The Democratic presidential debate ironically took place the same week that a Princeton University professor was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences. Why ironic? Because professor Angus Deaton is a strong advocate of economic growth. Today’s Democrats are not.
Here are some words from Deaton — with a very big hat tip to my pal Jim Pethokoukis, who is a columnist with the American Enterprise Institute: “Economic growth is the engine of the escape from poverty and material depravation. Yet growth is faltering in the rich world. … Almost everywhere, the faltering of growth has come with expansions of inequality.”
Deaton also said this: “Slower growth makes distributional conflict inevitable, because the only way forward for me is at your expense. It is easy to imagine a world with little growth but endless distributional conflict between rich and poor, between old and young, between Wall Street and Main Street, between medical providers and their patients, and between the political parties that represent them.”
Yet, the professor said, “I am cautiously optimistic. The desire to escape is deeply ingrained. … People may block the tunnels behind them, but they cannot block the knowledge of how the tunnels were dug.”
The class warfare Deaton has described (endless distributional conflict) fits today’s political climate to a T. Now, I am not familiar with all of Deaton’s growth-policy solutions. But thanks to Cato Institute economist Alan Reynolds, I dialed up several videos of Deaton’s presentations. One thing that stood out was his strong support of free trade and his strong opposition to trade restrictions. He is also very much against government-to-government foreign aid and World Bank subsidies. In one talk, he said the World Bank should be turned into a McKinsey-like consulting firm.
Deaton also has stressed that economic growth is very important for health and happiness and that it is absolutely essential to solving poverty.
Let me add this: Over roughly the past three decades, according to numerous international studies, the rise of free trade and free markets has reduced dollar-a-day abject poverty by 80 percent as nearly 1 billion people have moved into the middle class. This has been mostly in Asia but includes parts of Latin America and Africa. I have to believe that Deaton would cite this to back up his theories.
So now it’s time to ask: Did the Democratic debaters mention growth? If they did, it wasn’t all that much.
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an avowed “democratic socialist,” wants $18 trillion of new big-government spending (according to The Wall Street Journal) and has not ruled out a 90 percent income tax rate. Hillary Clinton wants to double the capital gains tax. She wants middle-class jobs but wants to tax the businesses that create them.
Whenever middle-class taxpayers hear this kind of nonsense, they know that big middle-class tax hikes are on the way.
And though all the Democratic presidential contenders hate the Obama recovery, they want to enlarge President Obama’s policies with more spending, greater tax burdens and new regulations.
Deaton sees an “endless distributional conflict between rich and poor.” Well, Clinton and Sanders had a field day on the debate stage bashing rich people and vowing to tax the top 1 percent and Wall Street in order to finance free education, free debt, free tuition, free health care and free everything. It never works.
Sanders wants to turn America into Denmark. But as National Review’s Kevin Williamson has written, Denmark has moved toward freer markets and is today just as competitive globally as the United States. Sanders can’t even find a good socialist example these days.
And Clinton deserves an anti-Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for coming out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which she once praised as the gold standard of trade.
If Deaton is correct — that growth helps solve poverty — it’s clear after the Tuesday night debate that the Democrats don’t have an anti-poverty program. Punishing success will not create the growth that lowers poverty. Nor will wild-eyed spending. Nor will massive, costly new regulations.
The most recent great super-growth Democrat was John F. Kennedy. He targeted 5 percent economic growth rather than 2 percent secular stagnation. He slashed tax rates for the rich, the middle brackets and the lower brackets — and on corporations, on capital gains and elsewhere. He was a free-trader. And he insisted on a stable and reliable dollar (in those days, linked to gold).
And I bet JFK would have agreed heartily with many of the words of newfound Nobelist Angus Deaton.
But today’s Democratic Party is basically erasing JFK’s economic legacy. What a pity.