Econoclasts: The Rebels Who Sparked the Supply-Side Revolution and Restored American Prosperity (Culture of Enterprise)
Ever since America descended into economic crisis the comparisons to the Great Depression have come fast and furious. Incredibly, we have heard almost nothing about a much more recent economic calamity: the ruinous “stagflation” of the 1970s—the second-worst decade in American economic history. But now, in the riveting, groundbreaking book Econoclasts, historian Brian Domitrovic reminds us that the twentieth century’s greatest economic counterrevolution emerged in response to that crisis: supply-side economics.
In a pulsing narrative, Domitrovic tells the remarkable story of the economists, journalists, Washington staffers, and (ultimately) politicians who showed America how to get out of the 1970s funk and ushered in an unprecedented quarter-century run of growth and opportunity. Here we meet Robert Mundell, the brilliant economist who held court over martinis in a Manhattan steakhouse; his gregarious cohort Arthur Laffer, chief economist on the president’s budget staff at the tender age of thirty; Robert Bartley, the Wall Street Journal’s reticent editorial-page editor who became the first impresario of supply-side economics; Jack Kemp, the football-star-turned-congressman who led the fight to turn supply-side theory into practice; Jude Wanniski, the eccentric, hot rod–driving reporter whose best-selling book touched off the supply-side revolution; and a host of other fascinating figures who helped upend the economic establishment.
Based on the author’s years of archival research, Econoclasts explodes numerous myths about supply-side economics, including its “creation myth”—the famous incident in which Laffer sketched a simple curve on a napkin. Domitrovic conclusively demonstrates that supply-side advocates did not invent a doctrine out of whole cloth. Their central insight was that the two massive means of governmental intrusion in the economy—the income tax and the Federal Reserve—play the primary role in starting and perpetuating any economic crisis. What’s more, Domitrovic shows that the specific combination of tax cuts and stable money had an unbroken record of success long before it went by the name “supply-side economics”: in 1962, when JFK ended the economic sluggishness that had brought three recessions in Eisenhower’s eight-year presidency; in 1947, when the United States embarked on the postwar boom; and in 1922, when Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon inaugurated the Roaring ’20s by imploring the Fed to keep the price level stable and arranging for Congress to slash income-tax rates.
Econoclasts is a masterful narrative history in the tradition of Amity Shlaes’s The Forgotten Man and John Steele Gordon’s An Empire of Wealth. It is also impeccably timely: this is a story we must know if we are to understand the foundations of America’s prosperity—foundations that are now under increasing attack.
–This text refers to the Hardcover edition.