics?

Ideas On Liberty
Economics on Trial
July 2001

by Mark Skousen

“We must raise and train an army of fighters for freedom.”
—F. A. Hayek

Frequently students or parents approach me at investment or economics conferences with the question, “Can you recommend an undergraduate or graduate program in free-market economics?” With the explosive interest in a degree in economics, it’s imperative that students get a topnotch education.* In my experience, if students aren’t exposed early to the principles of Adam Smith and Ludwig von Mises, it is often difficult for them to shed the philosophies of John Maynard Keynes, Karl Marx, and other interventionsts later on.

Here in the United States most colleges and universities have a goodly number of “neoclassical” economists with a free-market bent. (There are a number of “free market” colleges and universities in Latin America, Europe, and Asia, a topic I shall pursue in a future column.) The American schools include the University of Virginia; the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA); Florida State University; and the University of Chicago. However, anyone pursuing a degree in economics from these institutions will need to be well-versed in advanced mathematics in order to understand the professional language. As New York University Professor Mario Rizzo wrote me, “Contemporary economics has become a branch of applied mathematics.”

Graduate Schools in Austrian Economics

Fortunately, there’s a growing number of schools that specialize in Austrian economics. The best-known program is located at New York University, ranked as one of the top 20 economics departments in the country. The Austrian Economics Program, under the tutelage of Israel Kirzner, David Harper, and Rizzo, has been functioning at NYU since the days of Mises. The Austrian course work attracts students from around the world.

NYU also offers a weekly Austrian Economics Colloquium and an annual summer course held at FEE. (Go to www.econ.nyu.edu/dept/austrian.) However, it should be noted that the NYU program is small, and most of the teachers there are non-Austrian.

George Mason University (in northern Virginia) is also attracting undergraduate and graduate students who want to specialize in Austrian economics, although Professor Peter Boettke, who also edits The Review of Austrian Economics, says that “what makes GMU particularly attractive are its affiliated fields of Public Choice, history of thought, and constitutional economics.” Boettke and Karen Vaughn teach the Austrian theory of the market process; Richard Wagner offers a course in institutional economics; and Walter Williams serves as chairman of the department. (Go to www.gmu.edu/departments/economics.) The Institute for Humane Studies is also located at GMU (www.theihs.org).

Another graduate Austrian program that is gaining prominence is at Walsh College of Accountancy and Business Administration in Troy, Michigan (near Detroit). Walsh College (www.walshcol.edu) specializes in business degrees—in marketing, management, finance, and economics. Under the direction of Harry Veryser, the school now offers a two-year bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in economics. The entire faculty consists of free-market economists, with a special emphasis on Austrian economics. Students are assigned books and readings by Mises, Hayek, Henry Hazlitt, Wilhelm Ropke, Paul Heyne, and me, among others. Walsh’s program is impressive.

The Expanding Austrian Universe

With the Ludwig von Mises Institute (www.mises.org) next door, Auburn University (www.auburn.edu/business/economics) has attracted a large number of students over the years. The most prominent Austrian economist on campus is Roger Garrison, author of the new advanced macro text Time and Money. Garrison teaches the main course in macroeconomics. (Leland Yeager, former Ludwig von Mises Professor of Economics at Auburn, is now retired.) Unfortunately, Auburn recently discontinued its Ph.D. program. There are a goodly number of colleges offering solid undergraduate courses. Two mainstays are Hillsdale College in Michigan and Grove City College, near Pittsburgh. Grove City College (www.gcc.edu) no longer has Hans Sennholz as chairman of the department, but Hans indicates that the school is still free-market oriented, and John Moore, the president, is an economist. Hillsdale College (www.hillsdale.edu/dept/economics) has several free-market professors, the most well-known being Richard Ebeling, who runs the annual Ludwig von Mises lecture series. Hillsdale also houses the Mises library.

I should also mention Northwood University, an associate- or full-degree business school with campuses in Midland, Michigan; West Palm Beach, Florida; and Cedar Hill, Texas. Founded by Gary Stauffer and Arthur Turner in 1958, Northwood stresses free-market and Austrian economics. (Go to www.northwood.edu.)

