Conservatism and Trumpism are no Laffing matter

Dr. Arthur Laffer’s lecture for Young Americans for Freedom promotes classist ideas


Anna DuMond

Dr. Arthur Laffer speaks on campus at a Young Americans for Freedom event.

Anna DuMond, Contributing Columnist

Welcome to Ronald Reagan’s America: where trade is free, income tax is low and patriotism is strong. 

At least, that is the version of America that economist Dr. Arthur Laffer passionately endorsed on Feb. 8 during his lecture titled, “Taxing the Rich has its Consequences,” sponsored by Wake Forest University’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF). 

Standing beside a large red, white and blue YAF banner, Laffer spoke of his glory days working under former President Ronald Reagan to an audience of students and faculty. What initially seemed like a lecture merely describing economic trends throughout history soon turned into a conservative sermon that left me wondering whether or not I had accidentally stumbled into a Trump rally. 

“Look at it this way. If you tax people who work and pay people who don’t work…” Laffer said with a knowing smile, gesturing to the audience who all nodded in agreement. “Well, you see what I’m saying here.”

Laffer went on to condemn the redistribution of income from those who make an excess of the average income to those who make less than average, saying that in his model, this would create a “net zero” income across America. 

It doesn’t take a background in economics to read between the lines: Laffer was calling the working class a bunch of freeloaders. 

Unlike former President Donald Trump, however, Laffer didn’t need to appeal to working-class Americans to earn their approval. After all, he was in a room full of mostly affluent and well-off individuals, many of which he knew already shared his perspective. 

Trump, whose administration is known for giving massive tax cuts to the rich in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017, was advised by Laffer and incorporated his approach to taxation into U.S. policy. Laffer, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Trump in 2019 and advised him on the COVID-19 economic crisis response, gave a clear nod to Trump’s 2024 campaign by criticizing the current administration’s approach to taxes as stated in the latest State of the Union address. After having listened to Laffer speak, it is clear the influence he had on Trump’s economic plans during his campaign.

“I wish Bernie [Sanders], Elizabeth Warren, even Joe Biden were here tonight. If they were, I’d tell them, ‘it’s not about feelings,’” Laffer said at one point during the evening, a statement eerily similar to the rhetoric of Trump. 

Young America’s Foundation, the organization that charters college chapters of YAF, has Laffer as one of its many speakers from which chapters can choose to give lectures. Other potential speakers from the list include former Vice President Mike Pence, Trump 2016 campaign manager Kellyanne Conway and other prominent conservative figures.

YAF proclaims its ties to Reagan; however, its ties to Trump are just as evident. 

A student asked Laffer a question during the Q&A portion of the lecture concerning his thoughts on students’ initiative in today’s polarized political climate. Laffer redirected the question to showcase his research on economic trends, choosing to take this opportunity to comment on trade policies in the United States. 

“This might be controversial, but we need to start trading with Russia, China and Iran,” Laffer said, receiving head nods and thumbs-ups from the older members of the audience. 

I couldn’t help but shake my head — a timely comment, considering that Russia is actively committing atrocities against Ukraine, to whom the United States has sent billions in aid. Other countries that are part of NATO have done the same but have hesitated to supply heavy-duty military aid out of fear to escalate the war further. Laffer’s suggestion completely undermines the efforts the United States and NATO countries have made to support Ukraine and would weaken the unity that the NATO countries have demonstrated since last February. Additionally, following the four Chinese spy balloons that were sent to collect military data from the United States and were shot down as well as the canceled diplomatic meeting that was supposed to take place in Beijing, tensions with China are increasing by the day. Still, his suggestions seemed to appeal to the audience, making me wonder whether anyone pays attention to world events.

Clearly, I was not the intended audience for Laffer’s talk. If I had been, this would have likely been a positive review instead of a criticism. One thing that is worth noting is that as adults we are constantly receiving new information that shapes our opinions and beliefs. As a politics and international affairs major, I have formed my opinions about matters and issues that the world is facing today — there was very little that I found myself agreeing with during Laffer’s talk. 

There is value in hearing different perspectives, particularly when it’s coming from someone like Laffer who has experience in his field. However, understanding his biases and background is necessary so as to not take his research at face value. The models Laffer used have been criticized by other experts, while his rhetoric during the talk implied that what he was saying was all factual. I can appreciate hearing a viewpoint different from mine on a topic that I don’t have much knowledge about, but I have learned to be wary of misinformation. Doing some fact-checking after Laffer’s talk confirmed my suspicions, which were that his models were not as sound as he made them out to be. We all need to become more politically literate so we can discern what is fact, rather than simply accepting what we hear from figures like Laffer.