Supply Side and Trickle Down
Following his inauguration, President Reagan lost no time in launching an economic program formulated by his conservative economic advisors. The program was quarterbacked by Office of Management and Budget (OMB) director David Stockman (b. 1946), whose ascetic appearance seemed to signal his ruthlessness as a slasher of taxes and domestic social welfare spending. The new administration marched under the banner of supply-side economics, a belief that the economy thrives by stimulating the production of goods and services (the supply side) because (according to advocates of the theory) supply creates demand. Make it, and people will buy it. Government’s proper role is to stimulate production by reducing taxes as well as reducing regulation of industry. Yet, even as taxes are reduced, supply-side economics also demands that the government operate on a balanced budget, since deficit spending encourages destructive inflation.
The Reagan revolution turned on three major policies: a reduction in government regulation of commerce and industry; aggressive budget cutting; aggressive tax cutting-not for middle-and lower-income individuals, but for the wealthy and for businesses. Reducing the tax burden on the rich was supposed to free up more money for investment, the benefits of which would ultimately “trickle down” to the less well off in the form of more and better jobs.
If trickle down was a hard concept for many to swallow, Reagan’s insistence that a reduction in tax rates would actually increase government revenues seemed downright bizarre to some. When Ronald Reagan and the man who would be his vice president, George Bush, were battling one another in the Republican primaries, Bush branded the notion voodoo economics—a phrase that would come back to haunt Bush in subsequent campaigns. But conservative economist Arthur Laffer (b. 1940) theorized that tax cuts would stimulate increased investment and savings, thereby ultimately increasing taxable income and generating more revenue. President Reagan made frequent reference to the “Laffer Curve,” which illustrated this process.
Plausible or not, a majority of the American people were prepared to take the leap with their new president. In 1981, a bold program was hurried through a sometimes bewildered Congress, including a major tax cut, a staggering $43 billion cut in the budget for domestic programs, and broad cutbacks in environmental and business regulation. The “Great Communicator” overcame all resistance. When catastrophe struck on March 30, 1981, in the form of would-be assassin John Hinckley, Jr., the 70-year-old president’s calm and heroic response to his having been shot in the chest drew even more support for his programs.