In California, there are two universities with an Austrian bent. Santa Clara University, under the guidance of Daniel Klein, offers the Civil Society Institute (www.scu.edu/csi), which involves a weekly colloquium, lectures series, and “coffeehouse” for libertarian ideas. Other prominent members of the faculty are Laurence Iannaccone, Henry Demmert, Fred Foldvary, and David Friedman. Charles Baird, labor economist and Ideas on Liberty columnist, is the co-chairman of the department at California State University at Hayward (www.sbe.csuhayward.edu) and director of the Smith Center for Private Enterprise Studies. According to Baird, half the tenure-track economists there are “unabashedly free-market.”

Lawrence H. White, a specialist in free banking, was recently appointed the first F A. Hayek Professor of Economic History at University of Missouri-St. Louis (www.umsl.edu/divisions/artscience/economics). According to his colleague David C. Rose, “a number of economists are either outright Austrian or are very sympathetic to the Austrian school and free market ideals.”

If you want year-round sunshine, you can always come to central Florida and take one of my courses in investments, history of thought, or Austrian economics at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida (near Orlando). (See www.rollins.edu.)

Austriae est imperare orbi universo!

*See Jon E. Hilsenrath, “In Hot Pursuit of Economics Ph.D.s—Short Supply and Big Demand Mean Young Graduates Are Courted Like Royalty,” Wall Street Journal, February 20, 2001, p. B1.

Social Security Reform: Lessons from the Private Sector

IDEAS ON LIBERTY
Economics on Trial
MARCH 2001

by Mark Skousen

“Of all social institutions, business is the only one created for the express purpose of making and managing change. Government is a poor manager.”
—Peter F. Drucker 1

In the ongoing debate over the privatization of Social Security, one story has been over-looked: The private business sector in the United States has already faced the pension-fund problem and resolved it.

Here’s what happened. After World War II, major U.S. companies added generous pension plans to their employee-benefit programs. These “defined benefit” plans largely imitated the federal government’s Social Security plan. Companies matched employees’ contributions; the money was pooled into a large investment trust fund managed by company officials; and a monthly retirement income was projected for all employees when they retired at 65.

Management guru Peter F. Drucker was one of the first visionaries to recognize the impact of this “unseen revolution,” which he called “pension fund socialism” because this Social Security look-alike was capturing a growing share of investment capital in the United States.2 Drucker estimated that by the early 1990s, 50 percent of all stocks and bonds were controlled by pension-fund administrators.

But Drucker (who doesn’t miss much) failed to foresee a new revolution in corporate pensions—the rapid shift toward individualized “denned contribution” plans, especially 401(k) plans. Corporate executives recognized serious difficulties with their traditional “defined benefit” plans, problems Social Security faces today. Corporations confronted huge unfunded liabilities as retirees lived longer and managers invested too conservatively in government bonds and blue-chip “old economy” stocks. Newer employees were also angered when they changed jobs or were laid off and didn’t have the required “vested” years to receive benefits from the company pension plan. Unlike Social Security, most corporate plans were not transferable. The Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), passed in 1974, imposed regulations on the industry in an attempt to protect pension rights, but the headaches, red tape, and lawsuits grew during an era of downsizing, job mobility, and longer life expectancies.

The New Solution: Individualized 401(k) Plans

The new corporate solution was a spin-off of another legislative invention—the Individual Retirement Account (IRA). The 401(k) rapidly became the business pension of choice, and there is no turning back. These “defined contribution” plans solve all the headaches facing traditional corporate “defined benefit” plans. Under 401(k) plans, employees, not company officials, control their own investments (by choosing among a variety of no-load mutual funds). Corporations no longer face unfunded liabilities because there is no guaranteed projected benefit. And workers and executives have complete mobility; they can move their 401(k) savings to a new employer or roll them over into an IRA.

