1974 Economist Arthur Laffer sketches his theory of tax policy over dinner with Wall Street Journal writer Jude Wanniski and Ford administration officials Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, kick-starting the rise of supply-side economics.
Forty years after one of the most famous dinner-napkin doodles in American history, Laffer, Cheney, and Rumsfeld reunited in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 10.
Tell us what you were doing in 1974.
Rumsfeld: I was called back from Brussels, where I was U.S. ambassador to NATO, to chair the transition to the presidency of Gerald Ford. Then I went back to Belgium, and then I was called back again to serve as White House chief of staff.
Cheney: The day after Nixon announced his resignation, I got a call from Don’s secretary in Brussels wanting to know if I would meet Don at the airport—he was flying in the next day. When he arrived he was presented with a letter from the president asking him to come straight to the White House. He asked me if I would join him, and I was happy to do so. And so, on Aug. 9, 1974, we entered the back of the White House, where we had been during the first Nixon term.
What was the economic climate at the time?
Rumsfeld: The country was faced with some serious economic problems. And what was coming up through the system was not what I felt represented the direction the country ought to go. So Dick [and I] were looking for all the help we could get.
Laffer: Ford was proposing something called Whip Inflation Now. It was a tax increase, a 5 percent surcharge. That was what he proposed. So I was talking to Don back then, who was White House chief of staff, and Dick, who was deputy chief of staff. I said, “Look, guys, we are not going to get 5 percent more revenue with a 5 percent tax surcharge. You may get 4 percent or 3 percent, or you may actually lose revenue. But you will not get 5 percent, because when you do a tax surcharge it’s a really huge increase of progressivity. You will discourage people from reporting income and working.”
How frequently did you meet with Art Laffer?
Cheney: During the last half of 1974, when we were setting up the Ford White House, economic policy was a big deal. Art would come by periodically. He saw Don more often than he did me, but I would see him occasionally. And one of those occasions was when he came to the Hotel Washington, at the Two Continents restaurant, as it was called then. That’s where we sat down and talked about tax policy and Art drew the Laffer Curve.