Friday, June 11, 2004

Reagan deficits and Milton Friedman

Hopefully, Milton Friedman's op-ed in the Wall Street Journal will be on-line this weekend (Opinion Journal's Saturday and Sunday offerings are usually pieces that appeared only in the print edition and the pay-service on-line WSJ only). But here's a glimpse of what Friedman said about Reagan, the deficits and the size of the Federal government:

The trend before Mr. Reagan is one of galloping socialism. Had it continued, federal non-defense spending would be more than half again what it is now. Mr. Reagan brought the gallop to a literal standstill. He did so in three ways:

• First, by slashing tax rates and so cutting the Congress's allowance.

• Second, by being willing to take a severe recession to end inflation. In my opinion, no other postwar president would have been willing to back the Volcker Fed in its tough stance in 1981-82. I can testify from personal knowledge that Mr. Reagan knew what he was doing . . .

• Third, and in some ways the least recognized, by attacking government regulations. Figure 2 . . . [showing fewer pages added to Fed. Register under Reagan than Carter, Bush I] plots the number of pages added to the Federal Register each year. The Federal Register records the thousands of detailed rules and regulations that federal agencies churn out in the course of a year. They are not laws and yet they have the effect of laws and like laws impose costs and restrain activities. Here too, the period before President Reagan was one of galloping socialism. The Reagan years were ones of retreating socialism, and the post-Reagan years, of creeping socialism.

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