According to recent U.S. Labor Department statistics, there are about nine times more defined-contribution plans than defined-benefit plans. Almost all of the major Fortune 500 companies have switched to defined-contribution plans or hybrid “cash-balance” plans. Companies that still operate old plans include General Motors, Procter and Gamble, Delta Airlines, and the New York Times Company. IBM, a company that once guaranteed life-time employment, switched to a “cash-balance” plan two years ago, giving its 100,000 employees individual retirement accounts they can take with them in a lump-sum if they leave the company before retirement (long-service workers are still eligible for IBM’s old defined-benefit plan). But virtually all “new economy” companies, such as Microsoft, AOL, and Home Depot, offer 40 l(k) plans only.

Why Social Security Needs Reform

Congress could learn a great deal studying the changes corporate America has made in pension-fund reform. In fact, Social Security is in a worse position than most corporate plans were. Since less than a fourth of all contributions go into the Social Security “trust fund,” the government program is more a pay- as-you-go system than a defined-benefit plan, where most of the funds go into a corporate managed trust fund. As a result, the unfunded liability, or payroll-tax shortfall, exceeds $20 trillion over the next 75 years. To pay for so many current recipients, Congress has had to raise taxes repeatedly to a burdensome 12.4 percent of wages, and payroll taxes will need to be raised another 50 percent by the year 2015 to cover the growing shortfall.3 Few corporate plans require such high contribution levels.

Moreover, the Social Security trust fund is poorly managed, so much so that experts indicate that the annual return on Social Security is 3.5 percent for single-earner couples and only 1.8 percent for two-earner couples and single taxpayers.4

Clearly, converting Social Security into personal investment accounts would be a step in the right direction, a policy change already achieved in Chile and other nations. Unfortunately, government—unlike business—is not prone to innovation. As Drucker notes, “Government can gain greater girth and more weight, but it cannot gain strength or intelligence.”

1. Peter F. Drucker, “The Sickness of Government,” in The Age of Discontinuity (New York: Harper, 1969), pp. 229, 236.
2. Peter F. Drucker, The Unseen Revolution: How Pension Fund Socialism Came to America (New York; Harper & Row, 1976). This book was reprinted with a new introduction as The Pension Fund Revolution (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction, 1996).
3. Andrew G. Biggs, “Social Security: Is It a Crisis that Doesn’t Exist?” Cato Social Security Privatization Report 21 (www.cato.org), October 5, 2000, p. 3.
4. Ibid., p. 32.

An Enemy Hath Done This

Economics on Trial – Ideas on Liberty – SEPTEMBER 2000

by Mark Skousen

“Government measures . . . give individuals an incentive to misuse and misdirect resources and distort the investment of new savings.”
– MILTON FRIEDMAN 1

Several months ago, I had the opportunity of speaking before a Miami chapter of Legatus, a group of Catholic business leaders organized originally by Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza. The topic was the outlook for the stock market, which had reached sky-high levels and by any traditional measurement appeared extremely overvalued. Even many experienced Wall Street analysts recognized that a bear-market correction or crash was inevitable and necessary. As the old Wall Street saying goes, “Trees don’t grow to the sky.” Indeed, in the spring the stock market took a well-deserved tumble. What is the cause of this boom-bust cycle in the stock market? Does capitalism inherently create unsustainable growth? Is the bull market on Wall Street real or a bubble?

The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares

To answer these questions, I applied Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30) to today’s financial situation.

Jesus tells the story of a wheat farmer whose crop comes under attack by an unknown assailant. In the middle of the night this enemy sows tares (weeds) in his wheat fields. Soon the farmer’s servants discover that the farmer’s crop appears to be twice the normal size. Yet the master realizes that half the crop is fake-weeds instead of wheat. But he warns his servants not to tear out the weeds for fear of uprooting the good shoots; they must wait and let the wheat and the tares grow up together until harvest time. Months later, the wheat produces good grain, while the tares are merely weeds and provide no fruit. The servants pull out the weeds and burn them, and store the grain in the barn.

The parable is imminently applicable to the recent wild ride on Wall Street. In today’s robust global economy, the wheat represents genuine prosperity-the new products, technologies, and productivity generated by capitalists and entrepreneurs. It represents real economic growth and when harvested, reflects a true higher standard of living for everyone. Under such conditions, stock prices are likely to rise.

