SUPPLY-SIDE ECONOMICS, THEORY AND RESULTS

by Paul Craig Roberts, Paul Craig Roberts: Supply-Side economics burst onto the economic policy scene in Washington, D.C., on September 21, 1975 in the Sunday Washington Star in an article I had written for US Representative Jack Kemp that provided a supply-side economic basis for his capital formation bill. Subsequently, I generalized the supply-side approach when I realized that changes in marginal tax rates altered relative prices and could shift the aggregate supply side curve. Until that time, economists assumed that fiscal policy only impacted the aggregate demand curve.

Today 42 years after this article and 36 years after the passage of the Economic Recovery Tax Act that constituted the supply-side economic policy of President Reagan, there is still scant understanding of the economics that cured stagflation and enabled Reagan to pressure the Soviets to end the Cold War.

For example, in Wikipedia’s account Supply-Side economics is presented as a claim that cutting tax rates increases tax revenues. This is ignorant nonsense.

As the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy, I had the central role in the implementation of Supply-Side economics. On US Representative Jack F. Kemp’s staff as economic counsel and in the House of Representatives as Chief Economist for the Republicans on the House Budget committee, I wrote the Kemp-Roth bill that addresses stagflation and that President Reagan adopted as presidential policy. As staff associate of the Joint Economic Committee in the US Senate I convinced some Republicans and the most important majority Democratic committee chairmen that Supply-Side economics was the way out of the stagnation trap. The first Joint Economic Committee annual reports endorsing Supply-Side economics came from committee chairman Lloyd Bentsen, a Texas Democrat. My book, The Supply-Side Revolution, peer-reviewed and published by Harvard University Press in 1984, explains the theory of Supply-Side economics and provides empirical evidence and the history of Reagan’s policy.

A few years ago Harvard University Press informed me that China had published a Chinese language edition of The Supply-Side Revolution. I have a copy on my bookshelf. On my wall hang letters from President Reagan thanking me for the implementation of the Supply-Side economic policy. On another wall is a letter from President Reagan to the French Ambassador and Finance Minister on the occasion of the ceremony that presented me with the French Legion of Honor for my service to economics. In his letter Reagan says “Craig is the architect of the economic policies of my administration.” I have the US Treasury’s Meritorious Service Award for “outstanding contributions to the formulation of US Economic Policy.”

Yet the Wikipedia account of Supply-Side economics excises both me and the content of Supply-Side economics. In our place are the accumulation of decades of propaganda against “Reaganomics.”

The missing subject matter becomes even stranger when we take into account the fact that I wrote the peer-reviewed New Palgrave Dictionary of Money and Finance (Macmillan, London, 1992) entries on Supply-Side Economics and the Laffer Curve. The New Palgrave is the premier economic encyclopedia. It is extraordinary that anyone would be so careless as to write a Wikipedia economics entry without consulting The New Palgrave. I also wrote the entry for the McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Economics.

The Laffer curve is not a theory. It is not Supply-Side economics. It is an expository device that illustrates that both high and low tax rates can produce the same tax revenues. There is nothing wrong with this demonstration.

The economic policy of the Reagan administration was most certainly not based on tax rate reductions paying for themselves in increased revenues. The Treasury’s revenue forecast of the Reagan tax rate reduction was the Treasury’s traditional static revenue forecast that every dollar of tax cut would lose a dollar of tax revenue. In other words, it was a worse forecast of revenue loss than the Keynesian economists predicted. Keynesians predicted that some of the revenues would be regained from increased employment and output. Walter Heller, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under President John F. Kennedy said that the Kennedy reduction in marginal tax rates, on which Reagan’s reduction was modeled, paid for itself in increased revenues.

Possibly. But the Reagan Treasury—in which I was entrenched with two deputies of my choosing, US Rep. Jack Kemp’s support, President Ronald Reagan’s support, Treasury Secretary Don Regan’s support, former Treasury Secretary William E. Simon’ support, the House Republicans’ support, support from influential Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, and support from the Wall Street Journal where I was associate editor prior to my Treasury appointment—based its revenue forecast on the traditional Treasury static revenue estimate that every dollar of tax cut would lose a dollar of revenue. This is a fact not subject to dispute. It is in the public record.

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