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The Debt

June 2024
1min read

John Steele Gordon replies: Mr. Drewer makes four points. I’ll take them in order.

1. I very much doubt that a President Mondale would have pushed for Star Wars. The Mondale wing of the Democratic party has an apparently undying belief that if you talk with your enemies long enough they will surrender through the force of reason (or maybe boredom). Reagan believed that power was a more efficacious persuader. During the previous administration (in which Mondale served as Vice President), the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. During the Reagan administration it collapsed.

2. The supply-siders argued that if you cut the marginal tax rates on income, a great boom would result and federal tax revenues would soar. This is a testable hypothesis, and in the 1980s we tested it. What happened? The United States added an economy the size of West Germany’s to the one we already had, and federal revenues increased by nearly 25 percent in real terms over the decade.

3. There is, of course, plenty of blame to go around for the deficits. But in the last analysis the Constitution could hardly be clearer: “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.” The Founding Fathers gave Congress the power, and thus the responsibility, to guard the public purse against reckless spending. They did not do so. Playing with numbers doesn’t change that fact.

4. As for presidential responsibility, I invite Mr. Drewer to do a thought experiment. Imagine that President Reagan had had a real line-item veto at his disposal. Would the deficits in the 1980s have been higher or lower?

Finally, Mr. Drewer remarks that Steve Forbes’s presidential campaign may have made an honest discussion of the issue in American Heritage impossible. I don’t know what they call that in Baltimore, but where I’m from it’s known as a cheap shot.

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