President Reagan was at his best in his television address on the nation's economy. This was no grade-B actor. This was an Academy Award performance. He is, without question, a master communicator. In fact, Ronald Reagan is so good at his delivery, we tend to give him the benefit of the doubt on his message, and that may be dangerous.
Now we look forward to the delivery of the full package to Congress and the nation this week. It has got to be more than a "snake oil" prescription for reducing big government, however, especially since the president has yet to mention the sector of government that probably contributed most to our inflationary situation: military spending.
There must also be some recognition of the fact that the U.S. economy no longer exists in isolation and that international economic and political factors may be more influential than the Federal Reserve, the Congress or White House budget cuts.
In other words, the president told us only a part of the truth about our economic plight; and while we will all remember that a dollar in 1960 is only worth 36 cents today, it's important to have a much deeper and broader analysis if we are to get an adequate prescription for our economic ills.
Reagan repeatedly used the West German and Japanese economies as examples of success. They have been successful, but it is interesting to note that, in both nations, taxes are higher than they are in the United States and the government is in control of a larger percentage of the gross national product.
Two significant aspects of the German economy that run into conflict with the president's oratory are the strong role of organized labor in Germany -- where the unions not only dominate the governing party, but occupy one-third of the seats on the boards of corporations -- and the low military budget. Japan has a similarly low level of military expenditures.
The presidential game plan seems to be to admire the German and Japanese success, but offering us a British plan of action, a plan that has produced only increased disaster for British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Reagan, like Thatcher, advocates massive tax cuts, drastic reductions in government regulations and heavy slashing of government spending. Yet the British under Thatcher have experienced sharp rises in unemployment, greater inflation and growing trade deficits. British businessmen, economists and government officials are now saying that the policies aren't working.
Americans must be willing to take some bitter medicine to cure our economic ills, but we ought to be sure that it's the right medicine and that it is given to the sectors of the society that are producing our sickness. Blindly cutting and slashing government spending simply to cut the numbers will not give the cure we desire.
And then there's the rest of the world. America can no longer exist in economic or political isolation. The real threats to our national strength are in this very isolation. Not only do we require stable supplies of raw materials, especially oil, for our national security; we also need access to additional markets for our goods and services beyond our shores. The trade deficits with oil-producing countries continue to be a major weakness in our ability to get America on the move again.
Most of our economic competitors in Europe and Asia give a great deal of assistance to their export industries. We not only give very little assistance, but we exact penalties in taxes against those American citizens who attempt to market our goods abroad.
Both the European community and the Japanese have realized that foreign aid to poor countries produces direct and indirect job creation at home. Their donations to the World Bank and to other United Nations development programs are viewed as "market development" for their manufactured goods.
Finally, if government spending has produced our present inflation, then certainly the $100 billion-plus we spent on Vietnam and continued increases in defense during the subsequent peace ought to be evaluated objectively. The military budget should become a cost-efficient method of protecting our national security, not a blank check to squander our resources.
But there has been generated an anti-Soviet paranoia that makes even a discussion of cuts in military spending a heresy, so it is not likely the president will approach this sacrosanct sector of the economy. Instead, it looks like we will build up our military, which will require at least four years, and contribute to the weakening of our economy and dislocation of our domestic tranquility -- unless there is really a miracle to be wrought via the supply-side economics of Ronald Reagan.
Tune in again to President Reagan's speech on Feb. 18, for it's sure to be a good show. In the meantime, let's pray that the message measures up to the performance.