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Leading a star-studded cast of economic leaders featuring just about everyone but President Reagan, John Kenneth Galbraith, Warburg Professor of Economics Emeritus, and William F. Buckley, editor of the National Review, debated the administration's economic program last night before a highly vocal audience of 1200 at Sanders Theater.
The debate will be aired in two segments on Buckley's "Firing Line" television show January 17 and 25.
Buckley drew hisses when he called his opponents "three pleasant, amiable chatterboxes" who've misunderstood the American dream.
"He showed his usual skill in evasion, but he's a master of the craft," Galbraith said after the debate.
Four economic commentators joined Galbraith and Buckley in debating the impact of the Reagan budget cuts on the economy. Reagan's supply side program seeks to stimulate investment and increased employment through budget reduction and tax cuts.
The Reagan opponents argued the that the policy will cause inflation, unfairly burden the poor, and have little effect on investment spending.
Calling Reagan's economic program "an insult to the middle class and working poor," John Oakes, former New York Times editorial page editor, said during the debate that the budget is "as unprincipled as it is brutal."
Buckley argued that more than 70 per cent of all tax reductions will benefit families in lower and middle class tax brackets.
Arthur Laffer, a University of Southern California economist whom Buckley called "the progenitor of that beautiful curve," predicted that tax cuts will stimulate investment and increase employement. "The best form of welfare is still a high-paying job," he added.
"With friends like Mr. Buckley, businessmen do not need enemies," Galbraith said.
Proponents blamed current economic woes on previous Democratic administrations and said that the market has suffered setbacks all over the world.
"People who rarely open the financial page might do well to listen," Robert M. Bleiberg, publisher of Barron's and a respondent supporting the administration, said of two of his opponents.
Saying Reagan's measures have not gone far enough, Bleiburg added that he would cut 10 per cent across the board on government programs. The president's cut in social programs only partially remedied widespread waste in government programs, Bleiburg said.
Both Galbraith and Oakes said Reagan should cut military expenditures rather than social programs. Oakes called Reagan's fiscal policy "an iron hand that the president reserves for welfare mothers."
Audience members described the debate as "great entertainment," "a battle of civilized wit," and "two giants facing each other."
"Galbraith lectured in Fc. 10 and he wasn't all that impressive," Michael J. Twomey '85, a student in the introductory economics course, said last night.
C. Van Sheets, a first-year business student, perhaps captured the mood of the audience best, saying. "Though both sides made some quantum leaps in logic, it was fun."
The Harvard Conservative Club sponsored the debate, which featured Buckley, Galbraith, Bleiburg, Laffer, Robert Lekachman, an economist from Columbia University, and four Harvard students.
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