Ronald Reagan

James P. Freeman: Now it's U2 vs. the Trump regime

Suit and tie comes up to me
His face red
Like a rose on a thorn bush
Like all the colours of a royal flush
And he’s peeling off those dollar bills

— “Bullet the Blue Sky,” 1987


U2’s angry, angst-driven anthem was meant to be a stinging political commentary on President Ronald Reagan’s ‘80s foreign policy, and the band’s seminal work, The Joshua Tree, was, by extension, an explorative essay about Americana, with Nevada’s desert plain serving as its cinematic lyrical leitmotif.

But today, still infatuated with America as an idea, U2 has substituted Donald Trump for Ronald Reagan, and the inspiration for the band’s newly announced tour, commemorating the 30th anniversary of the album, is really an elaborate ruse of anti-Trumpism, not a trip through the wires of celebratory nostalgia.

Fans should be prepared.

The Joshua Tree Tour 2017 (stopping in Greater Boston at Gillette Stadium on June 25) seems steeped in sentimentalism — with the band even having re-created a photo based upon the iconic album cover — given the original recording’s massive popularity and youthful idealism. But guitarist The Edge, in a recent Rolling Stone interview, provides fair warning and the reasoning behind this surprise tour:  “The election [happened] and suddenly the world changed … The Trump election. It’s like a pendulum has suddenly just taken a huge swing in the other direction.”

Meaning, evidently, the wrong direction.

He further explained that “things have kind of come full circle, if you want. That record was written in the mid-‘80s, during the Reagan-Thatcher era of British and U.S. politics. It was a period when there was a lot of unrest. Thatcher was in the throes of trying to put down the miners’ strike; there was all kinds of shenanigans going on in Central America. It feels like we’re right back there in a way.”

And The Edge added that while this tour is “not really about nostalgia,” the songs “have a new meaning and a new resonance today that they didn’t have three years ago, four years ago.” That was under President Obama’s America of “safe-spaces” and universal health care. (The band played at a pre-inaugural concert in Washington, D.C., eight years ago, heralding his election.) Trump’s America, by contrast, is now a dangerous netherworld, as U2 sees it.

Two U2 shows in 2016 offer a kinetic prelude to shows coming this spring.

Last fall, before the election, performances at the iHeartRadio Music Festival and Dreamforce, in Las Vegas and San Francisco, respectively, were infused with vitriolic rants about Trump and the kind of degenerated America one should expect under his leadership.

During the song “Desire” at the iHeart show, with a video backdrop of Trump speaking, Bono asks those in attendance, “Are you ready to gamble the American Dream?” And if they were to vote for Trump they would, he admonished, lose “everything.”

James P. Freeman, an occasional contributor, is a writer and in financial services. This piece first ran in The New Boston Post.



Sarah Anderson: The best presidents for tax fairness

With all the debate over Donald Trump’s tax-dodging, I’ve been wondering how taxes have played into presidential politics in the past.

For some answers, I turned to Bob McIntyre, head of the nonpartisan research and advocacy group Citizens for Tax Justice. For 40 years, McIntyre has been on the frontlines of efforts to make our tax code fairer.

When asked what American president he considers the worst on tax fairness, his initial response was “Yipes, there are so many.”

After some consideration, he bestowed that honor on Ronald Reagan, whose 1981 tax act slashed taxes on the rich.

The top marginal tax rate dropped from 70 percent to 50 percent (before being cut even further to 28 percent in 1986). And, even more harmful, according to McIntyre, was the bill’s vast expansion of corporate tax loopholes.

Ironically, though, when I asked what president has done the most to advance tax fairness, Reagan’s name came up again — not as number 1, but as the runner-up.

While Reagan is a big hero of anti-tax Tea Partiers, later in his presidency, he agreed to raise taxes several times to address mounting budget deficits.

McIntyre was particularly involved in the fight over Reagan’s 1986 reform, after cranking out reports for a decade that documented rampant tax-dodging among America’s largest corporations and wealthiest individuals.

The loophole-closing 1986 reform was still not enough to solve the problem of insufficient revenue to pay for federal spending. But by creating a broader tax base, Reagan set the stage for President Bill Clinton’s increases in the tax rates on the highest earners.

The top marginal rate rose to 39.6 percent in 1993, where it stands today.

The combination of the 1986 and 1993 reforms was essential to the balanced federal budgets that occurred in the late 1990s, according to McIntyre.

But of course, then President George W. Bush blasted a cruise missile-sized hole through all that fiscal responsibility with a new round of tax cuts and a spike in war spending.

So who was the best president for the cause of tax fairness?

