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TheStreet Open House

History Lessons: Romney vs. Obama

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- With the economy sputtering, President Obama would like voters to believe he faces tougher challenges than any president since Franklin Roosevelt and needs two terms to turn things around. Sadly, the president's problems are so daunting only because his policies are not up to the task.

One need only look as far back as Ronald Reagan to find a fair but embarrassing comparison for Obama's special brand of statism.

In 1980, Americans were bearing double-digit interest rates and inflation, growing trade deficits on oil and with export juggernauts Japan and newly industrializing economies in Asia, and stuck in a malaise of self-doubt quite similar to today.

Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, appointed in August 1979, pushed interest rates even higher to halt runaway inflation, the economy suffered two wrenching recessions, and unemployment peaked at 10.8% just 22 months into the Reagan presidency.

The Reagan recovery package emphasized putting money and decision making back into the hands of ordinary citizens and private businesses. Immediate tax cuts, followed by tax reform -- just three personal income tax rates, a top rate of 28%, and fewer special breaks and loopholes.

He removed Carter-era policies that discouraged domestic oil production, and aggressively sought to right-size regulation -- not slash and burn, but retaining what was needed to keep business honest and foster competition, and jettisoning the rest.

All, strikingly similar to Governor Mitt Romney's platform.

When President Reagan faced voters in 1984, the economy was growing at 6.3% and unemployment was down to 7.3% -- it ultimately fell to 5%, as Old Dutch engineered a 92-month economic expansion.

Not satisfied to rest on his laurels, he pursued free trade, called to task Japan and others for undervalued currencies, and negotiated the 1985 Plaza Accord, which increased the value of the yen by more than 50% and set the stage for export-led prosperity of the 1990s.

Similarly, Obama inherited an economy crippled by gaping trade deficits -- this time with China and again on oil, and too much financial chicanery on Wall Street.

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