The Reagan Era Brought Us Depression, War, and Mass Murder in the Global South

Capitalism 3

Original source: Diary of a Heartland Radical

The rightwing media, including the Lafayette-West Lafayette Journal and Courier, have resumed the historical revisionism that portrays Ronald Reagan as a great president. The occasion for this is the 100th anniversary of President Reagan’s birth. He is being trotted out by Republicans and Tea Party spokespersons to celebrate the political life of “the great communicator,” the savior of America.

Let us be clear: the policies and programs instituted in the 1980s that led to thirty years of economic decline at home, dramatic increases in military spending, and massive killing of peoples of color in the Global South have their roots in the demands of economic and political elites before President Reagan assumed office. In addition, the disastrous thirty years of public policy was created with the willful collaboration of powerful figures in both political parties and a political economy that makes such pain and suffering likely.

However, the Reagan era (preceded by the rise to power of Reagan’s mentor, Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister in Great Britain) can be seen as introducing a qualitative shift in public policy from state and market collaboration as exemplified by the New Deal (1932-1976) to the celebration of the market as a source of economic well-being and political stability. While government grew enormously during the last thirty years, the official ideology was used by Republicans and Democrats alike to reduce or eliminate government programs that were targeted to assist the vast majority of the people, the working class.

Looking at economic policy, the Reagan Administration launched a campaign to destroy the U.S. labor movement, reduce rudimentary public services and supports for the poor (President Clinton finished the job), radically reduce corporate taxes, provide tax incentives to encourage manufacturers to move plants overseas, and expand the deregulation of banking and financial speculation (begun by President Carter).

The impacts of these policies included reducing the rights and living conditions of workers, resuming the historic process of shifting the wealth and income of the country to the top one percent of the economic elite, reducing the middle class, and increasing the percentage of the people living below the poverty line. While the proportion of the society’s wealth controlled by the economic ruling class grew, the rate of economic growth of the economy as a whole since Reagan declined by one-third compared to the period from the 1940s through the 1960s.

Reagan’s global economic policies, commonly referred to as “neo-liberalism,” used debt, induced by the IMF and private banks, and military power to force virtually every country in the world to cut back on public services to their citizens, privatize their economies, shift from producing goods and services for their own people to producing for exports (to earn foreign exchange so that they could pay back western banks that forced them to borrow billions of dollars).

As the economic vulnerability of workers grew in poor countries, they became desperate, pliant, and cheap labor forced to manufacture goods for ten percent of the wage costs of workers in the United States. By 2000, half the world earned $2 a day or less. In the United States, wages stagnated; earnings at the dawn of the new century in real dollars were no higher than the early 1970s.

Also, the Reagan administration of the 1980s increased war-making and complicity in the deaths of millions of people around the world. As a candidate, Ronald Reagan convinced many Americans that a “window of vulnerability” had opened in America’s security posture because of the escalation of military spending by “the evil empire,” the former Soviet Union. Thus as president, Reagan launched the biggest arms buildup, aside from World War II, in United States history. And, as was the case in 1960 when candidate John F. Kennedy campaigned with claims of a “missile gap” between the United States and the Soviet Union, the claim was a lie.

Hamstrung by the post-Vietnam fear Americans held about the U.S. getting involved in another quagmire, what beltway policy wonks called “the Vietnam Syndrome,” Reagan defense intellectuals shifted to what they called “low-intensity conflict.” LIC meant that the United States would fund anti-communists, reactionaries, and militarists who would fight our wars for us. The United States funded anti-government rebels in Nicaragua, Angola, Ethiopia, Cambodia, and Afghanistan, including followers of Osama Bin Laden. Arms sales to rightwing regimes, such as those in El Salvador, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and Pakistan skyrocketed as Reagan lifted Carter administration sales limitations. Conservatively two million people in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East died because of these policies.

Finally, the Reagan administration shifted strategic doctrine from Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) which emphasized maintaining the capacity to deter a Soviet surprise attack on the United States to a “counter force” strategy that called for plowing resources into developing a first strike nuclear capacity, which included the Hollywood fantasy, the “Strategic Defense Initiative” or “Star Wars.” Given the Reagan public discourse concerning “evil empires,” threats that the Soviets better give up their system or expect war, and the new military doctrines, the world was lucky to survive the 1980s without nuclear war.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, some of the threats to human survival waned but the neo-liberal global agenda continued through the first Bush presidency and the Clinton years. The global military agenda resumed in the new century as the creators of the Reagan era military programs assumed positions of power in the Bush administration. The Rumsfelds, Cheneys, and their subordinates, who gained experience back in the Nixon days and became foreign and military policy influentials in the Reagan (and George H.W. Bush) periods and who had organized out of power in the Clinton period, were back in the saddle. They used the 9/11 tragedy to project military power on a global basis.

So when home town papers publish articles with headlines like “ ‘Great Communicator’ Still Resonates” (Journal and Courier, Monday, January 31, 2011)be prepared to remind people what really happened in the 1980s and that the public policies adopted then have caused so much pain ever since. Probably some of these newspapers will continue to expand their revisionist project in other subject areas as well; for example, suggesting that the Founding Fathers opposed slavery in the United States.

Illustration by Alexei Talimonov

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  • And unemployment at 10.8%, US became debtor nation first time since 1914, more bank failures since Great Depression, lowest productivity since 1930's, ilegal invasion of Granda after 240 Marines killed in Lebanon a year after he promised they would be thee for only 30 days, and the impeachable offense of Iran/Contra, etc

    Posted by Richard Coleman, 04/27/2013 10:57am (5 years ago)

  • Concerning the stool pidgeon,anti-communist,racist,anti-union,"Great Communicator"Ronald Wilson Reagan,we couldn't agree more on his foreign and domestic policy.
    A false communicator of stealth,union busting,CIA,FBI and John Birch Society mis-information and disinformation to secretly murder and control humanity by all the most negative,false and cynical methodologies humankind has ever devised,only matched by its naked brutality,its sentimentality for Nazi fascism,this is what we would accurately remember the "Gipper" for. Maybe less and less will believe in the anti-working class revisionist lie that he "improved"relations with the Soviets. He certainly opposed the essence of working peoples' democracy everywhere,including the Soviets,meaning the working people of the Soviet Union,encircled by NATO military might,should be stripped of all transportation,nutrition and health,communication and scientific resources,to pursue a wild privatization scheme,with his buddy "Gorby"Gorbachev,whose policies caused external or foreign debt there to sky rocket.
    However,on the analogy to the American founders,known slave holders,it is accurately written by W.E.B. Du Bois that slavery was in large part imposed on the colonists. This says nothing to the fact that with the establishment of the Cotton Kingdom,much later,the institution took on a whole new sharp economic meaning and source of profit for the U.S. and world trade and also,almost destroying totally,human and political rights of white labor in the process,and its inseparable African labor.
    During the time of the founders,there were unheeded warnings about the iniquity and dangers of slavery to the nation,coming from the founders,like Franklin,like Paine,and others.
    This is an excellent article.

    Posted by E.E.W.Clay, 02/10/2011 11:59am (8 years ago)

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