Again, the answer was surprising: Teddy Roosevelt, but not because he was a strong advocate of progressive taxes (which indeed he was). Instead, McIntyre says TR deserves the honor because of the unintended consequences of his pettiness.

To understand his argument requires a bit of a history refresher.

In 1912, Roosevelt, who’d held the nation’s highest office from 1901 to 1909, decided to throw his hat back in the ring because he was dissatisfied with the presidential performance of his former protégé, William Taft.

When TR failed to beat Taft for the nomination, he founded his own party — the progressive, so-called “Bull Moose” Party — and while he didn’t win the election, he succeeded in splitting up the Republican Party.

This, McIntyre points out, led to Democratic takeovers of previously Republican state legislatures, which was critical to delivering the three-quarters of states necessary to ratify the 16th Amendment.

“Without Teddy’s petulance,” McIntyre told me, “the amendment authorizing a federal income tax would almost certainly have failed to be adopted.”

So how does one stay motivated to keep fighting for fair taxation for 40 years? “Perhaps I have Sisyphus as my hero,” McIntyre said.

Trying to stop big corporations and billionaires from rigging the system does indeed seem like pushing a rock up a hill over and over. But until we elect public servants willing to stand up to these powerful forces, we have no choice but to keep pushing.

Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies and is a co-editor of Distributed by

David Warsh: Robert Bartley's malign ghost at the GOP convention

There is no point in asking Donald Trump about his economists.  It hasn’t been that been that kind of a campaign.  In May the businessman reached out to Stephen Moore, of the Heritage Foundation, and CNBC television host Lawrence Kudlow, to help cut the $10 trillion cost of the tax cuts that he had proposed. Last week Moore and lawyer-turned-restaurateur Andy Puzder gave Trump a qualified endorsement in The Wall Street Journal: “A Trump Economy Beats Clinton’s.” Mark Skousen made the libertarian case against Trump here last spring.

If there is one man beside Trump himself whose spirit will inhabit the hall in Cleveland, at least metaphorically, it is Robert L. Bartley – not because Bartley himself approved of Trump – who knows if he did? – but because, as editor of the editorial page of The Wall Street  Journal,  Bartley spearheaded the creation of the say-anything, stop-at-nothing rules that ultimately led to Trump’s success in gaining the Republican Party’s nomination.

Bartley died in 2003. After taking over the editorial page in 1972, he became the most influential administrator of the rules of American public debate in the last third of the 20th Century. In that position, Bartley began the populist revolt that has since found its apotheosis in Trump.

Most influential journalistic umpire of an age?  How do you back a claim like that? Mainly by comparison, naturally -- in this case to the career of the most influential journalist of the middle third of the 20th Century, Walter Lippmann. As it happens, thanks to Craufurd Goodwin, of Duke University, dean of U.S. historians of economics we have a first-rate biography of Lippmann that concentrates on his role as a defender of market economics (Walter Lippmann, Public Economist (Harvard, 2014), as opposed to Ronald Steel’s Walter Lippmann and the American Century (1980).

Lippmann was the child of well-to-do German-Jewish parents, attended Harvard College, worked for Woodrow Wilson during World War I, was on friendly terms from then on with Franklin Roosevelt, John Maynard Keynes and Felix Frankfurter.  Bartley was the son of a professor of veterinary medicine, attended Iowa State University, and, as editor of the WSJ (as the editorial page editor was and still is called), became a friend of Robert Mundell, of Columbia University; Albert Wohlstetter, of RAND Corp.; Edward Teller, of the University of California, at Berkeley; and President Ronald Reagan.

Bartley was 34 when he was appointed to the job. He had voted for Lyndon Johnson over Barry Goldwater in 1964, but by the time that he spent a year in Washington, in 1971, he had become conservative, and, according to former WSJ reporter Robert Novak, by then a syndicated columnist, he was ostracized by liberal reporters there as a right-wing “kook.” Upon becoming editor he built a staff that eventually totaled fifty writers and editors, creating a universe of conservative opinion parallel to the news side of the paper.  Among those he hired was Jude Wanniski, a flamboyant reporter for The National Observer, a weekly newspaper published in those days by Dow Jones.

In a level-headed appreciation in Slate, in 2003, Jack Shafer described an experience that was widely shared during the 1970s:

“[W]hat attracted me to the page when I first started reading it in 1973, fishing it out of a trash can each night as I cleaned an office building, was Bartley’s allegiance to the classical liberal values of free markets and free speech. Back then, Bartley was a minority of one among editorial-page editors in hewing to those views, tilting against the neo-Swedish worldview of The Washington Post, New York Times, and Los Angeles Times editorial pages. So if Bartley overstated his case from time to time by shouting until his vocal chords hemorrhaged and his readers lost their hearing, well, that was OK by me.

