(p. A12) Robert A. Mundell began to make his name in the 1960s as a maverick economist eager to challenge his more orthodox colleagues. He ended up influencing mainstream economic policy in the U.S. and Europe in profound ways that few of his peers could have imagined.
. . .
Dr. Mundell’s influence on U.S. economic policy also dates to the 1960s. He was teaching at the University of Chicago when he met Arthur Laffer in 1967. Dr. Laffer, a Stanford-educated economist, later recalled their first meeting as a shock. “In walked a sallow, tousle-headed, pipe-smoking figure wearing a faded trench coat belted with a clothesline cord,” Dr. Laffer wrote.
The disheveled Dr. Mundell and the buttoned-down Dr. Laffer agreed that steeply progressive taxes were deterring investment and employment in ways that hurt the poor.
In the 1970s, Dr. Mundell argued that the U.S. should defy conventional economic wisdom by raising interest rates to protect the dollar’s value while reducing taxes to stimulate the economy. “I knew I was in the minority,” he said in an 1988 interview. “But I thought my vote should count much more than the others because I understood the subject.”
Dr. Laffer introduced Dr. Mundell and his ideas to Jude Wanniski and Robert Bartley of The Wall Street Journal editorial pages, whose work influenced Republican politicians including Jack Kemp and Mr. Reagan.
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date April 9, 2021, and has the title “Robert Mundell Helped Inspire U.S. Tax Cuts and the Euro.” In the last paragraph quoted above, the online version mentions Jack Kemp. The print version did not.)
The above clip is Ronald Reagan in an episode of Death Valley Days. (Today is Ronald Reagan’s birthday.)
(p. A15) George Graham Vest, a 39-year-old lawyer, . . . [on] Sept. 23, 1870, . . . delivered one of the most enduring arguments ever performed in a courtroom.
. . .
He told jurors that “the one absolutely unselfish friend that a man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog. A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground . . . if only he may be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer.”
. . .
Ronald Reagan portrayed George Vest in a 1964 episode of “Death Valley Days” and delivered his famous summation. You’ll find it. Have a tissue ready. Vest’s oration, referred to as “Tribute to a Dog,” is revered by judges and lawyers.
. . .
Vest, . . ., concluded his speech by reminding the jurors that a dog remains loyal to the end. Even after his master’s funeral, and all others have left the cemetery, Vest said, “There by his graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness.”
(p. A23) . . . Ronald Reagan believed in the possibilities of a country that was forever reinventing itself. He knew, too, that the nation had grown stronger the more widely it had opened its arms and the more generously it had interpreted Thomas Jefferson’s assertion of equality in the Declaration of Independence.
He was about hope, not fear. And that is another reason his farewell address should be more widely appreciated: It’s a kind of final testament of an American president who had a genuine faith in the future. Mr. Reagan was a practical man, and he knew, as he put it, that “because we’re a great nation, our challenges seem complex. It will always be this way. But as long as we remember our first principles and believe in ourselves, the future will be ours.”
Or so we can hope. His last words on that long-ago Wednesday bear hearing, and pondering. “And how stands the city on this winter night?” Mr. Reagan asked. “More prosperous, more secure and happier than it was eight years ago. She’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”
They hurtle through that darkness even now. Mr. Reagan would have us light the lamp and open our arms — for that’s what cities on a hill do.
(p. A17) . . . Ronald Reagan, in the last year of his presidency, delivered one of his most magnificent speeches . . . before a packed auditorium of students at Moscow State University.
. . .
Reagan’s ultimate aim was to plant the seed of freedom in the newly receptive furrows of a cracking totalitarianism.
. . .
Reagan delivered his Moscow speech standing before a gigantic scowling bust of Lenin and a mural of the Russian Revolution. He incorporated them as props in his address. “Standing here before a mural of your revolution,” he said, “I want to talk about a very different revolution,” a technological and “information revolution” that was transforming the world. How much progress had already been realized! But progress was not foreordained. “The key,” Reagan said, “is freedom–freedom of thought, freedom of information, freedom of communication.”
(p. R3) Starting in 1983, when Ronald Reagan was in the middle of his first presidential term, the American economy reeled off three straight years of 4% growth. The economy went on to hit that politically important target in nine of the next 17 years. In fact, even as Mr. Bush ran for re-election, the economy actually was revving up after a two-year lull, though the surge came too late for voters to realize it.
