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Schuylkill Plus Feature Article



by the Honorable Judge John Domalakes

The study of Economics has been aptly labelled as the “Dismal Science” by most academicians. One mention of the word causes eyes to “glaze over” as most people find it an impenetrable maze of conflicting theories. Yet, as we endure tax season, it is appropriate to recognize a local person who is one of the most significant Economic theorists of the late 20th Century, whose teachings influence economic policy to this very day. Jude Wanniski was a local product. As one who advocated reduction of trade barriers, the elimination of the capital gains tax, and a return to the gold standard, he was also an early promoter of the “Laffer Curve” developed by University of Southern California Professor Arthur Laffer. At a famous meeting in a Washington, D.C. restaurant in 1974 Laffer is depicted as drawing his “Laffer Curve” on a napkin for Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, both members of the Gerald Ford administration at that time. Wanniski participated in the event. Congressman Jack Kemp became an advocate of Laffer’s economics, as did President Ronald Reagan and industrialist Steve Forbes. Laffer’s Theory holds that tax revenues for the federal government would be zero (0) if the tax rates were 0% or 100%. Somewhere in between these extremes is a tax rate which maximizes the federal government’s total tax revenue. Laffer believed that lowering federal taxes – tax cuts – would increase government revenues by promoting economic growth. It was Wanniski who coined the term “Laffer Curve”, the principals of which he heartily endorsed. He also coined the term “supply side economics”.
Jude Wanniski was born in Pottsville on June 17, 1936, the son of Constance, an Accountant of Scottish descent and Michael of Polish descent, an itinerant butcher. His Grandfather, a coal miner, was an ardent Communist who gave the future economist a copy of DAS Capital for his high school graduation.
The family moved to Brooklyn when Jude was a youth. He graduated from Brooklyn College and then UCLA earning degrees in Political Science and Journalism. Between 1961 and 1965 he was employed as a political columnist for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During this period he became an accomplished card counter. In 1965 he moved to Washington, D.C. and became a columnist for the National Observer, which was published by Dow Jones. From 1972 to 1978 he was employed as an Associate Editor for the Wall Street Journal which position he left when he was discovered distributing political leaflets for a Republican candidate at a train station. In 1978 he founded Polyconomics, an economic forecasting firm which advised banks, corporations, and others. He is often credited as being the designer of the Reagan Era Tax cuts during President Ronald Reagan’s first term of office in 1981-1985. Wanniski promoted what he called the two (2) Santa Claus Theory which held that Democrats tried to play the role of Santa Claus by providing ever-increasing benefits to the underprivileged and that Republicans could also play that role by providing tax cuts to working people, rather than promoting spending cuts which would be portrayed negatively by the media. The idea was that demands for government benefits would be reduced if people were able to retain more of their own earnings.
Wanniski wrote an influential book “The Way the World Works” in 1978 in which he argued that protective tariffs imposed by the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930 and not the failure of classical economics, was the real reason for the Great Depression.
During the 1990s Wanniski developed a friendship with the controversial Louis Farrakhan the head of the Nation of Islam. He also opposed the second Iraq war, arguing that Saddam Hussein had divested Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, and supported John Kerry for President in 2004. He had been a supporter of President Bill Clinton’s policies in the 1990s and voted for him twice for President.
Jude Wanniski died at his desk in Morristown, New Jersey on August 29, 2005. His creation – Polyconomics ceased operation ten (10) months later on June 20, 2006. He was survived by his third (3rd) wife, Patricia Koyce Wanniski, three (3) children from his second (2nd) marriage, his Mother, a sister, a brother and a granddaughter.
Jude Wanniski, author, advisor, and economist, lived a varied and colorful life. He advised Presidents of both parties if they supported his economic theories. As one of the most influential economists of the late 20th Century it is noteworthy that he had local roots, having been born in Pottsville.