On the other hand, the tares represent artificial prosperity that bears no fruit in the end and must be burned at harvest time. Where does this artificial growth come from? The central bank’s “easy money” policies! The Fed artificially lowers interest rates and creates new money out of thin air (through openmarket operations). This new money, like regular savings, is invested in the economy and stimulates more growth and higher stock prices-higher than sustainable over the long run.

Who is the enemy who sows artificial prosperity? Alan Greenspan! (Or, to be more accurate, central bankers.) The money supply-which is controlled by the Fed-has been growing by leaps and bounds, especially since the 1997 Asian crisis.

But there is no free lunch, as sound economists have warned repeatedly. At some point, the harvest time comes and the wheat must be separated from the tares. This is the crisis stage, where the boom turns into the bust. Harvest time in wheat is fairly easy to predict, but not so in the economy. Clearly economic conditions are heating up, as measured by asset inflation, real estate prices, the art mar ket, and recently the Consumer Price Index. At some point, a “burning” of excessive asset values in the financial markets must occur. As Ludwig von Mises stated long ago, “if a brake is thus put on the boom, it will quickly be seen that the false impression of `profitability’ created by the credit expansion has led to unjustified investments..”2

Lesson: Globalization and supply-side freemarket policies have justified genuine economic growth and higher stock prices over the past two decades, but “easy money” policies have at the same time created an artificial boom and “irrational exuberance” on Wall Street. Ignore this lesson at your own peril. Remember the parable of the wheat and the tares!

1. Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (University of Chicago, 1962), p. 38.
2. Ludwig von Mises, “The `Austrian’ Theory of the Trade Cycle,” in The Austrian Theory of the Trade Cycle and Other Essays, compiled by Richard M. Ebeling (Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 1996), p. 30.

A Much-Deserved Triumph in Supply-Side Economics

Economics on Trial
IDEAS ON LIBERTY
February 2000

by Mark Skousen

“After occupying center stage during the 1980s, the supply-side approach to economics disappeared when Ronald Reagan left office.” – Paul Samuelson (1)

Until Robert Mundell won the Nobel Prize in 1999, supply-side economics had been a school without honor among professional economists. Established textbook writers such as Paul Samuelson (MIT), Greg Mankiw (Harvard), and Alan Blinder (Princeton) frequently condemned the supply-side idea that marginal tax cuts increase labor productivity, or that tax cuts stimulate the economy sufficiently to increase government revenues.

The Laffer Curve — the theory that when taxes are too high, reducing them would actually raise tax revenue — is dismissed. “When Reagan cut taxes after he was elected, the result was less revenue, not more,” reports Mankiw in his popular textbook.(2) Never mind that tax revenues actually rose significantly every year of the Reagan administration; the perception is that supply-side economics has been discredited. Arthur Laffer isn’t even listed in the 1999 edition of Who’s Who in Economics, although the Laffer Curve is frequently discussed in college textbooks.(3)

Now that is all about to change with Columbia University economist Robert A. Mundell’s Nobel Prize in economics. According to Jude Wanniski, Mundell, 67, is the theoretical founder of the Laffer Curve.(4) In the early 1970s he told Wanniski, “The level of U.S. taxes has become a drag on economic growth in the United States. The national economy is being choked by taxes–asphyxiated.”(5)

Mundell offered a creative solution to stagflation (inflationary recession) of the 1970s: impose a tight-money, high-interest rate policy to curb inflation and strengthen the dollar, and slash marginal tax rates to fight recession. Mundell’s prescription was adopted by Reagan and Fed chairman Paul Volcker in the early 1980s. “There’s been no downside to tax cuts,” he told reporters recently.

Yet, oddly enough, Mundell isn’t accorded much attention compared to supply-siders Laffer, Paul Craig Roberts, and Martin Anderson. In their histories of Reaganomics, Roberts and Anderson mention Mundell only once.(6) Two major studies of supply-side economics in 1982 don’t cite his works at all. Nevertheless, Mundell has accomplished a great deal worth lauding. In fact, he is considered the most professional scholar of the supply-siders.

