He took on New Jersey’s Clifford Case and forever changed the way Reagan conservatives talked about the economy.
But it was Bell’s role in the emergence of “supply-side economics” that cemented his stature in American politics. I rate him among the top four figures in that emergence, along with Jude Wanniski, editorial writer and commentator for The Wall Street Journal; his boss, Robert Bartley, who ran the Journal’s editorial page; Congressman Jack Kemp of New York, at that time famous mostly as a former NFL quarterback for the Buffalo Bills but later highly influential politically; and Bell.
Wanniski, a kinetic figure who operated in a constant state of intensity as if the fate of the world hinged on his latest insight, crafted the argument that America’s growing problem of “stagflation”—economic stagnation mixed with inflation—stemmed from insufficient attention to the supply side of the economy. He sold the idea to Bartley, who turned his editorial page into a kind of journalistic billboard on behalf of this outlier concept. Kemp, reading Wanniski’s Journal editorials (and a particularly influential piece of commentary by him in The National Observer), sought out Wanniski and Bartley with offers to press the cause in Congress. Then Jeff Bell became the first person to test the resonance of the concept on the hustings.