NT alum Stephen Moore lets thoughts fly at Wall Street Journal
August 05, 2011 | 01:32 AM
Very few people can accurately say their work directly impacts the daily evolution of the American Experiment.
New Trier graduate Stephen Moore is one of those few.
Moore is the senior economics writer and a member of the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal. The editorials he writes, and the pages he helps direct, are closely read six days a week by many of the men and women who set the agenda, shape the debate and make things happen in the nation's business, political and intellectual communities.
"In most newspapers, the least read part of the paper is the editorial page," said Moore, who is also a regular contributor on CNN, Fox and numerous other media outlets. "The Wall Street Journal may be the only one in the country in which it is the most read. I think even Ben Bernanke is reading it every day."
The Journal's editorial page is steadfast in its championship of free market capitalism.
"'Free minds. Free markets. Free people.' That is the current that goes through every editorial," Moore told The Wilmette Beacon in a recent interview.
It is also the current that runs through Moore.
"I've always been an individualist," he said. "Someone who believes you should get rewarded for your own work."
Moore, 51, attended Winnetka's Saints Faith Hope & Charity School (He had "a great time" at his 35th anniversary class reunion.) and graduated from New Trier East in 1978. He still has family in the area, including sister Kathy Dodd in Wilmette.
"One of my fondest memories at New Trier: We would take off after lunch, get on the el and go to a Cubs game, and the truant officer would be looking for us," said Moore, who now lives in Virginia with his wife and three sons but "still bleeds Cubbie blue."
Another memory: his participation in the debate team, which was coached by Tom McClain.
"He helped me learn how to think and argue and make a persuasive point," Moore said. "He was a real mentor for me."
The next stop was the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
"When I got there, I felt like New Trier was almost harder," Moore commented.
But it was also during Moore's college years that his world view began to take substantive shape.
"I remember President Carter giving his 'malaise' speech, and thinking, 'What is wrong with this country that we have fallen this far, that the future is going to be worse than the past? That is not what America is about,'" he said.
Shortly thereafter, Moore tuned in as presidential candidate Ronald Reagan took the incumbent to task.
"That was an epiphany moment for me," Moore said. "I thought, 'Oh, my God, I agree with everything he just said.'"
Around the same time, Moore also became a research assistant for his next mentor, U of I business professor Julian Simon. Simon was challenging conventional wisdom of the day by arguing that the free market, property rights and tort reform provide the best tools to preserve the health and sustainability of the environment.
After receiving a master's degree in economics at George Mason University, Moore became a budget expert at the Heritage Institute, a senior economics fellow at the Cato Institute and a senior economist for the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, where in 1995 he crafted Committee Chairman Dick Armey's flat tax proposal.
Along the way, he was also mentored by Arthur Laffer, whose famous doodle on a cocktail napkin accurately projected, as proven during the Reagan years, that a reduction in tax rates can actually increase government revenue.
Of Simon and Laffer, Moore said: "Both were people who challenged the orthodox thinking of the day. They were willing to say that what everyone else was saying was wrong and that is a courageous thing to do."
In 1999, Moore felt the Republican Congress had "wandered from its ideals," so he founded the Club for Growth, using the same contribution bundling techniques that had made liberal-leaning Emily's List so successful.
The organization's PAC has subsequently helped fund the successful elections of dozens of Republican candidates to Congress who support pro-growth policies, limited government and low taxes.
"It was the right idea at the right time," said Moore, who stepped down in 2004 after the organization had helped defeat Democratic Senate President Tom Daschle and elect conservatives Jim DeMint, Tom Coburn and Jeff Flake, among others.
A year later, Moore founded the Free Enterprise Fund, which lobbied for social security privatization and permanent repeal of the estate tax.
Shortly thereafter, he was hired by the Journal, whose average weekday circulation is larger than that of the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Washington Post combined, according to the latest Audit Bureau of Circulation figures.
"It was a dream come true," said Moore, who after six years exclaimed: "This is so much fun. I can't believe they pay me to do this."
If it is fun, Moore also sees his job as intensely serious business, and his editorials and columns reflect that.
America, he asserts, is engaged in "the struggle of our generation."
What must be aggressively constrained, he said, is "the enormously subversive welfare state," with its dependency-inducing addiction to high taxes, regulatory overreach, unsustainable entitlements, and boundless expansionism.
"More Americans work for the government than work in construction, farming, fishing, forestry, manufacturing, mining and utilities combined. We have moved decisively from a nation of makers to a nation of takers," Moore wrote in a column last spring. "President Obama says we have to retool our economy to 'win the future.' The only way to do that is to grow the economy that makes things, not the sector that takes things."
Shortly after Obama was elected, Moore penned another column drawing a bleak parallel between the president's stimulus and bailout plans and the "economic carnage caused by big government run amok," as portrayed in Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged."
"For the uninitiated, the moral of the story is simply this," he wrote. "Politicians invariably respond to crises – that in most cases they themselves created – by spawning new government programs, laws and regulations. These, in turn, generate more havoc and poverty, which inspires the politicians to create more programs ... and the downward spiral repeats itself until the productive sectors of the economy collapse under the collective weight of taxes and other burdens imposed in the name of fairness, equality and do-goodism."
If all of that sounds familiar, it should, Moore said.
It is no coincidence, he said, that "all the institutions that are broken are run by government." Nor it is a coincidence that America's status as a world economic superpower is being threatened as its economy is increasingly loaded down with job and innovation-killing taxes and regulations.
"The question is whether we will be able to grow up and accept the fact that we will have to make cuts," Moore said.
Is he willing to predict victory in "the struggle"?
"I don't know how that is going to turn out," he said.
But rest assured, he's working it hard.