Robert Mundell has had an amazing professional career. A Canadian by birth, he has attended, taught, or worked at over a dozen universities and organizations, including MIT, University of Washington, Chicago, Stanford, Johns Hopkins, the Brookings Institution, Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Remnin University of China (Beijing), and the IMF. Before going to Columbia in 1974, he was a professor at the University of Chicago and editor of The Journal of Political Economy. Thus the Chicago school can once again claim a Nobel, although Mundell differs markedly from the monetarist school.

Monetary vs. Fiscal Policy

Famed monetarist Milton Friedman says, “I have never believed that fiscal policy, given monetary policy, is an important influence on the ups and downs of the economy.”(7) Supply-siders strongly disagree. Cutting marginal tax rates and slowing government spending can reduce the deficit, lower interest rates, and stimulate long-term economic growth.

Mundell counters, “Monetary policy cannot be the engine of higher noninflationary growth. But fiscal policy-both levers of it can be. . . . The U.S. tax-and-spend system reduces potential growth because it penalizes success and rewards failure.”

Mundell favors spending on education, research and development, and infrastructure rather than government welfare programs. He advocates reducing top marginal income tax rates, slashing the capital gains tax, and cutting the corporate income tax. Such policies would sharply raise saving rates and economic growth-“an increase in the rate of saving by 5% of income (GDP), say from 10% of income to 15%, would increase the rate of [economic] growth by 50%, i.e., from 2.5% to 3.75%.”(8)

Mundell as Gold Bug

Supply-siders also take a different approach to monetary policy. They go beyond the monetarist policy of controlling the growth of the money supply. Unlike the monetarists, supply-siders like Mundell resolutely favor increasing the role of gold in international monetary affairs. “Gold provides a stabilizing effect in a world of entirely flexible currencies,” he told a group of reporters in New York in November 1999. According to Mundell, gold plays an essential role as a hedge against a return of inflation. He predicted that the price of gold could skyrocket in the next decade, to as high as $6,000 an ounce, if G7 central banks continue to expand the money supply at 6 percent a year. “I do not think this an outlandish figure. Gold is a good investment for central bankers.” He did not foresee central banks selling any more gold. “Gold will stay at center stage in the world’s central banking system,” he said.

In awarding Mundell the prize, the Bank of Sweden recognized him as the chief intellectual proponent of the euro, the new currency of the European Community. He considers the euro a super-currency of continental dimensions that will challenge the dollar as the dominant currency. The benefits of a single currency include lower transaction costs, greater monetary stability, and a common monetary policy. Mundell advocates an open global economy, expanded foreign trade, and fewer national currencies. Ultimately, he envisions a universal currency backed by gold as the ideal world monetary system. Under a strict gold standard, “real liquidity balances are generated during recessions and constrained during inflations.”(9)

Mundell is an optimist as we enter a new century. He’s bullish on the global stock markets, the gold standard, globalization, and downsized government. He’s my kind of economist.

1. Paul Samuelson and William D. Nordhaus, Economics, 16th ed. (Boston: Irwin/McGraw-Hill. 1998) p. 640.
2. N. Gregory Mankiw, Principles of Economics (Fort Worth, Tex. Harcourt/Dryden Press, 1998), p. 166.
3. Mark Blaug, compiler of Who’s Who in Economics (Northampton, Mass. Edward Elgar, 1999), determines the top 1,000 names in the book based on frequency of citation in scholarly journals. Among the famous economists missing the cut are Arthur Laffer, Paul Craig Roberts, and Murray N. Rothbard.
4. Jude Wanniski, The Way the World Works, rev. and updated (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983), p. x.
5. Wanniski, “It’s Time to Cut Taxes,” Wall Street Journal, December 11, 1974.
6. Paul Craig Roberts, The Supply-Side Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984) and Martin Anderson, Revolution (Stanford, Calif.: Hoover Institution Press, 1990).
7. Milton Friedman, “Supply-Side Policies: Where Do We Go from Here?” Supply-Side Economics in the 1980s Conference Proceedings (Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, 1982), p. 53.
8. Robert A. Mundell, “A Progrowth Fiscal System,” The Rising Tide, ed. Jerry J. Jasinowski (New York: Wiley, 1998), pp. 198, 203-204.
9. Mundell, The New International Monetary System (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), p. 242.