Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Jude Wanniski once called himself a “theologian” of supply-side economics. “I truly believe that I can save people and that the supply-side revolution can save the world from decline, poverty, disease and war,” he told the New York Observer in 2000. For once, he was being too modest. Today, tax-slashing supply-side economics couldn’t be called theology. Though dismissed by the media and the academy, it has become accepted wisdom in many respects. As James Glassman put it this week, nowadays “classical or supply-side ideas are taken for granted, even by economists and politicians on the left.” And they may yet save the world.

Mr. Wanniski died Monday from an apparent heart attack at the age of 69. In no small way, he was the prophet who first brought the supply-side idea to Ronald Reagan’s attention and to the public. From his perch as an editorial writer under Robert Bartley at the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, he catapulted the Laffer Curve and the resulting tax-cut proposals — the mainstays of modern Republican economic policy — from small academic journals into the national political debate.

Most significantly, Mr. Wanniski is credited with convincing presidential candidate and then-California Governor Reagan to build his economic policy around supply-side economics. His influential editorials and his immodestly titled “The Way the World Works: How Economies Fail — and Succeed” explained supply-side theory in layman’s terms. In no small way did it reverberate throughout the English-speaking world, helping produce the downfall of the Soviet bloc and the revitalization of the American economy. Experiments around the world — notably in Eastern Europe — owe much to Mr. Wanniski.

A contrarian and controversialist, in his later years a quixotic Mr. Wanniski would embroil himself in controversy and alienate former allies. Much to the chagrin of Republicans, he endorsed John Kerry for president in 2004 and labeled President Bush “an imperialist.”

“There is a power moving me that I don’t quite understand,” Mr. Wanniski once said. The power moving him was the weight of an idea that changed the world, something eccentricities couldn’t detract from. The country has lost a unique mind, a dedicated citizen and a force for good.

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