A Fiscal History Lesson
By David Henderson
The Hoover Institution’s on-line publication, Defining Ideas, has published my article, “A Fiscal History Lesson.” In it, I retell the story that I told at longer length in my 2010 Mercatus study, “The U.S. Postwar Miracle.”
Two highlight paragraphs:
In a 2010 study for the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, I examined the four years from 1944, the peak of World War II spending, to 1948. Over those years, the U.S. government cut spending from a high of 44 percent of gross national product (GNP) in 1944 to only 8.9 percent in 1948, a drop of over 35 percentage points of GNP. The result was an astonishing boom. The unemployment rate, which was artificially low at the end of the war because many millions of workers had been drafted into the U.S. armed services, did increase. But between 1945 and 1948, it reached its peak at only 3.9 percent in 1946. From September 1945 to December 1948, the average unemployment rate was 3.5 percent.
Most of the policies that Samuelson had feared actually happened, and in spades. Price controls were eliminated. Not only was the federal budget deficit decreased, but also, in 1947, the budget surplus was over 5 percent of GNP. Demobilization happened big-time. Between 1945 and 1947, when the postwar transition was complete, the number of people in the armed forces fell by 10.5 million. Civilian employment by the armed forces fell by 1.8 million, and military-related employment in industry fell off the cliff from 11.0 million to 0.8 million. As demobilization proceeded, optimistic employers in the private sector scooped up millions of the soldiers, sailors, and others who had been displaced from the armed forces and from military industries.