“As a small-government libertarian, I never subscribed to the Journal edit page’s supply-side orthodoxy as formulated by Jude Wanniski, which didn’t seem to care about the growth of government as long as taxes got cut. Today, nearly everybody recognizes that the marginal tax rate of 70 percent when Ronald Reagan took office was at least twice as high as it should be. Cutting it down to 28 percent proved to be both a utilitarian and an individual boon. As economist Bruce Bartlett notes, the world took notice of the American tax revolution, and many nations followed our example to excellent effect. But back in the ’70s, when Galbraithism and Heilbronerism ruled, Bartley and his scriveners were the true intellectual radicals.

Wanniski introduced Bartley to a pair of refugees from the University of Chicago, Arthur Laffer and Mundell.  By 1975, Mundell was teaching international economics at Columbia. Wanniski described a “Mundell-Laffer hypothesis,” as revolutionary and mysterious as the prescriptions of Keynes 40 years before, all the more so for being confided in a series of restaurant lunches instead of conveyed as formal models in technical papers. The ideas eventually were encoded as WSJ  editorials and dubbed ‘supply-side’ economics: massive tax cuts that would pay for themselves by spurring growth.’’

Reagan won the presidency in 1980, and Bartley won a Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. The editorial page had become immensely powerful, and has remained so.  Bartley told an interviewer in 1981, about the time Wanniski was fired for train-station-electioneering for a supply-side insurgent candidate, “Jude had a tremendous influence over the tone and direction of the page. He taught me the power of the outrageous.” Wanniski struck out on his own as a political consultant but remained close to the page. By 1982, Vermont Royster,  Bartley’s processor as editor, had joined the critics. Novak later quoted him:   “‘When I was writing editorials,’ said Royster, ‘I was always a little bit conscious of the possibility that I might be wrong. Bartley . . . is not conscious of the possibility that he is wrong.’  Yet Bartley’s page “exerted more influence than Royster’s ever attempted,” wrote Novak.

By the end of the 1980s, Bartley had won. George H. W. Bush had succeeded Reagan as president, but the WSJ  editorial page refused to take yes for an answer.  Bartley vigorously opposed Bush’s decision to seek modest tax increases to pay for war in the Persian Gulf to expel Iraq from Kuwait.  And when Bill Clinton defeated Bush, in 1992, the editorial page began a series of attacks on Clinton and his wife that ultimately sought to overturn election results with an impeachment trial.

I can pinpoint the day the page lost me altogether. It was March 18, 1993, with a famous editorial, whose title, “No Guardrails,” has since become a WSJ battle cry. A physician who performed abortions in Florida had been ambushed and killed by a protester in Florida. The editorialist, Daniel Henninger, wrote:

“[T]here really was a time in the United States when life seemed more settled, when emotions, both private and public, didn’t seem to run so continuously at breakneck speed, splattering one ungodly tragedy after another across the evening news. How did this happen to the United States? How, in T.S. Eliot’s phrase, did so many become undone?

“We think it is possible to identify the date when the U.S., or more precisely when many people within it, began to tip off the emotional tracks. A lot of people won’t like this date, because it makes their political culture culpable for what has happened. The date is August 1968, when the Democratic National Convention found itself sharing Chicago with the street fighters of the anti-Vietnam War movement.

“The real blame here does not lie with the mobs who fought bloody battles with the hysterical Chicago police. The larger responsibility falls on the intellectuals –university professors, politicians and journalistic commentators – who said then that the acts committed by the protesters were justified or explainable. That was the beginning. After Chicago, the justifications never really stopped. America had a new culture, for political action and personal living.

“With great rhetorical firepower, books, magazines, opinion columns and editorials defended each succeeding act of defiance – against the war, against university presidents, against corporate practices, against behavior codes, against dress codes, against virtually all agents of established authority.’’

There was something downright creepy about that editorial – like the moment in The Shining when a leering Jack Nicholson, peering over her shoulder, says to his wife, who has just discovered that his manuscript, on which he has been working obsessively, is repetitive nonsense, “How do you like it so far?”  Any relatively disinterested observer who lived through the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s knew the extent to which those years had involved a calming down from the ’60s, of the restoration of rules of civility in the political realm, a process of equilibration.

From the short-lived administration of Gerald Ford to the zero-based budgeting and deregulation under Jimmy Carter, from disinflation under Paul Volcker to tax simplification and Social Security stabilization under Ronald Reagan, the signal events of those years constituted a retreat from the excesses of the ‘60s and a celebration of traditional values of order, credibility, ambition, and achievement. The one sphere in which pressure had continued from the Left was expansion of civil rights — of women, minorities, immigrants, gays, and specifically the rights of women to obtain abortions.  Which was, of course, exactly what the writer had in mind.

