A Last Word on Domestic Policy

Dionne and Shlaes

A Last Word on Domestic Policy

Dionne and Shlaes

A Last Word on Domestic Policy
An email conversation about the news of the day.
Feb. 3 1999 12:38 PM

Dionne and Shlaes

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Dear EJ,

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Re family size, babies and so on. I'm reading a graceful and unusual book by Danielle Crittenden, What Our Mothers Didn't Tell Us. It's a gentle argument, made mostly to younger women. She says there is nothing wrong with staying at home if you feel like it, marrying earlier, and so on. She suggests starting a career later on. What I like about the book is that it is not really left or right wing. It's just different. Most "women" stuff is clearly dug into one camp or the other. I've admired Danielle's writing for years, we even published fiction by her on the Journal's op-ed page at one point.

Regarding economics. Oh dear, you are now asking I reply as the royal "we." So here goes. In 1993, around the time the new Clinton tax bill passed, the Journal wrote: "Of course, the Clinton boom could still save the day. We've said all along that while the Clinton budget deal resembles the George Bush budget deal, the economy isn't nearly as weak as it was in 1990. Real estate markets have stabilized or risen in most of the country, corporate and household balance sheets have improved and banks have begun to lend once again. The enormous productivity gains in recent years have helped corporate bottom lines if not job creation, and the Republican federal reserve has warned it won't stand for a repeat of 1970s style inflation."

We, the Journal, never said that taxes alone determine recession or growth. The boom today is a result of many factors, including the ones we mentioned in 1993. They are: low interest rates and a responsible Fed, the computer revolution and hard-won productivity gains begun in the 1980s. In the early 1990s, the value of those productivity gains wasn't appreciated much in the general media--many people wrote at length of concern about future joblessness and job insecurity. You yourself covered the downsizing story in a major way. But those productivity gains did eventually translate into the jobs boom of the 1990s. Wages even went up. As for Greenspan, the bond market reappointed him, not President Clinton.

That doesn't mean taxes aren't important. They are very important. The recent capital-gains cut helped everybody. And the 1990s recovery would be even stronger if it weren't for the Bush and Clinton tax hikes. We're told one of our biggest problems today is Social Security. Dropping marginal income tax rates would go a long way to solving the secular growth problem we call the Social Security crisis.

But one reason I looked forward to this breakfast club was to reconnect with you on foreign topics, which we both used to write about. Can we please talk about the Cold War or the Third Way in Europe now? What do you think of the CNN series?

Yours, Amity

E.J. Dionne is a columnist at the Washington Post and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Amity Shlaes, the author of The Greedy Hand: How Taxes Drive Americans Crazy and What To Do About It, is a member of the Wall Street Journal's editorial board.