Updated: May 21, 2019
At the start of the new Congress, the Kemp Forum issued a “call for ideas” to former Kemp staff, friends and supporters engaged in current public policy debate, taking as their touchstone themes derived from Kemp speeches. The Foundation is pleased to present these original essays on contemporary issues. We invite your comments and observations.
(Essays by Bentley Elliott, Paul Ryan, Judy Shelton, John Mueller, Bill Brock, Joe O. Rogers, Charles Kupperman, William Schneider, Frank Keating, Alfred A. DelliBovi and Don Soifer)
Bentley Elliott: Freedom and Faith
Updated: Feb 20
“The most revolutionary idea in human history is that progress and prosperity are the result of individual freedom and faith in God” — Jack Kemp
When Eric Liddell, the famed Scottish Olympic runner was asked in the epic film, “Chariots of Fire” why do you persist in running in the midst of snow, rain, wind and mud, he answered: “I believe that God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure!”
That electrifying idea goes directly to the heart of Jack Kemp’s core beliefs – namely, that each of us was made in the image of our Creator, that we were brought into this world for a purpose, and that when we are free to develop the unique gifts and talents which God gave us, we can feel His pleasure – and we can achieve truly great things!
Jack Kemp believed passionately that each and every life has value and thus, “People are not a drain on our resources, people are our resources.”
The universal and timeless promise of our inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness was his personal and political lodestar. He said “If your dream is to be a factory worker, farmer, computer programmer, mezzo soprano, Olympic athlete or, he would add with a grin, a Congressman from upstate New York, nothing should stand in your way to go as high as your God-given talents will take you.”
The power of those two, animating ideas – our freedom and faith – tell the story of every American’s priceless birthright, and the driving force of our country’s unparalleled progress and prosperity.
Because we are children of God, we are born with boundless possibilities. Let no one put limits on our lives. Because we are born free, we should have the opportunity to make our hopes and dreams come true. And, because we are Americans, each successive generation has the responsibility not only to preserve our hard-won gains, but also to push ahead toward a higher purpose – a truly exceptional future – that can be greater, stronger, and better than we knew ourselves.
As the Republican Party sets out on its new journey of leadership, it can draw inspiration and guidance from Jack Kemp the man and from his belief in the abiding importance of faith and freedom within our nation. His ideas can serve as important guideposts for our vision, values and policies along the way.
First, Jack Kemp would certainly believe that the Republican Party, the Party of Lincoln, must distinguish itself by offering a superior vision of leadership at home and in the world. The Republican Party brand should become synonymous with growth, opportunity and upward mobility that will encompass, embrace, and encourage all Americans and people everywhere.
Jack Kemp pointed to his own father as the person in his life that best embodied the American Dream. “If you drive a truck as my Dad did,” he loved to say, “then you should have a chance to buy that truck, and one day, to buy the truck company!” This is the American Idea as envisioned by the Founders and reaffirmed by his personal hero, Abraham Lincoln. In Lincoln’s words, “The progress by which the poor, honest, industrious and resolute man raises himself, that he may work on his own account, and hire somebody else…is the great principle for which this government was really formed.”
“Wow!” we can almost hear Jack exclaim today. “Imagine the country we can build if we empower millions of people to take their destiny into their own hands. Imagine the future we can hand over to our children and grandchildren, if America’s highest priority is not a bigger safety net for more people to fall into, but a bigger ladder for more people to climb!”
So, first, a superior vision for a stronger America.
Second, the Party of Lincoln that offers a great vision must also defend, as Jack Kemp forcefully did, the Judeo-Christian values that are the rock upon which our country and civilization stand. When Thomas Jefferson and the Founders articulated our inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, they declared that we are endowed with those rights by our Creator, and that a government was being formed not to seize, shrink or supervise our rights, but to secure them.
As the Founders’ believed that we are all equal under God, they also acknowledged that we live under the “laws of nature and of nature’s God.” In other words, they believed that the God who gave us our rights also gave us responsibilities. The God who created and designed the universe in an intelligent and orderly manner also gave us moral and spiritual principles to build a prosperous and stable society. He imparted these obligations through the lives and teachings of the great figures of the Bible, starting with Moses delivering the Ten Commandments and culminating with the awesome person, power and promise of Jesus Christ.
But, here again, it is God, not government, to whom we owe our first and highest allegiance.
It is God, not Barrack Obama, Harry Reid or Nancy Pelosi, for all their attempts to direct our futures, who tells us the meaning of virtue, and how we are required to live our lives, for example, Micah 6:8 – “to act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.”
