FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Real Reagan Economy

by MICHAEL WALKER

Since the start of the presidential primary campaign, Republican candidates have missed few opportunities to laud the achievements of conservative hero and former president Ronald Reagan, or to portray themselves as his worthy successor. As Michele Bachmann declared after the Iowa caucuses, “What we need is a candidate in the likeness and image of a Ronald Reagan…What we need is a fearless conservative, one with no compromises on their record, on spending, on health care, on crony capitalism, on defending America, on standing with our ally Israel.”[1]

Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have also invoked Reagan as an example of a model president. They have contrasted what they see as his superior handling of the economy with the woes suffered during President Obama’s tenure. In an op-ed published by the Wall Street Journal in December, Gingrich, who proudly touts himself as a “Reagan conservative”, wrote of an economic “nightmare” in America, which “will not end until Reagan-era economic policies are restored.” One such policy is “spending controls”.[2] Frontrunner Mitt Romney has likewise expressed his admiration for the “smaller government policies of the Reagan era [which] helped turn around a struggling economy and create millions of jobs.”[3]

It seems to me that these Republicans are suffering from some form of amnesia, whose effects appear to have been amplified by the onset of the election season. For, regardless of the “smaller government” claim made by Romney, the reality is that President Reagan went on a spending blitz during his two terms in office, running up colossal budget deficits worthy of a European tax-and-spend socialist, while repeatedly promising to balance the budget.

The staggering debts accrued by Reagan’s administration were due in large part to an explosion in military spending, which shot up by a whopping forty percent between 1980 and 1984. By the time he left office the man who, in Bachmann’s words, had made “no compromises” on spending had somehow succeeded in adding well over a trillion dollars to the national debt, and had turned the United States from the world’s largest creditor to its largest debtor. Not once did Reagan come close to balancing the budget.

Even Reagan’s own officials acknowledged that the national debt had ballooned to nightmarish proportions. David Stockman, who served as Director of the Office of Management and Budget until 1985, stated privately that “We are violating badly, even wantonly, the cardinal rule of sound public finance: governments must extract from the people in taxes what they dispense in benefits, services and protections.” He added that “If the Securities and Exchange Commission had jurisdiction over the executive and legislative branches, many of us would be in jail.”

There is a chasm separating the Republican presidential candidates’ own remarks on the urgency of reducing the present government debt from what occurred on Reagan’s watch. For instance, on Mitt Romney’s campaign website, it states that “Washington is spending money in an out-of-control fashion” and “we must live within our means, spend only what we take in, and pay down our debt.” Had these words been spoken in the 1980s, when Reagan was in charge, they would not have been at all out of place.[4]

The same goes for Newt Gingrich’s comment that, were he to become president, he would “cut federal spending in half over the long run.”[5] This is diametrically opposed to what President Reagan accomplished.

There is of course one way to reconcile the apparent contradiction between the Republicans’ enthusiasm for Reagan-era economics and their own remarks on the need to bring down the current, very high US debt. As the late president himself once said, “If it comes down to balancing the budget or defense, the balanced budget will have to give way.” I suspect this maxim would ultimately be followed by a President Romney or Gingrich, notwithstanding their declared determination to rein in spending. Romney is indeed committed to significantly increasing the defense budget, and plans to pour billions of dollars into modernizing the air force, building more ships, improving services for veterans and adding “at least 100,000 active duty personnel to our military payroll.”[6]

To sum up, when the name of Ronald Reagan is brought up by a Republican presidential candidate, it is wise to take what they say with a grain of salt. The Reagan they invoke is not the spendthrift budget-buster who plunged the US into unprecedented levels of indebtedness, but a mythical figure who made “no compromises” on his conservative principles. One thing is for sure, however: if a Republican defeats Obama in November, he’ll have as much trouble balancing the budget as the Gipper.

Michael Walker has a PhD in International Relations. He has written articles for Foreign Policy in Focus, openDemocracy and Colombia Journal.

NOTES.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
May 26, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Anthony DiMaggio
Swamp Politics, Trump Style: “Russiagate” Diverts From the Real White House Scandals
Paul Street
It’s Not Gonna Be Okay: the Nauseating Nothingness of Neoliberal Capitalist and Professional Class Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
The ICEmen Cometh
Ron Jacobs
The Deep State is the State
Pete Dolack
Why Pence Might be Even Worse Than Trump
Patrick Cockburn
We Know What Inspired the Manchester Attack, We Just Won’t Admit It
Thomas Powell
The Dirty Secret of the Korean War
Mark Ashwill
The Fat Lady Finally Sings: Bob Kerrey Quietly Resigns from Fulbright University Vietnam Leadership Position
John Davis
Beyond Hope
Uri Avnery
The Visitation: Trump in Israel
Ralph Nader
The Left/Right Challenge to the Failed “War on Drugs”
Traci Yoder
Free Speech on Campus: a Critical Analysis
Dave Lindorff
Beware the Supporter Scorned: Upstate New York Trump Voters Hit Hard in President’s Proposed 2018 Budget
Daniel Read
“Sickening Cowardice”: Now More Than Ever, Britain’s Theresa May Must be Held to Account on the Plight of Yemen’s Children
Ana Portnoy
Before the Gates: Puerto Rico’s First Bankruptcy Trial
M. Reza Behnam
Rethinking Iran’s Terrorism Designation
Brian Cloughley
Ukraine and the NATO Military Alliance
Josh Hoxie
Pain as a Policy Choice
David Macaray
Stephen Hawking Needs to Keep His Mouth Shut
Ramzy Baroud
Fear as an Obstacle to Peace: Why Are Israelis So Afraid?
Kathleen Wallace
The Bilious Incongruity of Trump’s Toilet
Seth Sandronsky
Temping Now
Alan Barber – Dean Baker
Blue Collar Blues: Manufacturing Falls in Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania in April
Jill Richardson
Saving America’s Great Places
Richard Lawless
Are Credit Rating Agencies America’s Secret Fifth Column?
Louis Proyect
Venezuela Reconsidered
Murray Dobbin
The NDP’s Singh and Ashton: Flash Versus Vision
Ron Leighton
Endarkenment: Postmodernism, Identity Politics, and the Attack on Free Speech
Anthony Papa
Drug War Victim: Oklahoma’s Larry Yarbrough to be Freed after 23 Years in Prison
Rev. John Dear
A Call to Mobilize the Nation Over the Next 18 Months
Yves Engler
Why Anti-Zionism and Anti-Jewish Prejudice Have to Do With Each Other
Ish Mishra
Political Underworld and Adventure Journalism
Binoy Kampmark
Roger Moore in Bondage
Rob Seimetz
Measuring Manhoods
Edward Curtin
Sorry, You’re Not Invited
Vern Loomis
Winning the Lottery is a State of Mind
Charles R. Larson
Review: Mary V. Dearborn’s “Ernest Hemingway”
David Yearsley
The Ethos of Mayfest
May 25, 2017
Jennifer Matsui
The Rise of the Alt-Center
Michael Hudson
Another Housing Bubble?
Robert Fisk
Trump Meets the New Leader of the Secular World, Pope Francis
John Laforge
Draft Treaty Banning Nuclear Weapons Unveiled
Benjamin Dangl
Trump’s Budget Expands War on the Backs of America’s Poor
Alice Donovan
US-Led Air Strikes Killed Record Number of Civilians in Syria
Andrew Moss
The Meaning of Trump’s Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail