Is Bruce Bartlett an Impostor? Was Reagan?


At the Chronicle of Higher Education–well worth reading even if you izzn't a college gradjiate, much less a gradjiate student or perfesser–Alan Wolfe says Dubya "may be the most anti-intellectual president of modern times" in a commentary on Francis Fukuyama's latest and Bruce Bartlett's Impostor: How George W. Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. Wolfe also accuses Bartlett of a bit of ideological dissembling along the way:

More a libertarian than a conservative, [Bartlett] still believes that radical tax cuts, even if they do not starve the beast of government, can stimulate economic growth in the long run, thus shrinking deficits by raising revenue. That idea used to be called "supply-side economics." Originally developed by the economist Arthur B. Laffer, supply-side economics is as unproven as the starve-the-beast hypothesis. If one believes that government can play a positive role in providing health care or protecting the natural environment, moreover, Bartlett's faith in laissez-faire is also dangerous, threatening, as it does, the sense of fairness that makes democratic government legitimate. Still, even if Bartlett's own ideas are debatable, he does such a good job demonstrating the pernicious consequences of Mr. Bush's bad ideas that he forces readers to think about better ones.

Whole thing here. (Hat tip: Arts & Letters Daily)

We're excerpting Bartlett's book in the June ish of Reason (subscribe already!). Bruce's affiliation with our mag goes back to 1977, when he wrote about the politics of Pearl Harbor (not online, alas). His most recent byline is from 1995–wasn't that a time!–when he participated in this roundtable on tax reform with Cato's Ed Crane, Americans for Tax Reform's Grover Norquist, and tax consultant Dan Pilla. (Bruce has also been known to haunt Hit & Run's comments section.)

Here's one question I've always had for Bruce (and other defenders of the "Reagan Legacy"): How do all the tax increases that Reagan signed into law fit with the guy's "legacy" as a shrinker of government, etc.? Leaving aside social issues (including the drug war, which Reagan cranked up like some PCP punk from TV's Quincy) and the consolidation of power in Washington even as he marched under the banner of the "New Federalism" (which turned out to be a lot like the Old Federalism, only different).

Bruce does a solid job of documenting all the various tax increases Reagan put into action in Impostor, and he notes in this column that RWR put his name on "the largest peacetime tax increase in American history" and that he jacked Social Security taxes, an "increase that lives with us still, since it initiated automatic increases in the taxable wage base." Thanks, Dutch! When it comes to spending, arguably the only measure that matters, Reagan wasn't as bad as Dubya or LBJ, but he also wasn't as good as Clinton or Nixon, either, when it comes to increases in overall discretionary spending or total outlays. Does Reagan get a pass on this sort of stuff because of his rhetoric? Because he cut top marginal rates and simplified (relatively speaking) the tax code? Because he had the indigo blue hair of a comic-book hero?