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Republicans: You Really Could Not Make This Up

Did the Forward March of Freedom Start or Accelerate in the 1980s?

Noah Smith does the honors:

Noahpinion: A standard intellectual-Republican narrative of history: John Cochrane has a new post up in which he discusses the historical importance of Milton Friedman's book Free to Choose…. The first half of the post is a discussion of the difference between negative and positive rights, with which I largely (but not completely) agree. But the second half consists of a reading of events since 1980 with which I take a number of exceptions….

1980 was an inflection point for the advance of freedom…! Yes, some of the Friedmans' dark worries did not pan out. Why not? Because people read the book! The Friedmans were fighting against the "tide of history." And turned it back…

[Cochrane's] appears to me to be a very standard intellectual Republican narrative of recent history; if you surveyed registered Republicans with postgraduate degrees, and then took an  average of their responses, it seems like you might get something like this. Now, standard narratives are not necessarily wrong. But this narrative happens to be one about which my feelings are quite mixed…. I agree about China. I basically agree about India (though where did Keynes support a "license raj"??). I agree about the Cold War and the spread of democracy. I agree about inflation. None of these positive developments should be forgotten or ignored.

But there are some points with which I strongly disagree. Let me address these:

  1. "[1980] was the end of stagnation in the US and UK." What? Really?? What about the Bush years? You know, the 8 years when the inflation-adjusted stock market did worse than in the 1970s, income stagnated, and GDP growth underperformed past booms, all despite massive tax cuts and substantial deregulation?

  2. "The economic and political ills of the 1970s seem to be returning." Really? Inflation?? No. I know there are some people who believe that a fiscally induced hyperinflation is just around the corner, but that is pure speculation...

  3. "US and UK inflation -- the result of mindless "stimulus"" Really?? But budget deficits were low in the 1970s, and only exploded in the Reagan years (and again in the Bush years). And most economists believe that the 70s inflation was caused by loose monetary policy (and possibly oil shocks), not by fiscal policy.

Basically, in 2000, this Republican narrative was looking pretty good - though not entirely thanks to Republicans. Bill Clinton seemed to have proven that market liberalism did not require exploding deficits and exploding inequality (the ills of the Reagan years) in order to create prosperity. But then came the Bush years, and America doubled down on the Milton Friedman program with more tax cuts, more deregulation, more privatization. And income stagnated, stocks stagnated, and growth was lackluster, while debt and inequality resumed the explosive growth of the Reagan years. By the eve of the financial crisis, the Republican narrative was looking pretty shopworn…

As does Paul Krugman:

Reaganite Delusions: The great era of US economic growth was the postwar generation; even during the good years of the 90s we didn’t achieve comparable growth, and overall, the post-Reagan era was marked by slower growth than the equivalent period of time pre-Reagan. And I haven’t even gotten into the income distribution thing.

All of which makes me wonder: what goes on in these peoples’ minds? Do they never even think of actually looking at the numbers, because they know that Reagan ushered in a great boom? Inquiring minds (which they obviously don’t have) want to know.

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