Shafer described the scorched-earth policies of those years:

“As many of Bartley’s ideas gained ascendancy, his page became shriller, unable to give Clinton proper credit for getting control of spending. There’s a thin line between hard-hitting opinion journalism and character assassination, a line that Bartley frequently erased. Instead of serving as a sophisticated and credible spokespage for classical liberalism—like The Economist—his page descended all too often into the dishonesty and hackery one associates with politicians.’’

By 2001, Bartley was ill.   He stepped down and began writing an occasional column.  The 9/11 destruction of the World Trade Center temporarily forced the WSJ from its offices around the corner. The editorial page soon began a relentless campaign for the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. Bartley died in December 2003, a week after receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

I hope that Bartley will find as wise and good-natured a biographer as did Lippmann in Goodwin.  The rise of paleo-conservatives has been the subject of at least one good book, George Nash’s The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America since 1945 (1976), and is soon to have another, a long-awaited biography of William F. Buckley, by Sam Tanenhaus.  Peter Steinfels and Jacob Heilbrunn, have chronicled the rise of the neoconservatives: The Neoconservatives: The Men who are Changing America’s Politics (1979) and They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons (2008). Populist conservatives were the subject of Peddling Prosperity: Economic Sense and Nonsense in the Age of Diminished Expectations (1994), by Paul Krugman.  If paleo-con Buckley’s National Review provided the starting place for the careers of George Will and Garry Wills; if neo-con Irving Kristol’s influence extended to Allan Bloom, Francis Fukuyama, and Dinesh d’Souza (and influenced the views of broadcast journalists such as John McLaughlin, Rush Limbaugh, and Glen Beck); then Bartley can be said to have furthered the careers of Wanniski, Michael Novak, George Gilder and Amity Shlaes. There’s plenty of material to work with there.

Is it fair to blame the chaos surrounding this year’s Republican nomination on Bob Bartley? Clearly I think so. No one in my lifetime systematically removed more of those guardrails, the norms governing good-faith political and economic discourse, than he. Trump is the downside of 40 years of WSJ ed page comment too often just like his: outrageous, sulfurous, and, all too often, half-baked.  Bartley is dead; long live Bartley: in his absence, the page was completely unable to steer the nomination toward a more viable candidate this year. The best that can be said is that its editorialists helped keep it away from Sen. Ted Cruz.

Paul Gigot, who succeeded Bartley in 2001, has steered a steady course, admitting more diverse opinion to its op-ed pages, coping with increasing disunity among the -cons mainly by proliferating columnists. Lee Lescaze, whom the WSJ hired from The Washington Post in 1989 and who founded its Weekend section, laid the foundation for a humane and sophisticated new wing of the paper before he died, in 1996.

Rupert Murdoch bought the paper from Dow Jones heirs in 2007. His sons, James and Lachlan, have their work cut out for them. Sometime in the next few years they must replace Gigot, 61, with an editor capable of restoring credible focus to a page that has become alternately ideological and diffuse. The decision of The New York Times in March to replace Andrew Rosenthal with James Bennett, hired back from The Atlantic, can only increase the pressure.

Two great heroes of the Republican Party in living memory were Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan. To lionize Reagan is not enough. Until the similarities of roles of both are understood, the Republican Party is not going to regain the White House.

David Warsh is proprietor of and a longtime financial journalist and economic historian. He, like the overseer of New England Diary, Robert Whitcomb, worked for The Wall Street Journal in the 1970s.

Donald Kaul: This liberal's fond words for Nancy Reagan



I was late to the Nancy Reagan Admiration Society. She had arrived on the political scene, after all, on the arm of Ronald Reagan, a man I neither liked nor admired.

I thought he was a phony — a B-movie star who seemed either unwilling or unable to differentiate between movies and real life. He was fond of telling stories like that one about the wounded airman and his fatherly senior officer who, as their disabled bomber rocketed toward the earth, comforted the boy by saying, “Don’t worry, son. We’ll ride this down together.”

I wondered how “Dutch” could have known the final words of the officer, who presumably died in the subsequent crash. Years later I found the answer. The scene was in a World War II movie.

He was always doing things like that, copping a scene here or a line there from an old movie and making it his own.

And Nancy Reagan was part and parcel of that act — a clotheshorse whose main job was to sit slightly behind her husband at speeches, gazing at him admiringly while nodding at appropriate moments.

In the years since those early days, my opinion of both Reagans has changed.

He never shed his willful ignorance of most matters, but he had a certain charm. And he excelled in his greatest role, that of the grievously wounded president wisecracking with emergency room doctors as they fought to save his life after he was shot.

