Monday, November 27, 2006
Personal Asides: The Simon Mystique Milton Friedmans Revolutionary (for the time) Economics.
Saturday, the Tribune had a laudatory front-page article on how Sheila Simon, who is running for mayor of Carbondale, Illinois, is prepping to carry on her fathers name. The article fairly sang with hosannas to her father and his honesty. I suppose thats right. I knew Paul Simon beginning when he was in the state House. He was honest. Thats all. Maybe thats enough, I dont know. Looking at his bio in Wikipedia.org here is what they say about him. Or rather what Simons idolaters wrote about him as Wikipedia prints what you write without revision.
He wore a bow-tie and horn-rimmed glasses. He was a crusading newspaperman in Troy, Illinois and fought the Madison county gambling interests. There: thats doing something. That got him an invitation to testify before the Kefauver committee. Thats doing something as well.
He went to the army in the Korean War, came out, got elected as a state Rep. Then as a state Rep he wrote an article in Harpers that said many of his colleagues were corrupt. They probably were; Paul wasnt. But it accomplished what he wanted: got him press. He ran for the State Senate and got more press. Didnt accomplish anything in either house but--. Ran for lieutenant governor and got elected with Dick Ogilvie as governor. Cooperated with Ogilvie to pass the state income tax. Then he ran against Ogilvie anyhow. Lost to Dan Walker.
Ran for the U. S. House and got in. Did nothing there but issue press releases. Ran for the Senate and got in. His record of accomplishment is very sparse. As a Senator, he said he was proud as he once told me to have voted against the Reagan tax cuts which spurred the economy, rejecting the theory that a growing economy can cut the deficitas it has economists telling us that as a percentage of the GDP the deficit is well within our ability to manage. Most economists would say he was wrong about thatbut right as an ideologist of the Left. Something else he told me at a Quaker cocktail party in Washington after he had been elected rocked me on my heelsbut more about that later.
What else did Paul do? He ran for president in his first Senate termthe very thing he berated Chuck Percy for doing. No policy ever attached to his name. As Senator, he overhauled the college student loan program to allow students and their families to borrow directly from the federal government thus saving money by not using private banks to disperse the loans. That figures; he always came down on direct payments from the government rather than the private sector playing a role. He promoted the military response to Somalia during the presidency of George H. W. Bush. That got headlines. Whether it propelled Bush to do what he did, no one knows. He was an outspoken critic of Bill Clintons timid response to Rwandan genocide resulting in the deaths of up to one million people (which Clinton himself called his biggest mistake as president). That got headlines. He joined with Bill Jeffords in actively lobbying Clinton into mounting a humanitarian mission to Rwanda during the genocide. No one knows whether that was instrumental in changing Clinton or not. But it got headlines.
What else? He co-authored the Balanced Budget Amendment with Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. That amendment didnt make it out of the Congress but he co-authored it. And it got headlines. A non-lawyer member of Senate Judiciary, he voted against all Reagan and G. H. W. Bush nominees to the Supreme Court. He supported all dove proposals in foreign policy nuclear freeze etc .during the Cold War. Then he decided not to run for the Senate again.
He became director of the Southern Illinois University Public Policy Institute. In that capacity he denounced the death penalty, tried to end trade restrictions with Cuba, promoted an amendment to the Constitution to end the Electoral College. Another amendment to limit the president to one six-year term. Then the Wikipedia says he advocated fostering political courage among his students. Hmmm. I guess that refers to Simons own liberal concept of courage and not his sudden change from pro-life as a U. S. Congressman where he represented a conservative southern Illinois district overnight to pro-choice in running for the Senate. That looks like squaring your principles to fit the views of the populace at a particular moment. I dont think Paul would put it that way. He would say as his successor Dick Durbin does that he grew and his concept evolved.
