Like the man himself, George Bush's economics are moderate and restrained to the point the candidate himself worries whether voters will simply find them dull.
But it is a point of pride with Bush, and a carefully calculated campaign tactic, to avoid making any flamboyant claims for what a new set of economic policies could produce for the nation, while attacking both what President Carter has done and Ronald Reagan's sweeping claims of what he would do.
Just before last month's Florida primary, in a typical campaign speech at Tallahassee's Tiger Bay Club, Bush launched into both men this way:
"The No. 1 issue, the burning issue that is driving every working person to frustration and every saver right up the wall is Jimmy Carter's rate of inflation at 18 percent. He campaigned against Republicans (saying) inflation at 4.8 percent is outrageous . . . He did. It's 18 percent, almost 20 percent now."
As for Reagan, Bush declared, "He's called for a 30 percent tax cut, 10 percent each year for three years. That is a $70 billion tax cut every year for three years. I'd love to see the taxes cut. That's a good goal . . . but I'm worried about the deficit . . . ."
"The Reagan tax-cut program would have two disastrous effects. First, it would increase the rate of inflation to 30 percent or more in 1981 and '82 and the budget would be more than $50 billion in deficit. (Second), there's no guarantee the psychology of the economic situation would improve. If confidence isn't out there, you can't risk that large an across-the-board tax cut," Bush argued.
For his own part, Bush continued, "I will resist the simplistic solution . . . What we're looking for in economics is not a quick, easy fix. There isn't one to inflation."
Bush's economic philosophy is strongly oriented toward the marketplace -- hardly surprising for a self-made millionaire who is the former head of a major oil drilling company, Zapata Offshore.
To counter inflation and generate more economic growth, he wants the federal government to "adopt fiscal and mometary policies that are both restrained and consistent. That is the only way to check inflation and allow people to plan more reliably for the future."
Next, Bush proposes massive new tax incentives "to encourage savings by individuals, and investment and technological innovation by companies and entrepreneurs alike." Just as a starter, he would cut some personal and business taxes by a total of $20 billion as soon as possible.
He flatly opposes wage and price controls but favors the use of voluntary guidelines in some form to provide a yardstick for everyone's actions.
And finally, he says, "Burdensome and overlapping government regulations must be wiped out, root and branch."
On a flight to Ft. Myers after the Tiger Bay lunch, Bush sipped glass after glass of Dr. Pepper while discussing his economic views, which he often contrasted with Reagan's.
Most of his economic program is cast in longer range terms, but Bush acknowledges the nation probably faces a recession this year, a perhaps unavoidable cost of bringing down inflation. "I've not been one who's argued that it's likely we'll have no increase in the rate of unemployment while bringing down inflation," he said. "But if there's no lag in stimulatiang productivity through the kind of tax cut I'm talking about, it seems to me, that would make a softer landing than if you went about it some other way."
Is a recession necessary in this situation, he was asked?
"I wouldn't say necessary, but I just go back to the fundamentals of economics. 'It is hard to design a credible economic program to break inflation that does not contemplate some increases in unemployment.' That's the way I'd phrase it."
Even if it does mean some increase in unemployment, Bush emphatically argued, "I would like to see the federal budget balanced as soon as possible . . . and control the rates of growth (in federal spending) in the out [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE] years."
But Bush strongly advocates spending more money for defense, and many economists question whether the 1981 budget could be balanced if taxes were cut by $20 billion. If you can't have more for defense, a tax cut and a balanced budget, he was asked which he considers the most important.
"If it came down to that," he replied, "I would still have to go with defense increases because we really do have a so-called window of danger. The evidence coming out of the SALT talks is overwhelming . . . But it is not unrealistic to think that you can increase defense spending, have a supply-side tax cut and get a (budget) balance. Everybody says that's impossible. The economists advising me don't think it's impossible."
Paul MacAvoy, an economics professor at Yale University, is Bush's principal economic adviser MacAvoy, a member of President Ford's Council of Economic Advisers, is a strong believer in free market solutions to economic problems, and has arged that government regulation of business be reduced significantly.
On the other hand, Bush continued, there is a limit to how restrained a fiscal policy possibly can be. "I was amazed the other day when Reagan said he would 'lower government spending.' All I say is, how? And yet that was very popular. People liked that," he said with a shake of his hand.