Then, at the turn into a new millennium, that streak stopped. In the last 15 years, the American economy hasn’t grown at a 4% annual rate even once.
But it isn’t just the U.S. In the last 15 years, according to International Monetary Fund data, exactly one of the traditional seven major industrialized nations achieved annual economic growth of 4%, one time: Japan in 2010.
In sum, the kind of economic growth that used to be relatively routine in the industrialized world has become virtually extinct.
This low-growth era leaves political leaders facing two unsavory tasks. The first is to explain to unhappy voters why growth is so anemic, and the second is to convince them that they know what to do about it.
(p. A9) Baldrige also knew how to use humor to deflate tense moments, as when the U.S. toy balloon industry petitioned for protection against cheap Mexican imports. Baldrige was opposed, but after debate the entire cabinet favored sanctions. Sensing this was not where the president wanted to go, Baldrige pulled from his pocket a dozen toy balloons and tossed them on the cabinet table. As the room filled with laughter, he said, “This is what we are talking about.” Reagan denied the sanctions.
(p. 9) Failure is in fashion these days. We read about failing fast and failing well, about grit incubated by repeated failure in school and innovation by repeated failure in business. So it may be a good time to consider the hidden virtues of failure in foreign policy. And who better to demonstrate those virtues than one of modern America’s great optimists?
On a Sunday evening in October 1986, Ronald Reagan returned to the White House after what he called “one of the longest, most disappointing — and ultimately angriest — days of my presidency.” He had spent more than 10 hours in discussions with Mikhail Gorbachev, in Reykjavik, Iceland, coming gut-wrenchingly close to a breakthrough in United States-Soviet nuclear talks before everything fell apart. He was, in his personal assistant’s judgment, “borderline distraught.” Network news pronounced “the magic of the Reagan persona gone,” Gorbachev called him a “feebleminded cave man,” and even his own generals told him that his ideas “pose high risks to the security of the nation.” Soon, the Democrats would retake Congress, and the revelations of Iran-contra would spur talk of impeachment.
. . .
. . . foreign policy “failure” turned out to be the foundation of future accomplishment.
Source of book image: http://www.dispatch.com/live/export-content/sites/dispatch/life/stories/2011/03/28/2-book-rawhide-art-ga9c3l3q-1rawhide-down-large.jpg
(p. C7) It has been nearly 30 years since President Ronald Reagan was shot outside the Washington Hilton Hotel on March 30, 1981. The attack is well remembered, but the details are not. One reason for the memory lapse, according to Del Quentin Wilber, the author of “Rawhide Down,” a newly revealing account of this potentially deadly attack, is that Reagan survived it so smoothly. Twelve days after being fired upon, he was back at the White House looking sensational. He ultimately enhanced his popularity by rebounding with such courage, resilience and even good cheer.
. . .
“Rawhide Down” is a fast-paced book that captures many points of view. Nurses and medical technicians have especially candid memories of the pressure they faced, the uncertainty about how to deal with such an important patient and the ad-hoc solutions they devised. They decided to call him Mr. Reagan rather than Mr. President; the situation would be less frightening that way. They were amazed by his joking, his courtesy and his general lack of V.I.P. attitude.
They were also impressed by his bravery. Throughout the incident the president had no clear idea of what had happened to him or what to expect. He struggled to breathe, brightened at any mention of the first lady and was canny enough to take his cues from technicians, who would be candid with him about what the doctors really meant. As he got ready to undergo chest surgery, one worker assured him that being taken from the E.R. to the operating room was a good thing. If he were really in peril, she said, doctors would never allow him to be moved.
Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review quoted and cited below.
(p. 15) The 1980s boom was launched on the simple insight that, by lowering tax rates and regulatory hurdles and juicing the incentives to produce, innovate and take risks, the animal spirits of the American free-enterprise system would revive. Two seminal books hatched the supply-side revolution. The first was Jude Wanniski’s “The Way the World Works” (1978); the second, George Gilder’s “Wealth and Poverty” (1981).
Almost as influential, coming a few years later, was Lawrence Lindsey’s “The Growth Experiment” (1990). Slightly academic in nature, it was the first book to quantify the economic and revenue windfall of the 1981 Reagan across-the-board tax cuts. Mr. Lindsey’s conclusion was that Reagan’s 1981 tax act quickened the pace of production, which reduced the predicted revenue loss. His research found that although the Reagan tax cuts didn’t “pay for themselves,” the ones at the highest end of the income spectrum “did produce a revenue gain” because of “changes in taxpayer behavior.” He concluded that “the core supply-side tenet–that tax rates powerfully affect the willingness of taxpayers to work, save and invest, and thereby also affect the health of the economy–won as stunning a vindication as has been seen in at least a half-century of economics.”