And it was Jack Kemp who reminded us that Republicans don’t believe in the Government Shepherd, we believe in the Good Shepherd. We don’t mobilize government as our first alternative to deal with problems, but rather, we lead citizens to act within their communities, and we focus government action to break down barriers to opportunity. He dismissed the politics of class conflict and redistribution, of diminishing one person to elevate another, and of inciting envy and coveting our neighbors’ goods as unworthy of America, and bound to fail everywhere and every time they are tried.
Third, from a superior vision resting securely on our nation’s heritage, Jack Kemp would challenge the Republican Party to champion the ideas and policies that can unleash freedom and give all citizens their chance to fulfill their potential and to achieve a great purpose.
Jack concentrated first and foremost on taxes as he understood that the tax system is the crucible of freedom and growth, but it also has the power to destroy. And, he made the common-sense observation that we will not fix the budget deficit – and truly control spending in Washington – before we fix the growth deficit in America, the deficit in jobs, hopes and opportunity.
Toward that end, Jack Kemp understood that not all tax proposals are created equal. One-time tax rebates that have zero impact upon incentives do not advance freedom and prosperity and have had no demonstrable record of success – under Presidents Ford, Carter, and George W. Bush. Tax credits under President Obama, whereby government grants credits against taxes due in return for our doing what government prescribes have been notably unsuccessful.
However, lower tax rates on labor and capital that reward people for working, saving and investing do strengthen freedom and opportunity for each individual, and they have worked every time they’ve been tried: in the 1920s, in the 1960s under John F. Kennedy, and in the 1980s, when the Kemp-Roth bill became part one – the crown jewel – of the Reagan tax program, which ultimately lowered the top tax rate from 70% to 28%.
Yes, but didn’t the deficit skyrocket? Actually, as a percent of GDP, the deficit rose only slightly – from 2.6% to 3.1% — over the course of the Reagan Presidency, thanks to powerful economic growth averaging 4.8% in the four years following the tax cut. In fact, tax revenues nearly doubled and continually exceeded economists’ expectations. Increased spending was driven largely by higher military expenditures. Of course, the result of America’s stronger military was peace through strength – leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Soviet Union, and the liberation of millions of people across Eastern Europe – just as President Reagan predicted we would see.
Military spending that confined the Soviet Empire to the dustbin of history was not a bad investment.
Yes, but don’t lower tax rates still unfairly favor the rich? Jack Kemp pierced this uncritical thought by noting that the rich will always find ways to shelter their wealth. Lower tax rates don’t help the rich so much as every person in America trying to get rich and achieve the American Dream. That was the secret weapon of Reaganomics — an enormous, powerful, rising tide of growth through investment, innovation and new business starts that led to a decisive victory over stagflation; dramatic reductions in interest rates, inflation and unemployment; the creation of 16 million new jobs; $15 trillion in new wealth that benefited every income category; a more than doubling of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P; and, the launching of a 20-year global expansion that saw America’s economy sprint ahead to undisputed global preeminence.
The success of Reaganomics provides an indispensable roadmap for America’s future. Facing today’s struggling economy, Jack Kemp would surely insist that the Republican Party has major work –historic work – to do on reducing tax rates, spending and over-regulation. During his life, he strongly believed that the next, critical milestone should be a tax system that is flatter, fairer and simple enough for Americans to fill out their taxes on a postcard. Importantly, he would remind us that the spending adjustments on entitlements, which all Republicans agree are necessary, will be far more achievable in an environment of robust growth, than within today’s anemic economy that continues to under-perform.
He would challenge the Republican Party to be bold – to commit America to full employment without inflation, and to protecting the value of every citizen’s earnings, investments and nest egg through a strong and stable dollar that is as good as gold.
Finally, like his heroes, Jack Kemp understood that the principles of prosperity are not confined to one time, people or place. He revered America for being the only nation in history that has linked the success of our democracy with the hopes and dreams of people everywhere. Just as he condemned the politics of division and class warfare in our economy, so, too, would he warn that isolationism, protectionism and weakness in the world risk the same tragic results today as in the 1930s.
A Republican Party that dedicates itself mind, heart and soul to the American Idea of progress and prosperity through freedom and faith – to the vision of Jefferson, Lincoln, Reagan and Kemp – can recapture and control the high ground on the battlefield of ideas for America’s future. That party, in turn, will be the party that can lead us forward toward a truly great purpose – one where America, once again, is a nation that is set apart and whose citizens rise above.
(Ben Elliot was Chief Speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan and later for Rep. Jack Kemp, and currently writes for the Bank of America.)
