John F. Kennedy: The Promise Revisited

By Paul Harper; Joann P. Krieg | Go to book overview

14
A Reappraisal of Liberalism in the Kennedy Administration's Economic Policies

M. Mark Amen

Economic historians agree that the Kennedy administration advocated expansionary fiscal policies to reach the dual macroeconomic goals of domestic stabilization and steady growth. 1 Keynesians who ran the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) during the early 1960s are credited with "revolutionizing" the government's use of fiscal policy instruments to influence market conditions. The Council's members have concurred with this assessment, adding that their efforts to fine tune the economy were based on the full employment surplus, fiscal drag, and the gap analysis. 2 These conceptual tools have frequently been cited as confirmation of greater government reliance on expansionary fiscal policy to support the economy's goal of an enlarged national income.

Political scientists have usually accepted this interpretation of fiscal policy under President Kennedy and considered it to be consistent with a liberal theory of the political ends of advanced industrialized democracies. With few exceptions, those who have written specifically on the macroeconomic goals of the Kennedy administration assert that stability and growth benefited the general welfare of all Americans. 3 Support for the liberal position is sometimes sought from the literature on political culture and public policy which maintains that the state's policies during the early 1960s were built on a cultural consensus, either elite or pluralist in origin. 4

Because scholars believed that the political economic ends of the Kennedy administration were not only liberal but also arrived at through a democratic decision-making process, they did not ask if "fine tuning" was the means whereby the state did or could induce economic conditions that reflected the attainment of liberal ends. Economists presumed that both possibilities were the case and undertook the development of neoclassical models based on the full employment surplus concept. 5 These models were constructed to identify what

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