The legacy of George H.W. Bush

The effects of George HW Bush's economic policies are still felt to this day.


George HW Bush: champion of free trade
(Image credit: 2003 Getty Images)

George HW Bush, who died last week at the age of 94, will be remembered for his "foreign policy triumphs driving Iraq out of Kuwait and smoothing the fallout from the end of the Cold War" but his "economic legacy on taxes, banking and trade reverberate today", says Greg Ip in The Wall Street Journal.

Bush Sr, who served as 41st US president between 1989 and 1993, owed his election in part to the "low inflation and solid growth" of Ronald Reagan's administration, yet it was Reagan's supply-side tax cuts that led to the persistent budget deficits which came to "haunt" his own presidency. During his presidential campaign, Bush famously said, "Read my lips: no new taxes." Two years later, after a huge battle in Congress over the deficit, he was forced to break that pledge.

The move enraged the right and, coupled with the 1990-1991 recession, cost him the 1992 election. For Republicans, his loss to Bill Clinton became a cautionary tale: "inflexible opposition to higher taxes is now integral to the party's identity" and one of the "few things on which Mr Trump and his party's establishment agree".

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Another Bush legacy Trump seemed "hellbent on reversing" was Nafta, says Amanda Erickson in The Washington Post. Bush was a "champion of free trade" and the accord was his greatest accomplishment. He signed it shortly before leaving office and it has become the template for dozens of international trade agreements since.

In the end, Bush's fall was rapid, says The Times. His approval ratings crashed from a historic high of 90% in 1991 to 40% in just over a year for his perceived "failure to confront a recession at home while taking decisive action against Iraq". Since then, however, his stock has "risen steadily", says Jacob Heilbrunn in The Spectator. "His son's misadventures helped promote it." The advent of Trump is "sure to bathe it in even more of a nostalgic glow".

Emily Hohler

Emily has extensive experience in the world of journalism. She has worked on MoneyWeek for more than 20 years as a former assistant editor and writer. Emily has previously worked on titles including The Times as a Deputy Features Editor, Commissioning Editor at The Independent Sunday Review, The Daily Telegraph, and she spent three years at women's lifestyle magazine Marie Claire as a features writer for three years, early on in her career. 

On MoneyWeek, Emily’s coverage includes Brexit and global markets such as Russia and China. Aside from her writing, Emily is a Nutritional Therapist and she runs her own business called Root Branch Nutrition in Oxfordshire, where she offers consultations and workshops on nutrition and health.