John F. Kennedy: The Promise Revisited

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

11
Continuity and Change: Fiscal Policy in the Kennedy Administration

Ronald F. King

Conventional historiography divides the Kennedy administration's tax and fiscal policies into two distinct periods, with the breakpoint placed near the middle of its three-year tenure in office. Walter Heller, in a recent paper, has contended that the first period was dominated by supply concerns and the second by demand. 1 Similarly, Edward Flash has written of 1961 as a "year of continuing tradition," in contrast with the new fiscal tradition established by the tax reduction and reform package submitted to Congress in January 1963. 2 Both statements reflect a common interpretation of Kennedy domestic macroeconomics, according to which the Council of Economic Advisers (CEA), in the beginning more tolerated than triumphant, gradually emerged as the preeminent creative influence within the administration. The CEA educated the president, his staff, and public opinion in order to win eventual support for a substantial tax cut intended to spur consumer demand through the conscious introduction of a compensatory budget deficit. Designed to eliminate fiscal drag and facilitate the approach to full employment, the tax cut, it is said, effectively discredited a long outdated orthodoxy, insuring "the ultimate triumph of the spirit of John Maynard Keynes over the stubborn shade of Adam Smith." 3 Thus, economics had finally "come of age" during the latter half of the Kennedy period, completing the Keynesian revolution thirty years after the "opening salvo" had been fired. 4

The standard political science literature on the presidency, on the other hand, suggests that the domestic policy agenda is usually developed quite early within an administration. As a general rule, presidents move rapidly to establish the staffing, style, and substance that give distinctive character to their rule. "Although information and expertise are at a general low in the first year," writes Paul Light, "nevertheless Presidents select the dominant themes and directions in the early moments. Those choices tend to follow the administration throughout

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