Considering he actually…
- Cut defense spending by the end of his term compared to Carter. Federal spending was 22.9 percent of gross domestic product in fiscal 1981, increased somewhat during the middle years of his administration, and declined to 22.1 percent of GDP in fiscal 1989.
- Instructed the Fed. Reagan endorsed the reduction in money growth initiated by the Federal Reserve in late 1979, a policy that led to both the severe 1982 recession and a large reduction in inflation and interest rates.
- Cut taxes. The top marginal tax rate on individual income was reduced from 70 percent to 28 percent. The corporate income tax rate was reduced from 48 percent to 34 percent. The individual tax brackets were indexed for inflation. Overall, the combination of lower tax rates and a broader tax base for both individuals and business reduced the federal revenue share of GDP from 20.2 percent in fiscal 1981 to 19.2 percent in fiscal 1989.
- Cut regulations. Reagan eased or eliminated price controls on oil and natural gas, cable TV, long-distance telephone service, interstate bus service, and ocean shipping. Banks were allowed to invest in a somewhat broader set of assets, and the scope of the antitrust laws was reduced.
- His economic plans increased economic growth. Real GDP per working-age adult, which had increased at only a 0.8 annual rate during the Carter administration, increased at a 1.8 percent rate during the Reagan administration. The increase in productivity growth was even higher: output per hour in the business sector, which had been roughly constant in the Carter years, increased at a 1.4 percent rate in the Reagan years. Productivity in the manufacturing sector increased at a 3.8 percent annual rate, a record for peacetime.
- His economic plans decreased unemployment and decreased inflation. The unemployment rate declined from 7.0 percent in 1980 to 5.4 percent in 1988. The inflation rate declined from 10.4 percent in 1980 to 4.2 percent in 1988.
And he did all of this with a Democrat Congress. Reagan resisted tax increases, and Congress resisted cuts in domestic spending. The administration was slow to acknowledge the savings and loan problem, and Congress urged forbearance on closing the failing banks. Reagan’s rhetoric strongly supported free trade, but pressure from threatened industries and Congress led to a substantial increase in new trade restraints.
Is a neocon because he had a hard-line stance against communism? Is that it? Because, if so, I’m pretty positive he’s right here:
Those who would trade our freedom for the soup kitchen of the welfare state have told us they have a utopian solution of peace without victory. They call their policy “accommodation.” And they say if we’ll only avoid any direct confrontation with the enemy, he’ll forget his evil ways and learn to love us. All who oppose them are indicted as warmongers. They say we offer simple answers to complex problems. Well, perhaps there is a simple answer—not an easy answer—but simple: If you and I have the courage to tell our elected officials that we want our national policy based on what we know in our hearts is morally right.
We cannot buy our security, our freedom from the threat of the bomb by committing an immorality so great as saying to a billion human beings now enslaved behind the Iron Curtain, “Give up your dreams of freedom because to save our own skins, we’re willing to make a deal with your slave masters.” Alexander Hamilton said, “A nation which can prefer disgrace to danger is prepared for a master, and deserves one.” Now let’s set the record straight. There’s no argument over the choice between peace and war, but there’s only one guaranteed way you can have peace—and you can have it in the next second—surrender.
Admittedly, there’s a risk in any course we follow other than this, but every lesson of history tells us that the greater risk lies in appeasement, and this is the specter our well-meaning liberal friends refuse to face—that their policy of accommodation is appeasement, and it gives no choice between peace and war, only between fight or surrender. If we continue to accommodate, continue to back and retreat, eventually we have to face the final demand—the ultimatum. And what then—when Nikita Khrushchev has told his people he knows what our answer will be? He has told them that we’re retreating under the pressure of the Cold War, and someday when the time comes to deliver the final ultimatum, our surrender will be voluntary, because by that time we will have been weakened from within spiritually, morally, and economically. He believes this because from our side he’s heard voices pleading for “peace at any price” or “better Red than dead,” or as one commentator put it, he’d rather “live on his knees than die on his feet.” And therein lies the road to war, because those voices don’t speak for the rest of us.
You and I know and do not believe that life is so dear and peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery. If nothing in life is worth dying for, when did this begin—just in the face of this enemy? Or should Moses have told the children of Israel to live in slavery under the pharaohs? Should Christ have refused the cross? Should the patriots at Concord Bridge have thrown down their guns and refused to fire the shot heard ‘round the world? The martyrs of history were not fools, and our honored dead who gave their lives to stop the advance of the Nazis didn’t die in vain. Where, then, is the road to peace? Well it’s a simple answer after all.
You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, “There is a price we will not pay.” “There is a point beyond which they must not advance.” And this—this is the meaning in the phrase of Barry Goldwater’s “peace through strength.” Winston Churchill said, “The destiny of man is not measured by material computations. When great forces are on the move in the world, we learn we’re spirits—not animals.” And he said, “There’s something going on in time and space, and beyond time and space, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty.”
You and I have a rendezvous with destiny.
Like it or not, Reagan has done the most for liberty since Coolidge.
I do not have qualms with all of these points, but I’ll remind you of a few things that make Reagan far from a great president.
When the soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979 in response to the mujahideen, Jimmy Carter sent aid to the opponents of the Soviet-friendly Afghan government. The Soviets had not invaded or harmed us; we simply wanted to put them into a proxy war and set traps for them. We also sold missiles to Saudi Arabia and to the government in Yemen in order to suppress a Communistic rebellion. On top of all of this, we promised Egypt military and financial aid so they would be friends with Israel (effectively propping up the dictatorial regime for years to come).
Yes, Carter did this initially, but Reagan continued, and expanded upon, this policy well into the 80’s. This would become known as the Reagan Doctrine (and it hit countries in Africa and Latin America as well). We felt this in our wallets and we felt it in blowback in a few ways (most notably the funding and building of Tim Osman a.k.a. Osama bin Laden).
Keeping economic policies brief: he kept protectionism afloat; he made no significant cuts to regulation (bureaucracy actually grew in his time as President); he enacted TEFRA in 1982 which was a significant tax hike; he increased the FICA taxes; he put more taxes on gas; he moved revenue from the individuals to businesses instead of just cutting revenue, and he increased spending.
(Note: It is evident here that his initial tax cuts were quickly undone with multiple pieces of legislation. His tax cut in 1981 would have saved the consumers $1.48 trillion by the end of FY1989, but his other tax reforms increased revenue by $1.5 trillion by the end of FY1989. This undid and overdid his heralded tax cut).
See how there’s not much of a difference?
My point is here that his great achievements were either deception or simply not true (mainly regarding foreign policy and trade). I do not see him as a champion of liberty. In fact, and I am in no way claiming him to be ideal, but I find JFK to be more appealing than Reagan. The Ludwig von Mises Institute has a good article on Reagan’s legacy here.