Miller Center launches
project on the presidency and the economy
the carefully set economic and spending policies of U.S. presidents
have a decisive effect on economic performance?
The public seems to think so. Former President George Bush lost
his re-election bid partly because of the perception that he failed
to maintain America's economic strength. And President Clinton
has weathered potentially crippling scandals in part because voters
believe his policies have sustained high economic growth, low
inflation and record levels of employment.
officials and scholars have begun questioning the assumption.
It is often argued today that the chair of the Federal Reserve,
Wall Street and international capital markets have a far greater
impact on the economy than does the president. To address this
topic, the U.Va. Miller
Center of Public Affairs is launching a research program to
examine the true relationship between presidential policy and
"The Miller Center intends to provoke rigorous, high-level
public policy debate," said Francis Gavin, director of the
center's "Presidency and Macroeconomic Policy Project."
An inaugural conference Oct. 14-16 will be held to set the course
for the project, with discussions by some of the nation's most
distinguished economists, policy experts and historians. Participants
will include Gene Sperling, President Clinton's economic adviser
and director of the National Economic Council; Theodore Sorensen,
longtime adviser to Democrats, including President John Kennedy;
Sylvia Matthews, deputy director of the Office of Management and
Budget; James K. Galbraith, professor of government at the LBJ
School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas; and dozens
of other specialists from think tanks, government agencies and
universities around the country.
goal of the conference is to garner the best possible guidance
and counsel˛ for the new research program, Gavin said.
In the 1960s, most economists -- and certainly most executive
branch policymakers -- believed that presidential policy was crucial
to America's well-being, Gavin said. Careful presidential oversight
of fiscal, regulatory, trade and social welfare policies was considered
essential to tame market forces and maintain steady economic growth.
But a marked shift from this view has occurred. "Within the
academy, on Wall Street and even in government circles, doubts
have grown about the power of presidential policy to alter macroeconomic
performance," Gavin said.
Miller Center project will undertake an examination of past presidential
policies, as well as research to measure and interpret their impact.
Among questions scholars will pursue:
Were presidential policies of the 1960s responsible for the
"stagflation" of the '70s?
did Nixon's "New Economic Policy˛ influence America's position
in the world economy?
What was the relation between the JFK/LBJ and Reagan tax cuts
and economic growth in the 1960s and 1980s?
have been the consequences of antitrust policy for technological
innovation and long-term growth?
How important is a balanced budget to economic performance?
questions "are of fundamental importance," Gavin said.
"But, for the most part, historians and economists have shied
away from them. Often, the intellectual vacuum has been filled
by the claims of politicians and pundits."
Miller Center specializes in research on the national policymaking
process, the American presidency and the executive branch.