Former president Bill Clinton told the Democratic National Convention that Barack Obama has a plan to rescue the economy, and only the fact that the Republicans stood in his way has stopped him from getting the economy out of the doldrums.
From all this, and much else that is said in the media and on the campaign trail, you might think that the economy requires government intervention to revive and create jobs. It is Beltway dogma that the government has to "do something."
History tells a different story. For the first 150 years of this country's existence, the federal government felt no great need to "do something" when the economy turned down. Over that long span of time, the economic downturns were neither as deep nor as long lasting as they have been since the federal government decided that it had to "do something" in the wake of the stock market crash of 1929, which set a new precedent.
One of the last of the "do nothing" presidents was Warren G. Harding. In 1921, under President Harding, unemployment hit 11.7 percent -- higher than it has been under President Obama. Harding did nothing to get the economy stimulated.
Far from spending more money to try to "jump start" the economy, President Harding actually reduced government spending, as the tax revenues declined during the economic downturn.
This was not a matter of absent-mindedly neglecting the economy. President Harding deliberately rejected the urging of his own Secretary of Commerce, Herbert Hoover, to intervene.
The 11.7 percent unemployment rate in 1921 fell to 6.7 percent in 1922, and then to 2.4 percent in 1923. It is hard to think of any government intervention in the economy that produced such a sharp and swift reduction in unemployment as was produced by just staying out of the way and letting the economy rebound on its own.
Bill Clinton loudly proclaimed to the delegates to the Democratic National Convention that no president could have gotten us out of the recession in just one term.
But history shows that the economy rebounded out of a worse unemployment situation in just two years under Harding, who simply let the market revive on its own, as it had done before, time and time again for more than a century.
Something similar happened under Ronald Reagan. Unemployment peaked at 9.7 percent early in the Reagan administration. Like Harding and earlier presidents, Reagan did nothing, despite outraged outcries in the media.
The economy once again revived on its own. Three years later, unemployment was down to 7.2 percent -- and it kept on falling, as the country experienced twenty years of economic growth with low inflation and low unemployment.
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