Deconstructing Reagan: Conservative Mythology and Americas Fortieth President

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There is no cost to use Perusall beyond the cost of purchasing the book. Note: Students must purchase through Perusall to access the book in Perusall. Students can purchase online using a credit card, or your university's bookstore can order access codes from Perusall for students to purchase at the bookstore. Learn more. Although he left office nearly 20 years ago, Ronald Reagan remains a potent symbol for the conservative movement.

The Bush administration frequently invokes his legacy as it formulates and promotes its fiscal, domestic, and foreign policies. His name is watchword for campus conservatives who regard him in a way that borders on hero worship. Conservative media pundits often equate the term "Reagan-esque" with personal honor, fiscal rectitude, and unqualified success in dealing with foreign threats.

But how much of the Reagan legacy is based on fact, how much on idealized myth? And what are the reasons - political and otherwise - behind the mythmaking? Increases this big had never been enacted except during major wars. The White House spin machine did not call these changes tax increases; it labeled them revisions in the tax code.

In December , Treasury Secretary Donald Regan, with the information that many corporations were able to avoid federal taxation by taking advantage of tax loopholes, tried to convince the president to advocate tax reform in his State of the Union address. The tax system needed to be fundamentally changed because it was too complex, too unfair, and too restrictive on economic growth. SLOAN likely Democratic presidential candidate, might focus his campaign on the unfairness of the tax code.

Hence, early in , Baker, mistakenly believing that Mondale might champion the Bradley-Gephardt tax bill, which would simplify the tax code and lower tax rates, suggested that Reagan direct the Treasury Department to develop comprehensive tax reform legislation. This maneuver essentially neutralized tax reform as an issue during the campaign. During the campaign, the focus was on the fact that Mondale wanted to raise taxes and Reagan did not.

After the election, the Treasury Department presented its recommended tax reform bill called Treasury I to the president. Treasury I, skillfully prepared by the neutrally competent bureaucrats in the department, recommended the elimination of 38 of tax expenditures. In reviewing Treasury I, Treasury Secretary Baker and his deputy, Darman, decided that the proposal would have to be revised to make it more politically feasible before it could be introduced to Congress. Unlike the situation in , Reagan could not steamroll his opponents in , but he was able to impose a major rule: any bill would have to be revenue-neutral.

That is, any new tax bill would have to raise the same amount of revenue as the existing tax law. Democrats supported this provision for its fairness and Republicans for being pro-family. TRA eliminated the preferential treatment of capital gains income by raising the tax rate from 20 percent to the top individual rate of 28 percent. It was estimated that about 60 percent of all Americans paid slightly lower taxes a few hundred dollars per year because of this reform law, and another 25 percent paid what they had been paying before.

The remaining 15 percent faced a relatively small tax increase. Reagan had the chameleon-like capability of identifying with and appealing to those who felt that taxes were too complex, those who felt that taxes were unfair, those who felt that the rich were not paying their fair share, and those who felt that taxes impeded their chances to move up.

He helped create an atmosphere in which no one wanted to appear responsible for killing the reform proposal. If abandoning tax breaks and raising corporate taxes were the price he had to pay to achieve that goal, so be it.


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In an interview following his State of the Union address, the president revealed that he did not understand that his Treasury II proposal included a 36 percent increase in corporate taxes. The irony of the tax reform was that it was designed to close many of the loopholes in ERTA. When Reagan and his supply-side supporters came to power, they euphorically expected that their tax cuts would both stimulate 52 JOHN W.

SLOAN the economy and shrink the federal government by reducing its funding. In , federal taxes constituted 19 percent and federal expenditures By , taxes constituted a slightly lower During the s, the U. Supply-siders believed that even before the tax reductions took effect, the depressed stock and bond markets would quickly react with brisk rallies. Instead, defying these ideological forecasts, both markets declined in August and September Rather than enjoying a burst of prosperity, Reagan found himself challenged by a recession. There were over 25, business failures in , the second highest number since , during the Depression.

In November , more than 9 million Americans were unemployed, a number that would climb to a peak of Whereas the seven postwar business cycles before averaged an unemployment rate of 7. About 2. When Murray Weidenbaum, the chair of the Council of Economic Advisers CEA , told Reagan in late July that a recession was about to begin, the normally amiable president reacted with a cold stare of disbelief.

Deconstructing Reagan: Conservative Mythology and America's Fortieth President

He viewed the recession as stemming from the fact that his original supply-side proposal for cutting taxes by 10 percent for three successive years beginning on January 1, , had been delayed and watered down. As economic conditions deteriorated in , Reagan played the role of cheerleader, encouraging citizens not to lose faith.

