Second-Term Primer

Steve Moore’s Bullish on Bush provides a good, quick primer on what to expect (or at least hope for) from President Bush’s second term. It is an important read for anyone who works in or worries about economic policy in Washington.

Half political essay, half legislative synopsis, Bullish on Bush takes aim at the media’s claim that the Bush economy has been a failure and explains the importance of Bush’s second-term plans on Social Security reform and tax reform. It also prods the Administration, unsubtly, towards instituting some spending restraint.

Moore ties together Bush’s second-term plans into a theme Bush has used on the campaign trail: the ownership society. “As Americans own more and become genuine capitalists, their infatuation with big government solutions subsides,” Moore argues.

While Bush was on the trail, he painted a broader picture of the ownership society that included homes and medical savings accounts. Moore does discuss universal savings accounts (large, all-purpose, tax-favored IRA-type accounts), but for him the heart and soul of the ownership solution is Social Security reform.

The chapter on creating personal Social Security accounts is worth reading if your only knowledge of this idea comes from the mainstream media’s handling of the topic. As Moore lays out the general framework, the plan is not nearly as risky or ambitious as John Kerry or the Washington Post would have you believe. It is also far more promising.

Moore also makes the case for a fundamental overhaul of the tax code. There’s not much new in his discussion of the topic, but it’s a nice ten-page treatment of the topic. Moore’s most interesting insight in this chapter involves the universal savings account.

If all of your savings can be sheltered from taxes in such an account, Moore points out, then the only portion of your income that is taxed is that portion that you spend on food, rent, et cetera. This is a backdoor consumption tax–a graduated one, albeit. But if we could get to that point, then replacing the income tax with the consumption tax–and abolishing the IRS and making April 15 just one more spring day–would be politically possible.

While it is all well written and very easy to read, a good portion of the small book is worth skipping. The chapter on Kerry’s big-government philosophy is interesting, but it became moot after November 2. The chapter on media bias and distortion of Bush’s record has good facts, but likely nothing that HUMAN EVENTS readers don’t already know. Media bias is like the weather, and Moore can’t do anything about it either.

Much of the book is worth not only reading, but memorizing. Moore’s chapter on how tax cuts help the economy delivers some surprising facts. Most HE readers know that Reagan’s and Kennedy’s tax cuts resulted in increased federal revenues (is that a good thing?), but Moore shows that they also resulted in the rich paying a higher portion of the taxes. The Bush tax cut, of course, also steepens the progressivity of the income tax.

Moore’s chapter on Washington’s spending spree ought to be required reading for Republicans on Capitol Hill, in the White House and in Cabinet departments. “Republicans no longer have a credible anti-big government agenda,” Moore writes, providing some sudden spunk in what otherwise reads a bit like Bush campaign tract.

Bush’s increase in spending over four years, Moore points out, is greater than the entire federal budget in 1900, even after adjusting for inflation. Moore’s prescription for this malady–or “fiscal malpractice” as he aptly calls it–is a many-layered reform of the budget process on Capitol Hill and in the agencies.

The rapidity with which this book was published shows in the editing errors, which are more frequent than in most books, and in the brevity. But Moore’s ability to get at key facts in most cases, and his gift for making fiscal and economic issues plainly understandable, make this book a pleasant read.

If you forgo the meaningless football games with sad-sack Detroit and Dallas on Thanksgiving, and instead sit down with this book, skimming over the attacks on the media and John Kerry, but studying the charts and the facts, you’ll come out smarter and better prepared for following the next four years.