But any reform, before it can be said fully to engage the acquiescence of a society, needs a period of consolidation. There was little residual resistance to the Reform Bills in Great Britain, after their meaning had coursed through the minds (and hearts) of the thinking class of Great Britain. No more could it be said that the survival of the civil-rights revolution in the United States is problematic. Any return to Jim Crow is as inconceivable as a return to slavery. And a reduced tax, together with the indexation of the tax, is a solid floor under representative government. F A. Hayek, in his seminal The Constitution of Liberty, wrote that the progressive income tax is "not only the chief source of irresponsibility of democratic action but the crucial issue on which the whole character of future society will depend." The history of this century emphasizes private property as the ultimate brake on omnipotent government. Socialism, it has been written, operates by making property perpetually insecure. The flight of capital from the Third World is a reflection not so much of better opportunities elsewhere as of better sanctuaries. The Reagan revolution appears to be spreading to other countries (the incremental rates of taxation in India, Canada, France, Japan, Sweden, and Australia have been lowered). If at the turn of the century it is said that the momentum of socialism has been stopped (its analytical pretensions are intellectually dead), it will be largely on account of the restabilization of property. The Reagan revolution is a challenge to the presumption incorporated in the Phillips curve that employment cannot substantially increase without generating inflation.
Other matters of public contention have by no means been settled in any way that might be called permanent. Caution is perhaps necessary here, in that no social change can be called permanent if the historical perspective is too long-range. (From such perspectives one questions the stability of the British monarchy, or of the Bill of Rights.) But there are what one might call unsettled questions before the house.
Among these, for example, is the question of whether abortion should be acknowledged as a routine means available to any woman who desires to undo the human alchemy that results from the fertilization of a human egg. It cannot be thought of as entirely settled that any movie house or bookstore is free under the First Amendment to exhibit any movie or to sell any book. For much of this century high taxation has been viewed as a fitting Calvinistic rebuke to entrepreneurial success or inherited good fortune. This perception is no longer secure, as the mind, and the heart, turn to the beneficial social results of economic success, and to the question of the right of the individual to succeed, if he can.
A re-perception of the reasonable and just limits on taxation is much more likely to result from the victory in November of George Bush, Reaganite Republican, over Michael Dukakis, technocratic Democrat. For one thing, Dukakis has a great deal to worry about from the militant left in his party, without whose forbearance he could not have triumphed in the presidential primaries. And although the instructions in Atlanta were to go easy on the matter of taxation, he has never spoken of confiscatory taxation as morally wrong or empirically unproductive. In contrast, George Bush can be said to have been born again on the subject.
Now, George Bush is correctly viewed as something less than (or other than, if you prefer) an evangelist. He is not William Wilberforce or John Brown or Theodore Roosevelt or Franklin Roosevelt. He is a consolidator. Those who support his election with varying enthusiasm do not think of him as a tocsin-sounder for social remobilization and reform. They think of him as a man of intelligence and common sense, a public man of conservative temperament. He is comfortable in a political party disposed to believe that the multifarious problems we face are better coped with by allowing a freer rein to the private sector in contrast to the Democratic Party's disposition to seek Utopia, by act of Congress, the executive, or (if all else fails) the judiciary. George Bush would probably tell us that the major problems Americans face at home aren't problems the government is competent to solve (illegitimate children, for instance, or lousy education). Yes, there are problems that only the government can address. And many of these are problems made, or exacerbated, by government. It was not the Chamber of Commerce that crafted the public policies that have resulted in a $26 billion annual subvention to the farmers. If anything progressive is to be done to head toward a solution to that problem (there are at least 10 to 20 percent more people engaged in agricultural production than the market will sustain), it will need to be done by the government. And a President Bush would forever be reminded, I'd guess, that it was President Reagan who boasted in Iowa in 1986 during the congressional re-election campaign that his Administration had in one year paid out to the farmers more money than any preceding Administration had paid out in four years. (Voodoo farm policies.)
Yes, government will need to tackle the farm problem. And tackle, also, the problem of our failing savings-and-loan enterprises. Only government can write public policy concerning the problems of illegal immigration, or mobilize fully such statist resources as are necessary to contain AIDS, or concentrate action to appease the ozone layer.