Trump's Appeal Is More Roosevelt Than Reagan
Ms Schlaes’ account has the sole defect of failing to explain why FDR was twice returned to the White House in peacetime and why the narrative she wants to debunk remains fixed in popular memory. The man was beloved not because he succeeded but because he tried. A strong argument can be made (and has been made by Conrad Black among others) that Roosevelt saved the social fabric of America at a moment of great danger. Americans believed that the President was doing all within his power to alleviate their suffering.
Republicans, to be sure, refer to Ronald Reagan’s presidency as their benchmark for success. One should not expect Reagan-like economic performance under a Trump presidency. When Reagan took office in 1981, the top marginal tax rate stood at 70 per cent, and the impact of a reduction to 40 per cent was enormous. Public debt was just 30 per cent of GDP, compared to 110 per cent today. America had a monopoly on capital for startup businesses. Ambitious Asians came to Silicon Valley to raise money, for there was nowhere else to go. Today it is easier to raise money in Shenzhen. China in 1980 had just emerged from the Cultural Revolution with its universities in ruins; today China grants twice as many science and mathematics PhDs as the United States. Some are of dubious quality, but most are not.
Most importantly, America’s R&D infrastructure was unrivalled in the world, and a cornucopia of new technologies was available for commercialisation: inexpensive semiconductors, personal computers, optical communications, and other inventions that transformed daily life. Federal R&D spending was 0.7 per cent of GDP compared to 0.4 per cent today, and several major corporations — the Bell System, RCA, IBM and General Electric — maintained their own major research laboratories. All these are gone.
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