He has now updated his book, taking us through the booms and busts of the past 20 years. It is a valuable project in part because Mr. Lindsey was a front-seat economic adviser to George W. Bush, serving as director of the National Economic Council and as one of the architects of the often-maligned 2001 and 2003 Bush tax cuts.
Mr. Lindsey’s central claim is that those tax changes saved the economy from the undertow of the financial meltdown at the end of the Clinton presidency.
“A supporter of Margaret Thatcher holds a banner outside St. Clement Danes church in London.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.
(p. A15) The funeral of Margaret Thatcher was beautiful, moving, just right. It had dignity and spirit, and in that respect was just like her. It also contained a surprise that shouldn’t have been a surprise. It was a metaphor for where she stood in the pantheon of successful leaders of the 20th century.
. . .
At the end of the funeral they all marched down the aisle in great procession–the family, the queen, the military pallbearers carrying the casket bearing the Union Jack. The great doors flung open, the pallbearers marched forward, and suddenly from the crowd a great roar. We looked at each other. Demonstrators? No. Listen. They were cheering. They were calling out three great hurrahs as the pallbearers went down the steps. Then long cheers and applause. It was electric.
England came. The people came. Later we would learn they’d stood 30 deep on the sidewalk, that quiet crowds had massed on the Strand and Fleet Street and Ludgate Hill. A man had held up a sign: “But We Loved Her.”
. . . When they died, Ronald Reagan, John Paul II, and Margaret Thatcher were old and long past their height of power. Everyone was surprised when Reagan died that crowds engulfed the Capitol; people slept on sidewalks to view him in state. When John Paul died the Vatican was astonished to see millions converge. “Santo Subito.”
And now at the end some came for Thatcher, too.
What all three had in common: No one was with them but the people.
Margaret Hilda Thatcher, rest in peace.
Source of the book image: http://thecommentary.ca/images/books/Reagan2.jpg
(p. 10) For better or worse, Reagan’s ability to spin yarns out of everything that ever went into his mind is on display in ”Reagan’s Path to Victory,” the fourth volume in a series of collected speeches, letters and scripts published over the past four years. This one, edited like the others by Kiron K. Skinner, Annelise Anderson and Martin Anderson, is a chronological compilation of the syndicated radio talks Reagan delivered from 1975 to 1979.
. . .
In 1980, as a reporter freshly hired by Time magazine, I was assigned to Reagan’s campaign plane. My first week on the road, while listening to him give a speech in which he talked about how trees cause pollution and other quirky notions, an aide turned to me and said, ”Where did he get those facts?” I wrote a story, parsing the misleading little factoids that studded his stump speeches; the headline was that quote. The afternoon the article appeared, I was invited to sit next to Reagan on his campaign plane. I was braced for a rough lecture, but none came. I realized that he was either smart enough not to have read the article, or smart enough to pretend he hadn’t — or merely smart enough to know it wouldn’t matter. I also learned, when I started to play the old journalistic gotcha game by questioning him on issues ranging from Taiwan to his affection for the gold standard, that he was able to flea-flick the subjects away by launching into some amusing but irrelevant anecdote. At first I thought he was a bit oblivious. Eventually, I realized I was the oblivious one. He knew exactly what he was doing.
Now, having read the collection of his radio addresses, I even know what he was thinking when he proclaimed that most pollution is caused by trees. In a rather convoluted talk, in which he identifies the main pollution problem as oxides of nitrogen, he grandly declares: ”Nature it seems also produces oxides of nitrogen. As a matter of fact, nature produces 97 percent of them. If we could successfully eliminate 100 percent of all the man-produced polluting oxides of nitrogen, we’d still have 97 percent of what we presently have.”
So we’re a little closer to knowing where Ronald Reagan got his facts, and even a bit closer to knowing where he got his beliefs. And that’s not a bad step toward understanding the deeper questions and mysteries about him.
Book discussed in passage quoted above:
Skinner, Kiron K., Annelise Anderson, and Martin Anderson, eds. Reagan’s Path to Victory; the Shaping of Ronald Reagan’s Vision; Selected Writings. New York: Free Press, 2004.