He condemned the media for emphasizing pessimistic stories, which he believed were delaying the recovery. It is of the greatest importance that we avoid a return to the stop-and-go policies of the past. The private sector works best when the Federal Government intervenes least. From his perspective, this recession provided conclusive evidence that the economic policies of the previous presidencies did not work.

SLOAN House of Representatives in the congressional elections, thus ending Republic aspirations to control both chambers during the s. But exit polls in the elections indicated that voters were more likely to blame the Democrats rather than Reagan for economic problems.

The political success of the Reagan administration was largely based on its economic performance. As indicated in Table 2. From to , the economy grew at about 3. The Dow Jones industrial average went up The most remarkable attribute of this period of economic growth was its durability. It lasted ninety-two months, which was more than twice the average length of expansions since although it was exceeded by the month growth period from February to December , which was partly fueled by the Vietnam War.

In the s, the GDP expanded In the s, worker productivity improved The political success of the Reagan presidency was largely dependent on the 18 million new jobs that the American economy produced during the s.

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In , over 99 million Americans had jobs, and the unemployment rate stood at about 7 percent; by , almost million workers were employed, and the unemployment rate had dropped to 5. Conservatives also neglect to report that the economy produced more jobs in the s and s than in the s.

Administration supply-siders such as Norman Ture predicted that tax cuts would increase gross private savings composed of personal and business savings. Personal savings as a proportion of disposable personal income were projected to rise from an average of 5. Business savings, which generally account for slightly more than two-thirds of total private savings, were forecast to climb above the 17 percent of GDP rate that had been maintained since Personal savings, instead of rising to 8 percent of disposable income, fell and averaged only 4.

Gross national savings declined from Instead, we continued to be a buy now, pay later society.


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Consumer debt, as a proportion of personal income after taxes, climbed from During the decade, the consumer price index CPI was reduced from Obviously, the correct choice was to have the Federal Reserve provide a slow, steady increase in the supply of money, but this alternative, so easy to select in theory, proved impossible to implement in practice.

The FOMC determines open market policy—that is, it decides whether to buy or sell government securities bills, notes, and bonds. To stimulate monetary growth, the Federal Reserve buys government securities; to tighten the money supply, it sells government securities. The added reserves permit commercial banks as a group to expand their loans and deposits by a multiple of the new reserves; this multiple is the inverse of the reserve ratio.

The results, according to Friedman, were erratic monetary growth and interest rates. Yet Reagan generally supported the Federal Reserve Board. I never saw him often, as I had Mr. He was unfailingly courteous, but he plainly had no inclination either to get into really substantive discussions of monetary policy or, conversely, to seek my advice in other areas.

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On July 19 it lowered the discount rate from 12 to The FOMC also announced that it was temporarily suspending money supply targeting; Volcker was ending the monetarist experiment and allowing the money supply to expand at a faster pace in order to lower interest rates. On August 17, the Dow Jones index experienced its highest single-day rise in its history In August , the stock market began the longest bull market in U. After the Federal Reserve tightened the money supply in and , it allowed M1 to grow by 11 percent in and 7 percent in There were months when the Federal Reserve sought to restrict M1, yet it expanded.

At other times, the opposite occurred. Thus, Friedman experienced the reward of winning the Nobel Prize for economics and the humiliation of having his theory proven unworkable when applied to national monetary policy.

In permitting interest rates to rise and fall more freely, the Federal Reserve stabilized the business cycle by inhibiting both overheating and stalling. SLOAN the federal government, private corporations, and individuals piling up debts and with increasing international mobility of private capital seeking higher interest rates, the role of monetary policy had grown rapidly and become preeminent in promoting prosperity.

It could fuel investment and growth without expanding federal spending. After all, Chairman Volcker and his colleagues can make nine or ten moves a year. After much debate within the Reagan administration, Volcker was reappointed in but was replaced by Alan Greenspan in The Volcker-Greenspan success story weakens the conservative assertion that discretionary government policies cannot improve market outcomes. His tax cuts for both individuals and corporations stimulated the prosperity that, except for a short, mild recession in — continued into the s.

Mythical Lessons The challenge for conservatives has been to explain the economic phenomena of the s and George W. Conservatives had no problem in accounting for the failure of George H. Bush — He was viewed as more of a country club Republican than a Reaganite.

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Bush suffered the inevitable and proper fate: the economy declined into a recession, the budget was not balanced, and he was defeated by Bill Clinton in Unemployment fell from more than 7 percent to 4 percent, accompanied by the creation of more than 20 million new private-sector jobs. Productivity growth averaged 2. Adhering to the Reagan mythology has helped George W. Bush politically but will severely damage the nation economically.