And I realize now that Nancy was far more than an adoring spouse. She was a silent partner who was always there to give him support and advice.

And after his presidency, when he was being assailed with Alzheimer’s, she became his rock.

Anyone who’s had the experience of caring for a loved one suffering from the disease knows what an all-consuming, pitiless task it is. She endured it bravely and uncomplainingly for 10 years.

I don’t buy the notion that Reagan was a great president. Yes, he made some positive contributions. But he also convinced Republicans that the way to prosperity was to allow the government to spend lavishly on things like the military so long as it didn’t tax. We live with the burden of that malign idea even now.

Nancy Reagan, however, was one of the great first ladies. All in all, she was a noble, even heroic figure, and she deserves all the accolades now coming to her as the nation mourns her passing.

And she must have been appalled by the floating food fight at most of this year’s Republican presidential debates.

Her beloved husband was the author of what he called the Eleventh Commandment: Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.

But the Republicans have opened up their big guns on the Donald Trump bandwagon, hoping to derail his glide to the nomination. And he’s returned fire.

Establishment Republicans seem to think they can deny Trump the number of delegates needed for an automatic, first-ballot victory and to take him to a floor fight at the GOP convention.

It’s a hare-brained scheme.

Do they really think that if Trump is denied a victory he won at the ballot box by a parliamentary trick, his supporters will just acquiesce and support the hand-picked Republican nominee?

The Reagan era is officially over, usurped by the age of Trump.

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Mich. 

Peter Hart: Big Media's bad advice for Democrats

Before anyone even knew just how badly the Democrats would get trounced in the 2014 midterm elections, some pundits were already sending the party a message: Be more like the Republicans.

Now they don’t put it that way, exactly.

The professional campaign watchers like to say instead that the Democratic Party needs to move to the “middle” or the “center.” What they mean is that the Democrats should get closer to the Republicans on the issues.

Think about this for a second.

The turnout for the mid-term elections was the lowest for a mid-term in 70 years. Can we really expect more people to get excited about voting if the two major political parties become more like one another?

It doesn’t make much sense, but that’s Big Media’s remedy

For example, after Senate Democrats voted to give the populist Sen. Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, a leadership role in their caucus, CBS host Bob Schieffer said that it was “going to leave the impression that the party is moving to the left,” when the advice from “a lot of people” is that nothing will get done in Washington unless “both parties move toward the center.”

USA Today actually recommended that Barack Obama steal an idea from post-Iran/Contra Scandal Ronald Reagan and apologize on TV. What for? The newspaper didn’t say.

The problem, as The New York Times saw it, was that the Democrats had gone too far to the left under Obama: “Democrats largely abandoned the more centrist, line-blurring approach of Bill Clinton to motivate an ascendant bloc of liberal voters,” the paper insisted.

But that’s a dubious description of Obama-era Democrats.

On foreign policy, after all, the White House has escalated the war in Afghanistan, carried out drone attacks on several countries, helped engineer a disastrous Libyan War, and is now going back into Iraq.

The centerpiece of Obama’s domestic policy, meanwhile — the Affordable Care Act — was borrowed from Mitt Romney, who established a similar initiative as the governor of Massachusetts. And the law’s “individual mandate” to buy insurance was first cooked up by the right-wing Heritage Foundation.

But if that’s what the media considers veering left, what do Beltway insiders think  that the White House should do to make up for it?

For them, the first order of business is, well, big business: Obama should push through the secretive, corporate-friendly Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. People who actually turned up to vote must find this peculiar, since almost no one was talking up the deal before Election Day.

What else should Obama do, according to these pundits? Approve the highly controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would pump dirty tar sands oil from Canada down to the Gulf Coast for refining.

Why would a president who says he cares about the climate crisis do this? To be more bipartisan, apparently.

Does any of this sound like the message voters were sending?

Not at all.

In fact, one of the most intriguing findings to come out of the 2014 exit polls was that the majority of voters think  that the economic system favors the wealthy: 63 percent of respondents said so, up from 56 in 2012.

This would suggest that a more vigorous brand of economic populism would resonate with voters — even if the pundits would hate it.

Peter Hart is the activism director of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting  ( This was distributed via OtherWords (

David Warsh: They want a 'Fourth Revolution' in the West


When he was 18,  before entering college, John Micklethwait toured the  U.S. for a year with a friend, traveling on Greyhound buses. When they arrived in San Francisco, they spent a memorable evening with expat British businessman Antony Fisher, founder of London’s Institute of Economic Affairs, and his downstairs neighbor, Milton Friedman.


They talked about the possibilities now that Margaret Thatcher had become  prime minister and Ronald Reagan president of the United States. The conversation made a deep impression on Mickelthwait. Then it was back to Magdalen College, Oxford, and an eventual career in journalism.


