Time to think: Put these political tomes on your reading list
THE RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCHAlthough many of them will find the title objectionable, conservatives still should read Bruce Bartlett's The New American Economy: The Failure of Reaganomics and a New Way Forward. Liberals would profit from it as well.
Published: April 11, 2010
Published: April 11, 2010
The provocative title somewhat misstates the book's argument. Bartlett explains that so-called supply-side economics did succeed to a considerable degree; indeed, the theory's assumptions (and their results) have insinuated themselves into mainstream economics. Supply-siders no longer resemble renegades.
The dilemma for conservatives is that specifics suited to a time and its conditions - the 1980s and the stagflation that began in the 1970s - are not necessarily the specifics suitable for different circumstances. Moreover, Republicans have misconstrued supply-side economics. Bartlett was present at the supply-side creation; he knows what went right and what went wrong. The book gives George W. Bush a deserved drubbing.
It also rehabilitates John Maynard Keynes, the British economist the right loves to hate, especially when it deliberately refuses to understand him. Keynes was not a socialist. Indeed, during the Depression he devoted himself to saving liberal economics from authoritarianism (and totalitarianism). He despised the Soviet Union and was a philosopher of liberty. And, as with the supply-siders, followers and pseuds squandered his legacy. Keynes, Bartlett suggests, has much to say regarding today's financial and social challenges. The religiously inclined ought to like him. He did not worship mammon. Bartlett sees Keynes as an antidote to the egregious schemes the hard left has in store.
Richard Posner has positive words for the Englishman, too. In A Failure of Capitalism, Posner - an appellate judge beloved by libertarians - discusses the economic meltdown of 2008 and concludes that Keynes remains vital. We recommend Posner, too. Please note that the title refers to "a failure," not "the failure."
And we applaud Robert Skidelsky's Keynes: the Return of the Master. The author of an acclaimed three-volume biography of Keynes, Skidelsky makes a strong case that his subject "is the most important economic thinker for America."
All three books make the required reading list. If, however, street-corner conservatives have time for only one, we would recommend Bartlett. He is the most politically combative of the trio. And he is striving to revive the Republican Party - which, he recognizes, has marginalized itself. Dissatisfaction with the Obama administration has not produced a surge in confidence in the GOP, which continues to record some of its worst numbers ever. And, we lament that while the crash produced much finger-pointing and blame-mongering among partisans, it generated scant introspection. Ideas failed. The books cited here inhabit the world of thought, an otherwise abandoned realm. By the way, a recognition of Keynes' contributions does not mean conservatives should abandon Adam Smith.
We will close with a simple statement that we believe helps to explains the conservative malaise. The great mistake occurred when the right transformed supply-side economics and other things from attractive policies into an ideology. Conservatism needs to rediscover its sense and sensibility, its essence. It needs to think.