The two presidents have a lot in common. Both inherited an American economy in collapse. And both applied daring, expensive remedies. Mr. Reagan passed the biggest tax cut ever, combined with an agenda of deregulation, monetary restraint and spending controls. Mr. Obama, of course, has given us a $1 trillion spending stimulus.
By the end of the summer of Reagan's third year in office, the economy was soaring. The GDP growth rate was 5% and racing toward 7%, even 8% growth. In 1983 and '84 output was growing so fast the biggest worry was that the economy would "overheat." In the summer of 2011 we have an economy limping along at barely 1% growth and by some indications headed toward a "double-dip" recession. By the end of Reagan's first term, it was Morning in America. Today there is gloomy talk of America in its twilight.
My purpose here is not more Reagan idolatry, but to point out an incontrovertible truth: One program for recovery worked, and the other hasn't.
The Reagan philosophy was to incentivize production—i.e., the "supply side" of the economy—by lowering restraints on business expansion and investment. This was done by slashing marginal income tax rates, eliminating regulatory high hurdles, and reining in inflation with a tighter monetary policy.
The Keynesians in the early 1980s assured us that the Reagan expansion would not and could not happen.
There is something that is genuinely different this time. It isn't the nature of the crisis Mr. Obama inherited, but the nature of his policy prescriptions.