by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
If conservatives desire to get beyond outright losing or underperforming electorally, something they have done for the past three election cycles, then it’s time to recover the fundamentals of economic growth and its foundation in the dignity of the human person. We should look back to the foundation, ideas, and ethos of the supply-side revolution of the 1970s, which Wanniski did so much to explain to citizens across the country. This philosophy was pilloried by economists at the time as a misguided quest for tax cuts that would magically supply expanded government revenue. Tax cuts under the theory could do so, and at times did, given the prohibitive nature of high income taxes, which led to idleness and hidden income. That same labor and capital would enter the market, when it became profitable to do so. But the critics, then and now, ignore the real counterrevolution, one that went far beyond tax cuts.
The success of the supply-side school reignited the moral and popular appeal of free markets, the dignity of work, energy abundance, national independence. It also did something most needful: It restored in individuals the belief that their freedom, their choices, and their work matter and should be rewarded. The focus returned to the acting human person, and to the behavior and psychology of persons who desire to improve their condition and flourish as independent persons.
This came after the dismal and defeatist 1970s, when leading economists and presidents told Americans to get used to inflation, a faltering economy, and reduced circumstances. President Jimmy Carter’s “Malaise Speech” in 1979 sounded false to American ears because it surrendered to an economic and bureaucratic technocracy that insisted on managing decline. Carter told us to wear sweaters early in his presidency to reduce energy consumption; now, we’re supposed to buy $80,000 electric vehicles.