Today his companion is a major general, but Micklethwait commands many more battalions as editor-in-chief, since 2006, of The Economist. His new book is The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State, written with longtime collaborator Adrian Wooldridge, management editor of the magazine. They argue that the West should complete the revolution of the ’80s that Friedman started.

It won’t be easy, the authors acknowledge. Both the welfare state and democracy itself must be reined in, the former by redefining and reducing expectations of it; the latter by consensually imposing a series of self-denying limits: global budget caps, monetary targets, earmarked taxes, co-payments, borrowing ceilings, sunset provisions and the like.


The successful construction and adoption of such a fiscal constitution would amount to a “Fourth Revolution” in the nature of government in the West, they say.  Previous revolutions they associate with three philosophers who at intervals wrote influentially on the role of the state. This catechism, a familiar device from their magazine, is designed to buttress the case for what they hope will happen next.


Thus, Thomas Hobbes described the fundamental purpose of the nation-state as the creation of law and order, thus the overwhelming force necessary to maintain  the nation-state known ever since, at least to Hobbesians, as “Leviathan.” John Stuart Mill, who lived in a more prosperous time, imagined the state as a kind of “night watchman,” dedicated to free trade, social rights (of women in particular),  and education.   And Fabian Society socialist Beatrice Webb conjured a ”welfatre state” in the 20th century in which government influence extended into every sphere of production and consumption.


The authors are then off on a round of breathless reporting: to California, which they say illustrates everything that is wrong with modern democratic government, until, miraculously, under Gov. Jerry Brown, the state begins to straighten itself out; to Singapore, to see Lee Kuan Yew, founding father of  a new model of national development, adopted in some ways by China, “that is in many ways leaner and more efficient than the decadent Western model”; to Sweden, where a wave of privatizations has reduced government spending in  20 years from 67 percent of GDP to 49 percent.


Along the way, we meet many of the usual suspects. Clayton Christensen, of the Harvard Business School, is “perhaps the world’s most respected writer on innovation,” who thinks  that the public sector will be upset by what he calls “mutants”  -- new organisms that may spin out from unexpected directions. (Their esteem is not  universally shared.) Peter Theil, a prominent venture capitalist, laments that technology has so far failed to change the public sector.

Devi Shetty, an entrepreneur, “whom American surgeons may one day remember the same way that American engineers think of Kiichiro Toyoda,” has a production line of  40  cardiologists who perform 600 operations a week in Bangalore.


There is a peroration in the book:


"The Fourth Revolution is about many things. It is about harnessing the power of technology to provide better services. It is about finding clever ideas from every corner of the world. It is about getting rid of outdated labor practices. But at its heart it is about reviving the power of two great liberal ideas.  It is about reviving the spirit of liberty by putting more emphasis on individual rights and less on social rights. And it is about reviving the spirit of democracy by lightening the burden of the state.''


One indication that history may not be tending in this direction is that the subject of climate change comes up nowhere in the book.  This is odd because the weekly Economist does such a good job of reporting on the growing scientific consensus that global warming is becoming a serious problem.


Another contraindication is to be found in the authors’ proposal to “leapfrog over the muddle of Obamacare,” borrowing equally from “Old Europe and New Asia.” Why not combine a European-style single-payer health care system, featuring an independent medical board to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of medicines, devices and procedures, with means tests and a Singapore-style stream of earmarked taxes pay for it.  That might strike Tea Party fundamentalists as socialism, they write, but  it is precisely the kind of transparency-inducing global cap that  they advocate in other connections, including Social Security.


It is not fair to place so much weight, as the authors do, on Milton Friedman’s shoulders. The Chicago economist, who was 94 when he died, in 2006, was a deeply consequential 20th Century figure whose role is not yet well understood. He may be fruitfully compared to John Maynard Keynes. Both men were authors of clarion wake-up calls. Keynes argued that government had a role in stabilization policy that it must not shirk; Friedman, that there are many economic ways to address a problem (including, presumably, the threat of global warming). Neither man was much concerned in his day with the finer points of economic analysis,  but each commanded the attention and, ultimately, the agreement of his age.   Other theorists, notably James Buchanan and Friedrich Hayek, have been more concerned with the idea of fiscal constitution.


At one point in their roundup, the authors quote Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire financial analytics entrepreneur who served three successful terms as mayor of New York City before returning to civilian life.  Among other things,he oversees Bloomberg BusinessWeek, which he bought while he was mayor. Running a city is different  from running a business, Bloomberg says.


''People are motivated by different things and you face a much more intrusive press.  You cannot pay good staff a lot of money…. In business you experiment and you back the projects that win. The healthy bits get the money, and the unhealthy bits wither. In government the unhealthy bits get all the attention because they have the fiercest defenders.''


