Beating on Bush
Jude Wanniski
May 25, 1989


Politicians left and right and their friends in the press corps are having a field day beating on the President for his "failure" in public relations, letting Gorbachev win the PR sweepstakes in Europe, hesitating to make a grandstand pitch for the student protesters in Beijing. "PR" inaction by George Bush is now being cast as a character flaw in him by the same folks who ridiculed Ronald Reagan for being all show, a media animal who read his substance from cue cards.

I'm thoroughly impressed with the way Bush has handled himself in these situations, unable to think of what I would have done differently (except to hire a classier speechwriter). Inaction is called for when things are going your way, and Bush is watching while Global Socialism crumbles. Moscow and Beijing are in the process of saying "we were wrong" and it would be foolish for President Bush to say anything that might interrupt the process. A friend compares Bush unfavorably to Winston Churchill in the '30s, warning against fascism. But there is no parallel. Indeed, Neville Chamberlain in the '30s was being hailed left and right for his appeasement "PR" in dealing with Hitler. It's the liberals who want Bush to make "concessions" to Moscow, the conservatives who want him to bluster about the failures of Moscow's systems at exactly the time when the Soviets are admitting as much.

A year ago, in contemplating "A Bush Administration," 3-15-88, I observed: "It would be fascinating to see a Secretary of State Baker negotiating on the plethora of issues that will confront a Bush administration with the Soviets. George Shultz is more an arbitrator than a negotiator, by training and temperament, a bit too quick to see both points of view and split the difference...Baker, in his natural element, would be a tougher negotiator with Moscow." It would be in Western interests now for Moscow and Beijing to win all the PR points while they cave in on the structures of their political economies. There's time enough for concessions when the two governments complete the unilateral concessions that political and economic realities at home are forcing upon them.

What worries me most about Moscow and Beijing are the destructive economic policies they are adopting. Beijing in 1989 began a new progressive income-tax system with a top marginal rate of 60% at a ridiculously low threshold level, then promptly devalued the yuan by 50% to produce an inflation cum bracket creep that punished private enterprise even more. The Old Guard in the USSR has also announced a new progressive income tax, with a top rate of 50% encountered at not more than the equivalent of $3,000. If Western economists can persuade Moscow to devalue the ruble by 50%, which is what Henry ("the smartest man in the world") Kissinger might advise, we'd see a quick end to perestroika. Henry has been opining on the Sunday talk shows that "economic growth" and the cessation of price controls has caused China's inflation.

There is absolutely no way the Soviet Union and China can develop much with these Maoist tax structures, whatever else they may do to invite free enterprise. Yet it is absolutely in Western interests that free enterprise experiments succeed there, without inflation. In the long run, democratic institutions would correct the errors made on economic policy. In the short run, the best thing George Bush could do for either Gorbachev or Deng would be to send each a bona fide supply-sider with some friendly advice. Ronald Reagan would be perfect. Dan Quayle would do. If he could spare Michael Boskin, that would help too.