"The point is that once the election exercise is over, people are going to be looking for a certain credibility, a certain prudence in economics. I am not going to go for the most flamboyant positions knowing that intellectually I have great difficulty supporting them. Eventually people are going to see that not as dull and unimaginative, but as sound, sensible, conservative economics." Bush said.
"You know the pressures get on you on this kind of thing to endorse 'em all.
On defense spending, I gave them some numbers, some categories, and Reagan said, 'I disagree with George. I'll spend whatever it takes.' What kind of answer is that? What does that mean?"
While he doesn't spell it out either in his policy papers or his campaign speeches, Bush clearly intends few increases in non-defense federal spending in the years ahead.
He has proposed increasing defense outlays in coming years, while at the same time reducing federal spending as a percentage of the gross national product from the current 22 percent to 18 percent and cutting taxes. The $20 billion is only the first step toward some increasingly large tax cuts, mostly for business, but some for individuals as well.
Bush wants to cut the corporate income tax rate -- now 46 percent for larger businesses -- by one percentage point each year for five years. In addition, he would increase the present 10 percent tax credit for investment in business equipment, and he has endorsed a bill now pending in Congress that would drastically increase depreciation allowances for business.
The cut in corporate rates would cost the Treasury about $2 billion a year for each percentage point cut, and the annual cost of faster depreciation would mount steadily as new investments were made. The Treasury Department has estimated it would cut revenues by $47 billion in the fifth year alone.
Bush wants to cut Social Security payrool taxes for both employers and employes and shift the entire burden of financing Medicare from the payroll tax to general revenues.
He also would index the personal income tax so that people do not have to pay higher taxes in real terms just because their incomes are going up in line with inflation. In 1981 that alone would cut the federal tax take by about $12 billion, economists estimate.
Finally, he also wants to eliminate income taxes on the interest earned on small savings accounts, though he hasn't defined "small." And he would allow a tax dedution for deposits in special savings accounts so long as the money was intended for the down payment on a home.
Even with all the tax cuts he is offering, Bush stressed in the interview that he was going slowly compared to Reagan.
How fast does Bush think his economic program would cut inflation?
"Frankly, I think inflation would start down right away," he responded. "I think there is a certain expectancy in inflation . . . I think expectancy drives it . . . How long it would take to get to whatever the heck we can determine is a respectable level of inflation, I don't know. I think it would come down very fast."
Bush's rejection of wage and price controls as part of the inflation answer is emphatic. But he does not rule out the use of voluntary wage and price standards.
"(You) always need to plug for that, ineffective though they may be. To have no constraints, no jawboning, no direction, I think that's impossible. Yes, you need to push for some yardsticks, recognizing their history has not been totally productive."
Have Carter's voluntary standards restrained inflation, in his opinion?
"How do you know about all the banks that weren't robbed? I can't say it's had no effect. I just don't know."
In keeping with his market approach, Bush's energy policy is heavily oriented toward relying on private companies to find and produce more energy supplies.
And then he took another shot at one of Reagan's remarks. "When Reagan says all you have to do is to open up Alaska, and you can do it, I don't believe that. I was in the energy business. I know of no geology in the short-run or the medium-run that you can produce 9 million barrels a day out of Alaska in addition (to current production). Some of the production on the land in Alaska has already proved to be discouraging . . . ."
Bush favors encouraging conservation among energy consumers, but he sharply opposes one incentive to use less that is backed by a significant number of economists and one of his Republican opponents, Rep. John Anderson of Illinois.
"I think a 50-cent gasoline tax is wrong," Bush declared. "It is wrong politically and it is wrong economically. You do not need to give the government vast new sums of revenue."
At lunch with the Tiger Bay Club, Bush concluded the economic policy portion of his speech with a pitch for more investment, stimulated by his proposed tax cuts, as a way to greater productivity, lower inflation and more jobs.
"How much better to say to a black unemployed teen-age kid who wants to work, who aspires to make something of his life, who is trapped in some area of high unemployment . . . how much better to say to him, we're going to make it possible for a private employer to come in and help you and train you.
"We can do it! I built a business. I am the only Republican (candidate) who's built a business, met a payroll in the private sector and that is one of the best criteria I have for being president of the United States."