Most of my day yesterday was spent at the George W. Bush Institute's conference on "Tax Policies for 4% Growth." Highlights:
From President Bush's speech, delivered with no teleprompter: "I wish they weren't called the Bush tax cuts. If they were called some other body's tax cuts, they'd probably be less likely to be raised."
President Bush on the proposed Buffett Tax, as paraphrased by the governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam: "I would hate to have a tax increase named after me permanently. Only thing worse would be a maximum security prison."
Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey stressed the relationships he had developed with Democrats in the New Jersey state legislature. "Compromise is not a dirty word," Mr. Christie said. He also warned, "We're turning into a paternalistic entitlement society" of "a bunch of people sitting on a couch waiting for their next government check."
The dean of the Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University, Albert W. Niemi, Jr., said that for most of American history, the share of the economy taken by state, local, and federal government was 10% or less. That rose to 20% during the Great Depression, and is about 42% now.
A fellow at the Manhattan Institute, Diana Furchtgott-Roth, reminded the audience that on January 1, 2013, the capital gains tax is scheduled to increase to 25% from 15% and the dividend tax is scheduled to increase to 45% from 15%. "Where is Congress?" she asked.
The deputy mayor of economic development in New York City, Robert Steel, said 24 permits and licenses are required to open a restaurant in New York City. He said the Bloomberg administration had moved to reduce by a month or two the length of time required to obtain those permits and licenses.
The editor and executive director of Dow Jones Indexes, John Prestbo, said that during the 63 years in which the capital gains tax was 25% or lower, the Dow Jones Industrial Average had returned an annualized average return of 6.05%. During the 36 years in which the capital gains tax was higher than 25%, the same Dow Jones index had returned an annual 3.49%. He described it as a "dramatic difference."
"Free market capitalism is the engine of social mobility, the highway to the American dream," Congressman Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, said. He said America is on the verge of becoming "more of a taker society versus a maker society," and of turning the "safety net into a hammock." He said America faces a choice between President Obama's path of a "government-centered society" and an alternative path of an opportunity society. "We know what works. Freedom works. Limited government works. Free enterprise works," Mr. Ryan said. He called for tax reform that would lower the rates and broaden the base and "improve the incentives to save, work and invest." And he recalled his own experiences "detasseling corn" and working the quarter-pounder grill at the McDonald's in Janesville, Wisconsin.
One final observation, relating less to the program than the audience, which included many former Bush administration officials: There probably aren't that many people in this country who, more than three years into the Obama administration, are still in the habit of referring to George W. Bush as "the president." As in, "The president looks relaxed." A lot of those people were at this conference.