Thats all in the Wikipedia, folksand the Simon people wrote it themselves. The Tribune reporter didnt even write the record up, just assumed we all know Simon was great. Lazy journalism. Although he was smart enough to disown conservative social views to help him move from a conservative downstate district to the U. S. Senate it could be said he never accomplished a definable thing in the legislature, U. S. House or Senate for which he can be rememberedor in his short-range run for the presidency. This isnt in Wikipedia but he kept an beaten up portable typewriter at his Senate office desk to symbolize his old-fashioned small town heritage. but beyond imagery achieved nothing of substance. He was wrong on foreign policy, wrong on economic policy (having voted against the crucial Reagan tax cuts), wrong on social policy. On Judiciary he is remembered for asking a nominee to the Supreme Court if he had ever been to an Indian reservation saying that he should because youll be a better man for it. Which caused the entire panel to sit in stunned disbelief.
Compare Saint Paul Simon with Billy Stratton about whom I write below. Not so idealistic was Billy Stratton: no saint, surely; honest in that he wasnt on the take. And a very effective governor I even say a great one. He was a good friend of mine; he was a guest lecturer for my college courses a number of times and gave me insights such as I would never have had without his guidance. RIP Billy. You belong with Richard Yates, Richard Oglesby, John Peter Altgeld, Frank O. Lowden and Henry Horner thats all in the pantheon of fine Illinois chief executives. Paul Simon, you were a different kind of cat. Rest in peace, too.
Oh, I was going to tell you his remark made to me in Washington at a Quaker Oats cocktail party we threw to welcome newly elected lawmakers. Reagan had just defeated Fritz Mondale. Senator-elect Simon said this to me: Roeser, think a minute. It would be impossible to do this but just consider for a minute. If you gave all of Reagans views to Mondale and had Mondale say them, and all of Mondales views to Reagan and had Reagan say them, who do you think would be elected? I knew what his answer would be so I pretended I didnt know. I asked him: who? He said, Reagan! Someone interrupted him at that point but I got him to explain. Simple, he said. Reagan is a master communicator and Mondale was not. Its all in communication.
I dont believe that for a moment. Was Reagan that good that he could sell what Mondale was talking about a tax increase nuclear freeze and Mondale that bad that he couldnt sell conservatism? That was Paul Simons view of how Reagan won. Now you tell me in Readers Comments.
The great angst about the Iraq War the public furor that George W. Bush is wrong to stick with it reminds me of another time when the great liberal public was convinced a president was wrongonly it was on economic policy and the great liberal talking heads and writing heads were shaking their heads in agreement: conventional wisdom told them that Reagans economy meaning Milton Friedmans was wrong. Friedman got the Nobel Prize in 1976 for arguing that the money supply was determinate in economic and inflation fluctuations. By managing the amount of money coursing through a financial system, he said, central banks can control inflation without making costly mistakes. It was an idea he had advocated since the 1950s which repelled central bankers who believed inflation arose from other factors including the influence of unions, corporations or oil-producing countries. A major defender of that view was none other than Friedmans early mentor, Arthur Burns, Fed chairman from 1970 to 1978. Friedman zinged Burns monetary policy which, he said, produced stagflationa hike in inflation and unemployment. By the time Friedman got the Prize, U. S. unemployment was more than 7% and inflation was spiraling to double-digits.
People began listening to Friedman more after that as he also maintained that policy-makers cant maintain low unemployment by permitting higher inflation. The test came when Paul Volcker, who became Fed chairman in 1979 (by Carters appointment) put the monetarist theory into practice. He adopted money-supply targets that drove interest rates to double-digits, sent the economy into recession but wrung the inflation out of the economy. It proved Friedman right that there was no tradeoff none at all between unemployment and inflation. I had the non-opportunity to make a speech at, of all things, a Cedar Rapids Rotary (where we had a plant) and when the question came up on the economy there was a light sprinkle of boos and some hisses when, as an economic amateur, I defended the Reagan economic policies. Just gritting our teeth and waiting for the thing to come around was very unpopular. Those same people today would probably forget or not want to remember that they were hissing a program of a man they have grown to admire.
I am no more a military expert than an economic onebut I tell you the time will come when people will have forgotten or want to forget that Bush was so unpopular. Your comments.