Paul Ryan: Economic Growth
Updated: Feb 20
“It is not enough to be against something; you have to tell people what you are for.” — Jack Kemp
My mentor Jack Kemp was not just another political leader or public official. His impact on the nation’s prosperity and well-being was out of all proportion to the positions he held in government and all the more astonishing for his never having attained the Presidency to which he aspired.
There are two ideas in particular about which Jack was an impassioned advocate: pro-growth tax cuts, and sound and honest money.
The first idea was to establish a national fiscal policy based on a broad-based reduction in tax rates in order to create incentives for business and job creation in a slow economy. For years he was a voice in the congressional wilderness, tirelessly pitching his deep income tax cut proposal to uncomprehending colleagues. It is easy to forget that Jack’s “supply side” gospel was met with the ridicule and scorn of conventional experts who lacked his economic imagination. They could not grasp how lowering tax rates on individuals would increase incentives and boost economic activity.
In a sense Jack was prophesying to an audience of one: the comprehending, imaginative, and unconventional Ronald Reagan. The Republican candidate for President in 1980 was convinced that Kemp was right. He saw that the policy of increasing after-tax rewards for entrepreneurship and job expansion could be a key factor in reviving a stagnant economy. President Reagan first carried the case for across-the-board tax cuts to the American people in the election, and then to Congress to enact what became known simply as Kemp-Roth. The long economic expansion that began soon afterward confounded Jack’s critics and reduced opponents to stunned or sullen silence. Today supply-side fiscal policy is still considered a reasonable approach to the problems of stagnant economies.
Kemp also understood that sound and stable money was an important precondition for sustainable, long-run growth. Jack believed that since President Nixon ended the Bretton Woods international monetary arrangement which had linked the dollar to the world gold price, the Fed’s experimentation with fiat currency had resulted in periodic bouts of inflation and deflation, creating an unnecessary barrier to long term expansion of the national economy and international trade.
On May 17, 1983 Kemp and Professor Robert Mundell convened an international monetary conference in Washington, featuring a high-powered group of US officials and world renowned economists. The central issue was the need for international monetary reform, including the topics of fixed versus floating exchange rates and dollar stability. In his concluding summary, Jack said:
We have a short-run problem and a long-run problem. The short-run problem is how to bring about economic recovery and reduce unemployment and restore the credit worthiness of the borrowing countries. The long run problem is how to sustain the recovery without a return to yet another deadly cycle of inflation, high interest rates, and ultimately, another major recession. Professor Mundell warns that recovery will be choked off unless we can reform the monetary system in a way which restores confidence in the world’s money.
In the years that have gone by since, our monetary experiences have varied. At times when the Fed apparently practiced a rule-based monetary policy, the US and global economies grew with low inflation. When such implicit rules were abandoned, the economy of this nation and many others fell off course.
Since the late 1970s, when Congress endangered the Fed’s independence by tasking it with a dual mission of promoting “maximum employment,” in addition to maintaining stable prices, the Fed has struggled to steer a middle course between inconsistent goals. Kemp often referred to the Phillips curve, according to which there is a trade-off between inflation and unemployment: the lower the one, the higher the other. The Fed’s dual mandate implicitly rests on Phillips curve thinking—the Keynesian monetary approach which Kemp largely blamed for the economic conundrum of President Jimmy Carter, when both unemployment and inflation were rising at the same time.
Both aspects of the Fed’s dual mandate are obviously central and critical to our expectations from modern government. But monetary policy itself cannot simultaneously meet both goals, nor can it do the job of sustaining a full employment economy. That is the proper task of fiscal policy. Jack believed that the Fed should have a single mandate: to maintain price stability, ensuring that the nation’s money remained sound over time. A dollar whose value is stable and secure by virtue of Fed policy is the necessary condition for job creation and solid growth. The sufficient condition is a pro-growth fiscal policy of low taxes and spending restraint, for which Congress is solely responsible – plus a regulatory regime that does not create barriers to entrepreneurial expansion, for which the legislative branch is ultimately responsible as well.
Unlike the Kemp-Roth 33% across-the-board tax rate cut proposal, Jack never promoted one specific plan for returning the country to rule-based monetary policy. He did, however, concentrate increasingly on the international monetary system, favoring a Bretton Woods-style format that would incorporate the market price of gold into the Fed’s decisions to expand or reduce the money supply. He sometimes suggested utilizing a “basket” or index of commodities, including precious metals, to serve as a surrogate price index. He believed that a dollar whose long-term value would be stabilized and secured by some linkage to gold would resume its place as the currency leader of the world, and would be followed by other nations under formal agreements or informal practice. In effect this would stabilize world currencies and open up vast new possibilities for expanding international trade and worldwide economic growth. Aware of the close relationship between economic and political issues, Jack expected that the