So why not kill the Council of Economic Advisers? President Reagan is considering it. He remembers that the economists told him in his first term that it would be dangerous to cut taxes without equal cuts in spending. He went ahead anyway, and by this year his gigantic deficit was driving a boom on the crest of which he sailed to reelection by a landslide. The economists kept telling him that he needed to raise taxes, but that wasn't what he wanted to hear. He tuned the economists out some time ago, and now he is thinking of clearing them off the premises al- together and making them stay on the other side of the White House fence with the other undesirables.
In any case, as people at the White House explain, the president would continue to get plenty of economic advice -- too much of it, all conflicting, from the Treasury, Commerce and Labor Departments and the Office of Management and Budget. But the reason that the advice from Treasury, Commerce, Labor and the OMB conflicts is that it represents the very different bureaucratic interests and purposes of those agencies. The Council of Economic Advisers gives the president a small, sophisticated staff that works for him directly and for no one else. There have been other presidents over the years who failed to see a need for the economic advisers -- as long as things were going smoothly, as they are currently going. But when the economy has begun to falter, the presidential attitude has usually changed pretty quickly.
One of the great intellectual triumphs of this century has been the theory of employment, and the Council of Economic Advisers has been the most influential of the routes by which it has been brought systematically to serve public policy in this country. The intelligent application of the new economics was one leading reason for the great expansion that followed World War II -- the longest, most powerful cycle of economic growth in history. It would be unspeakably foolish for people to become so accustomed to their prosperity that they forgot how to manage and sustain it.
The present pause in economic growth probably won't turn into a recession. But it's probable that, some time in the next four years, a recession will develop and that it will involve the international markets and the international money flows that increasingly affect American affairs. The domestic agencies aren't well equipped to guide a president on those subjects. If anything like that happens, Mr. Reagan is urgently going to need technical help from economic advisers working directly for him. Or does he really think that it can't happen, and that the possibility of any more recessions has now permanently vanished?