10/12/2017

Why Understanding The Progressive Era Still Matters

Andrew Napolitano, Mises Institute

Editor's Note: Murray Rothbard's new masterwork, The Progressive Era, is now available for purchase. Judge Napolitano's preface below speaks to why the Progressive Era is so key to our understanding of modern America. This is the first of many selections from the book we will be offering at mises.org in the future. 

When I was in my junior and senior years at Princeton studying history in the early 1970s, I became fascinated with the Progressive Era. It attracted me at a time when America rejected as profoundly as it did under Lincoln and the Radical Republicans and even under FDR, the libertarian first principles of the American Revolution.

To pursue this interest, I volunteered to take a course in the Graduate School, a procedure permitted for a few undergraduates at the time. The course was an advanced look at Progressive intellectual thought taught by Woodrow Wilson’s biographer and hagiographer, Professor Arthur S. Link. The readings were all pro-Progressive as were all the other students in the class. We studied Professor Link’s works and the claptrap by his colleague William E. Leuchtenberg.

In my search for a rational understanding of the Era — and for ammunition to use in the classroom where I was regularly beaten up — I asked Professor Link if any academic had made the argument effectively that the Progressives were power-hungry charlatans in the guise of noble businessmen, selfless politicians, and honest academics.

He told me of a young fellow named Rothbard, of whose work he had only heard, but had not read. This advice sent me to Man, Economy, and State, which I devoured; and my ideological odyssey was off to the races.

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The Reagan Tax Cuts Worked

Thanks to "bracket creep," the inflation of the 1970s pushed millions of taxpayers into higher tax brackets even though their inflation-adjusted incomes were not rising. To help offset this tax increase and also to improve incentives to work, save, and invest, President Reagan proposed sweeping tax rate reductions during the 1980s. What happened? Total tax revenues climbed by 99.4 percent during the 1980s, and the results are even more impressive when looking at what happened to personal income tax revenues. Once the economy received an unambiguous tax cut in January 1983, income tax revenues climbed dramatically, increasing by more than 54 percent by 1989 (28 percent after adjusting for inflation).

 

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