Doubtless so.  But that doesn’t mean that governmental processes are not being improved, mainly along the lines advocated by Micklethwait and Wooldridge.  Perhaps it is familiarity with the details that makes Bloomberg BusinessWeek so consistently interesting when it arrives along with The Economist each week.  Hardly a week passes that I don’t compare the one to the other. In coverage of the Fourth Revolution, most weeks I think that the Americans are getting ahead.


A 14-page article, The Biden Agenda: Reckoning with Ukraine and Iraq, and keeping an eye on 2016 by Evan Osnos, in the current issue of The New Yorker, signals the vice-president’s willingness to contest the Democratic presidential nomination with former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. For both the politician and the journalist it is an impressive outing (Osnos, recently returned from China, is author of Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Fraith in the New China). The article would seem to promise a spirited campaign.


David Warsh, an economic historian and a longtime financial journalist, is proprietor of economic


James P. Freeman: A just appraisal of the '80s




“We’ve got no future, we’ve got no past

Here today, built to last…”

            The Pet Shop Boys--“West End Girls”


A wit once said we live in an era of “re’s.” Today we regift, repurpose and reboot. But it is the wise who revisit. As did over 100  on a sweltering afternoon last summer on the campus green of Providence College for the 25th reunion of the Class of 1988.


While it was a celebration of silver tokens and conversation among graying scalps, it also afforded the opportunity to rediscover the Excellent Eighties and reflect upon contemporary culture.

 The '80s still command little respect, as evident from the recent Radio Shack commercial mocking the era—its icons and gear—as obsolescent old-school relics. Indeed, Gen Xers (from 1965-1979, 80 million) are still overshadowed by Baby Boomers (1946-1964, 76 million) and their incessant self-indulgent generational ownership or a kind of “cultural hegemony.”  The recent 50-year commemorations of the Beatles conquering America and the JFK assassination were given weighty television documentaries. By contrast, the seeming superficiality of the '80s are relegated to kitschy nostalgia programming on music channels.

 But Daniel J. Boorstein, writing for Life Books in 1989, believed that the 80s saw “accelerating contrary movements home and abroad.” It was a decade of dichotomy that could live with cultural contradictions and synthesize the schizophrenia of silly and serious. The Brat Pack and Warsaw Pact. Tom Cruise and cruise missiles. Cher and Chernobyl.

 Totally tubular!

 As children, its members were born into the Space Age and Information Age of the '60s, the warp-speed mobility of man and data. By 1988, ET could phone home in analog and digital.

 The formative years, however, were the 1970s, where disco and discontentment settled in amidst the thick stagnation. No wonder, then, that from this period emerged a pope, prime minister and president who would set the tone for the upcoming decade and prove to be towering 20th Century figures.  

 For students, Ronald Reagan was the central figure of the decade. The class of ’88 cast its first votes for president in 1984; it would mark the last time young Americans voted Republican in large numbers (with Reagan getting slightly under 60 percent of the vote.). The president’s stark good-vs.-evil persona paralleled the hot whites, midnight blacks and sharp edges of the Eighties. Gone were the browns, burnt oranges and soft shapes of the prior decade. It was a projection of power. Super powers and power suits.

 It was Reagan who anticipated and advanced the shift of power from Washington to Wall Street. Gordon Gekko would become the most quotable financial icon only months after the then-largest point drop in the Dow Jones in 1987. By graduation, Yuppie finance figured conspicuously in literature with The Art of The Deal and Bonfire of the Vanities on non-fiction and fiction bestseller lists.


But as Wall Street was being erected in lower Manhattan a wall was about to be dismantled in the streets of Berlin. Reagan, often ridiculed as a warmonger, famously urged Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” in June 1987 and lived to see the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, without so much a shot being fired. It would mark the end of a decade exquisitely, if not ironically, begun with shots on goal between the USA and USSR during the 1980 Winter Olympics.

 The largest conflict proved to be between Iran and Iraq, a war that presaged future regional conflicts. In April of 1987, Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S. Nizar Hamdoon visited a political-science class at the college and warned of the greater effects of the war. One of the 20th Century’s longest conventional wars ended in August of 1988—the year the stealth bomber was unveiled -- with over 1.5 million dead.

 For one class member, war would be at the center of a career. Michael P. Sullivan, former director of rule of law for the U.S. State Department, was awarded a personal achievement award by the national alumni association. He had  visited many of the world’s hot spots: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq and Afghanistan.

 Awesome dude!

