Kennedy was a Progressive Keynesian Democrat?

Michael Schaus
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Posted: Nov 28, 2013 12:01 AM
Kennedy was a Progressive Keynesian Democrat?

Editor's note: In light of the Thanksgiving Holiday, this is a re-published article from earlier this month. Happy Thanksgiving; and be sure to check back on "Black Friday" for fresh content.

Many conservatives have made the argument that John F. Kennedy would have been a member of today’s Republican Party given his conservative tendencies. I mean, after all, it seems hard to believe that the first Catholic President of the United States (who urged the American People to stop asking the Government what it can do for them) would support the party of Sandra Fluke and Planned Parenthood. Primarily, however, the argument has been made on the grounds that Kennedy enacted the largest tax rate cuts in American History.

And yet, Bloomberg’s Chief economic clown Editor, Mike McKee, has decided that Kennedy’s decidedly pro-growth reforms to the tax code actually illustrate his liberal Keynesian bent. (Wait. . . Don’t laugh yet. Watch the video first.)

McKee claims that because the Kennedy tax cuts benefited middle-class America (as well as the wealthy), it can’t possibly be the result of supply-side economics. After all, McKee lives in a world where conservatives are nothing but rich, greedy banking-types that want to keep the middle class in a state of struggle and strife. In other words, McKee believes “supply side” economics are what all the 1980’s left wing Democrats told him it was. . . Giving the rich more money, hoping their wealth would “trickle-down.”

Such a belief is a butchering of conservative economic theory. An Economics Editor at a finance television station should know better. (Then again. . . He does work for Bloomberg.) Kennedy’s across the board tax cut, like Reagan’s and like Bush’s, was a perfect example of pro-growth economics in action. Allow people to keep more of their money. By McKee’s cartoonish definition of supply-side economics, even the great conservative Ronald Reagan fails to qualify for conservative accolades.

The fact that such tax rate cuts benefit middle class and lower income earners, more than the wealthy, is not proof of liberalism or progressivism. In fact (and I know people like McKee would hate to hear this) that is kinda the point. Believe it or not, conservatives care about the average-common-folk. And that is the beauty of across the board tax rate cuts: Everyone benefits. (The lower classes more-so, because they have fewer disposable dollars; and thus each additional dollar they can keep is a more valuable benefit to their standard of living.)

Additionally, Kennedy saw to it that capital gains tax rates be slashed, along with corporate tax rates. (Corporatist! Someone call Occupy Wall Street!) This was to spur investment and business expansion. It had nothing to do with the Keynesian philosophy of redistributing government dollars to the masses, or expanding the public sector in an effort to lead a recovery. In fact, Kennedy’s plan was exactly the opposite. He sought to strengthen, and expand, the prosperity of the private sector in an effort to fully fund the government projects (such as reaching the moon) that would soon follow. Kennedy’s ambitious change to the tax code was textbook “pro-growth” policies that have since been advocated by Milton Friedman, Ludwig van Misses, and other conservative minded folks.

As for McKee’s absurd claim that Kennedy planned on deficit spending to expand the government’s foot print? Well, Kennedy may have had an interest in expanding social welfare programs beyond the comfort levels of modern conservatives, but he harbored a fundamental understanding that revenue must first be collected. And that, as much as anything else, was the reason for his pro-growth tax formula. He knew that to pay for bridges, roadways, and the space program, the economy would need to grow faster than government spending. Deficits, in Kennedy’s mind, were to be avoided. He even managed to blame much of the century’s deficit spending on the fact that little concern had been held in Washington for the strength of the private sector. The simple fact that Kennedy planned on increasing government spending after he increased revenues through rate cuts seems to escape the Bloomberg economics editor.

But, yes: Kennedy did push for some things (like a new minimum wage) that would upset the conservative wing of America. Of course, I’m not arguing that Kennedy was (or is) the standard bearer for conservatism. But in contrast to today’s liberal politicians, and Keynesian economists, he is certainly a representative sample of traditional pro-growth policies, and a haven of conservative thought in a decidedly progressive chapter of American history.

In Kennedy’s own words, “The federal government’s most useful role is .?.?. to expand the incentives and opportunities for private expenditures.”

Now, McKee, does that sound like the Party of Barack Obama and Harry Reid? Does that sound like the party that passed the largest tax increase in American history (The Affordable Care Act)? Does that echo President Obama’s call for increased taxes on the wealthy, increased business regulation, and increased tax burdens on particular industries?

The truth is, if Kennedy’s life had not been cut tragically short, he might not be the leader of the Tea Party, or a senior fellow at Cato. . . But he would certainly find himself at odds with the Paul Krugmans, Barack Obamas, and Mike McKees of the world. Kennedy’s truncated time in office produced a wealth of economic lessons for future generations. Not a single one of which is currently being employed by today’s Democrat Party, or Bloomberg’s economic team.