So we’ve heard a lot since Occupy Wall Street started blighting our public spaces about the 1 percent, and the 99 percent. Me, I’m a proud 4-percenter! What’s that? It derives from the title of the book recently produced by the George W. Bush Institute, The 4% Solution: Unleashing the Economic Growth America Needs, edited by Brendan Miniter. The thesis of the book is simple: if we’re going to revive the economy, provide jobs for our growing population, and have any chance at all of fulfilling our promised entitlements to the baby boom generation (even if stripped down some), we will need much faster economic growth than we’re getting from Obamanomics. In fact, 4 percent growth would exceed the long-term historical average, which is somewhere around 3 percent.
Amazingly this has become a partisan issue. Once upon a time liberals were the leading advocates of economic growth—the 1960 Democratic platform enshrined a doctrine known as “growth liberalism” and called for something like 5 percent growth, instead of the listless growth of the Eisenhower years. (And growth often reached as high as 7 percent for the first half of the 1960s, with low inflation.) Liberals essentially became indifferent to growth when it became dominated by constituent groups that depend more on redistribution and public sector growth than private sector growth, such as public employee unions, or even actively opposed to economic growth, like environmentalists. I wrote about this at length in the first volume of The Age of Reagan: within the space of a decade, the Democratic Party went from being the party of growth to the party preaching the limits to growth. The limits to growth theme was part of Jimmy Carter’s inaugural address, and the less said about Jerry Brown, who is sadly still with us, the better.
The 4% Solution features essays on various aspects of economic growth from five Nobel Prize winners in economics, and . . . me, on the role of market-friendly energy policy (along with my writing partner Ken Green). A lot has happened since Ken and I wrote the chapter, making it clear that the energy sector (think oil in North Dakota and Texas, and natural gas in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Wyoming) is driving much of the little bit of economic growth we are having at the moment. The main point is: our massive hydrocarbon resource base, not currently being exploited to the fullest extent for well-known reasons. Here’s our opening paragraph, just to remind people of the central point:
In a striking report released in late 2010, the Congressional Research Service captured the essence of our energy problem. The report didn’t wade into current debates over alternative fuels or even mention energy independence. Instead, it touched on something more fundamental. The report looked at coal, natural gas, and oil supplies around the world and gave us this simple fact: Today, the United States has within its borders more fossil fuel reserves than any other country in the world.
So let us think as John F. Kennedy thought: let’s get America moving again. Like Kennedy’s time, it will probably take a new president to accomplish.