 The '80s, however, were more than money and magniloquence. As the century waned, it weighed the contrasting philosophical musings of Jean Paul Sartre’s amoralism with John Paul II’s absolute morality. As the century’s longest serving pope, no other world figure would better articulate with a severe clarity the dignity and sanctity of life. Coupled with Britain’s Margaret Thatcher and Reagan’s leadership, the advancement of freedom globally was also moving fast.

As the only American college administered by the Dominican Friars, theology played a pivotal role in everyday life as did sports, particularly basketball in the spring of 1987--the Final Four. As juniors, they would seek pardon for the men they admired most: Rick Pitino, Billy Donovan and Ernie DiGregorio as the father, son and holy ghost.   

 Much is made of 80’s pop culture and Madonna’s Material World. Much had to do with the new technology allowing greater access in the distribution of content, particularly with music and movies--where forwarding the experience, in order to rewind it, became a newfound joy. This would be the first generation to embrace the individualism of Sony Walkman’s and rental VHS tapes, along with the communalism of Live Aid and Midnight Madness theatre showings, with equal enthusiasm.

MTV, the CD and synthesizer rescued a dying music industry. In 1982 there were no commercially released compact discs; by 1989 over 150 million were sold. By the end of the decade with VCRs blinking “12:00,” over “sixty percent of America fast-forward[ed],” according to Life Magazine. Dialogue and lyrics, as a consequence, would become more memorable.

 In film, youthful indiscretion and accidental discovery played by effervescent capers and exultant crusaders defined the era. Unlike the '70s, characters wanted to live in the decade, not escape from it. Enter Ferris, Joel, Duckie and Rambo.

  It was a time of Michaels… as in Jackson and Jordan.

 But Michael J. Fox’s characters best personified the decade. A trilogy of films The Secret of My Success, Bright Lights, Big City, Casualties of War,  saw dreamy optimism perish to jaded reality. Sequenced in 1987, 1988 and 1989, together they encapsulate the era from ambition (as a corporate buccaneer) to anxiety (as a writer) to asymmetry (as a warrior).

 Then, in  1992, came the election  of the first Baby Boomer president. And the '90s gave the world Clinton and Casual Fridays. Aspiration melted into angst. The world seemed safer, if not simpler, in a bi-polar globe, East and West.

 The Class of ’88, in spite of it all, is remarkably composed. There were no existential crises, the kind embalmed by The Big Chill—there those Boomers go again... If anything, members reimagined a world before wardrobe malfunctions, Facebook creeping, derivatives and mobile apps. And 9/11.  

A just appraisal of this period reveals that with the fun and frivolity there was substance and solicitude. Rubik’s Cubes and rubric conservatism. As Boorstein concludes, the “remembered record” for the' 80s will “also reassure us of the random vitality of Americans and of the human race.”

 Wicked cool!


James P. Freeman is a former columnist with The Cape Cod Time.

Ike, LBJ and GWB also didn't act

  March 7, 2014

Milder today, with even a touch of the sweet melancholy of spring. I think that when spring (that you can feel) really arrives, maybe next month, there will be an usually exuberant explosion of green. And maybe a particularly hot summer. The meteos predict much warmer weather starting later this year as El Nino gets cooking. Good, this year's heating bill have just about bankrupted us.

First, a reminder that Eisenhower did not do a thing when the Russians invaded Hungary in 1956 and killed about 30,000 people; Johnson didn't do anything when the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, and George W. Bush didn't do anything when Russia invaded and stole part of Georgia.

Fascist Russian dictator Putin still occupies Crimea and it looks at this point that not much will be done about it, at least in the short term. The Europeans fear that Putin will turn off their gas supplies; they have also essentially disarmed. This shows yet again how being dependent on fossil fuel from dictators is a dangerous thing.  The more local, renewable energy you can get, the safer you are.

Will Obama continue to look and act weak in the face of this thug? Or now that he has learned that sweet talk doesn't work with tyrants,  maybe  all of a sudden get tough, as happened when the scales feel from Jimmy Carter's eyes about the Soviets in 1979, when they invaded Afghanistan (helping to elect Ronald Reagan in 1980)?

Obama's retaliation  so far is a joke -- suspending some  visas and freezing some assets of people who weren't really in charge of the invasion of  Crimea. In fact, this was all  done at the order of Putin. It is the assets of Putin and the people around him, including the economic oligarchs of the  astonishingly corrupt current version of the Russian Empire, that need to be frozen.

By the way, one reason that Putin decided to seize Crimea is that the Soviet/Russian port there has been used to constantly resupply with armaments his fellow dictator Bashar Assad and other thugs around the world.

But reminder in all this: Eisenhower did not do a thing when the Russians invaded Hungary in 1956 and killed about 30,000 people and Johnson didn't do anything when the Russians invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968.