"Republicans are focused much more on having a rising tide that lifts
all boats, even if it lifts more yachts than dinghies," said Scott
Winship, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. "It's very striking
when compared to Obama's very individual focus on human capital and a
federal role in increasing it."
As he has done in his approach to foreign policy, Romney is trying to channel his inner Reagan in economic policy.
While Democrats contend that George W. Bush's use of supply-side,
unregulated, trickle-down economics caused the Great Recession, Reagan's
economic doctrine is alive and well on the right.
"Most of our problems now relate to this asset bubble that formed; it
wasn't so much what Bush did or didn't do," Winship argued. "The '80s
in retrospect were not a bad period economically. I think it's hard to
argue that trickle-down will end up hurting the poor or reducing
Winship and some conservative economists also go a step further. In a series of recent posts,
they question a central liberal narrative: that middle-class wages have
stagnated since Reagan's presidency. Terry Fitzgerald, an economist at
the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, has argued
that the rapid postwar growth of the American middle class has slowed
over the last 30 years, but the middle class has still increased in
"From 1947 to 1975, was very fast growth," Fitzgerald told me. "It was slower since then, but it hasn't been stagnation."
Fitzgerald argued that economic studies showing little increase in
the median income of American households are skewed by social changes,
not only economic ones. Beginning in the late 1970s, high divorce rates
reduced the percentage of American households made up of married couples
from 63 percent in 1976 to 50 percent in 2006. Single-parent families
earn far less than two-parent families, Fitzgerald argues, and drive
down the median income.
Richard Burkhauser, a Cornell University economist, contends that the
value of benefits families receive from the government and employers
are also not included in studies showing meager increases. When the
value of these benefits is included, he argues, the stagnation of
middle-class incomes disappears.
Liberal economists scoff at such findings. They say a comprehensive study
by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office included such factors
and still found tepid middle-class wage growth since 1979. Jared
Bernstein, a former chief economic adviser to Vice-President Joseph R.
Biden Jr., said supply-side economics failed in the 1980s and the 2000s
and would fail again.
"Not only did it fail to reach the vast majority of American
families, it actually contributed to the worst recession since the Great
Depression," Bernstein told me. "I can say with complete confidence
that the supply-side, deregulate, trickle-down model is a failed model."