Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Reckoning With Reagan

Over at The New York Times on Monday Paul Krugman engaged in a pretty significant evisceration of what he deems as the false narrative as a decade of economic boom. Money quotation:
The Reagan economy was a one-hit wonder. Yes, there was a boom in the mid-1980s, as the economy recovered from a severe recession. But while the rich got much richer, there was little sustained economic improvement for most Americans. By the late 1980s, middle-class incomes were barely higher than they had been a decade before — and the poverty rate had actually risen.

My own views on Reagan are complex. In the wake of his passing I wrote a perhaps too charitable assessment here, though I stand by most of the general conclusions. Reagan did have his successes, and his character and personality towered over the decade that historians will always associate him with. At the same time, his failings are manifest, and at times embarrassing. Iran Contra (which really ought to go down in the annals as worse than either Watergate or whatever Clinton was guilty of), Vetoing the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, Bitburg and Neshoba, Opposing renewal of the Voting Rights Act and MLK Day (until faced with the prospect of an overwhelming veto): These and many more failings will always loom over his presidency in my mind. Still, the shadow he casts over contemporary conservatism, and thus on modern American society is huge, and for that reason alone, independent of the quality of his presidency, which will be the source of decades of debate, the importance of the Reagan years seems almost incontrovertible.

1 comment:

montana urban legend said...

I'm no economics guru, but I was under the impression that growth generally occurs at the top regardless. Any "middle class" economic boom with which our generation is most familiar occurred due to technological innovations that made for unprecedented gains in worker productivity, as I understand it. And apart from Al Gore's "inventing of the internet" (which, in all fairness, his role as a legislator in approving the expansion of government-focused technologies was very important and shouldn't have been laughed off so easily by his detractors), those economic developments throughout the 1990's occurred generally through private sector developments and without having much of anything to do with the government. Tax breaks, etc., on the other hand, might be argued as having more directly contributed to the rich getting richer in the 1980's.

The 1980's had some of the most intriguing television shows.