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We the People

Posted: Thursday, November 09, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) -- After a year of listening to candidates, it may dismay many people to learn that government didn't create the boom or the budget surplus and had less to do with containing inflation than claimed.

Its policies perhaps laid some of the groundwork for events and then aided and abetted the expansion, but to take full credit would mean ignoring the enormous contributions of the private sector.

Those contributions are so myriad as to be incalculable, but include the spirit of consumers, the effort of immigrants, the discipline of labor, the new skills of corporate management, the daring of entrepreneurs, the creative efforts of educational institutions, and the genius and persistence of thinkers and tinkerers.

Government, broadly viewed, failed to comprehend the size of budget surpluses, was greatly surprised to realize the jobless rate could fall under 4 percent, and failed for several years to comprehend the enormous impact of technology in raising the level of productivity.

This isn't to say government didn't do its part, but it is very likely that over the past year of political claims and promises, the government's role in the expansion, versus that of the people themselves, became vastly inflated.

Historians now are looking for the key factor, but the odds are far more in favor of finding a dozen or more keys, each unlocking a different factor, making the challenge one of finding how they unlocked together.

Awaiting that synthesis, the various reasons may all seem to have some credibility. Some even seek the explanation in the deregulation of certain industries, which of course means that government's role shrank.

Others who have studied the phenomenon of the 1990s trace it all the way back to World War II, and even extend it beyond to the deprivations of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

From these events, they say, emerged the great baby boom, in which government, of course, was only indirectly involved. Making up for lost time, parents in the 1950s created families and sought opportunities, and the effect can be traced through every economic spasm since then.

Government's role was to nurture the natural events, and to its credit, it did so. Educational opportunities and other benefits flowed: The number of students rose to record numbers, creating a new educated class that vowed not to submit to the economic travails of their parents.

That's one way to search for the origins of the economic boom of the past decade, but only one. Republicans sometimes claim it all goes back to the Reagan tax cuts. And Democrats contend that their social policies gave Americans the security they needed to take chances.

But the belief that the determination and commitment that emerged after World War II had a great deal to do with it is supported by some very credible evidence: It's their kids who are the technological brainpower in the vast entrepreneurial and corporate effort that produced the productivity gains that deflated inflation and raised incomes.

In short, it was you and your neighbors, the people of America.

End Adv PMs Tuesday, November 7.



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