Reagonomics Was Pro Business, Not Pro “Market”: We Speak on Real News Network

The centenary of Reagan’s birth is providing an excuse for trotting out a lot of hoary old myths and selective history about the 40th president. We gave a bit of an antidote on the Real News Network.

As much as I thought this clip came out well, I have a minor quibble, and wished the folks at Real News Network had not invoked the expression “free market” in the headline on their site. It’s a dangerous bit of propaganda, a malleable, often slippery concept (per Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty “It means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less”) and is rife with internal contradictions (see our long form discussion in ECONNED for details). The equivalent expression in the 1960s was “free enterprise” and that conveyed far more accurately whose interests were really served by the sort of liberalization being sought.


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  1. Richard Kline

    The entire ‘Phenomenon of Reagan’ would be a hoot it it weren’t so patently bogus, a tin-plate Great [White] Man. Here’s the scoop: he was nobody special. But the Republicans, and those funding them had a problem, see. The last Great [White] Man was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who really _was_ great in some respects. (Only some: please, I know the history, this is a two-para comment). And the last Great Young Man was Kennedy. Both were Democrats, and card-carrying ‘Liberals.’ The last Republican Presidents had been decidely un-Great. “Uncle Duddy” Eisenhower might have been great in some books, but he had the major dowsides for those pushing propaganda c. 1979, that his Presidency was universally remembered as an unmemorable continuation of the Democratic New Deal.

    So the Republicans solved their problem of needing a Great White Republican c. 1980 with the same technique they used to get him in office: they lied in whole fabricatons out both sides of their mouth and every other orifice. Why the Big Lie of the Great Man stuck so well is a complex tale, and not one that’s all told, to me. But the ‘Great Man’ thing re: Ron Reagan is pure hokum fabrication to give the Republicans a Great Man they can use to push their brand. There is no there there; the narrative is vapor clinging to whole cloth. One could even argue, not that I care to, that Bush pere, though I despise his goals, was a more efficatious President, and had a larger impact on the succeeding twenty years of domestic and foreign policy. But he was a loser, see, who got dumped by the public and his Party, so the risable myth of the Great White Man is endlessly trundled up by Republicans trying desperately to flog their brand on the public (with all enabling by the mass media of course). Time was, the American public had marginally more sense than that, and knew an elephant’s ass was bigger than a donkey’s, but now . . . ?

    1. Skippy

      They pestered the hell out of John Wane, he already had his fame and wanted none of it, where Reagan wanted it so bad (see Yves video before). President of SAG, now there’s a viper pit of shape shifters.

      Skippy…the Presidency is just a leading part in a blue movie, with the hope of one day directing more or better yet a producers roll!

    2. ChrisTiburon

      He was undoubtedly chosen because he had early signs of Alzheimers, thus was pliable like intellectual Playdough, was telegenic, was willing to betray his fellows as evidenced by his ratting on his fellow SAG members and most of all, was a creature of the Military Industrial Congressional Complex…remember Death Valley Days, sponsored by nuclear weapons maker General Electric?
      Nothing like a guy on a horse in the Old West to stir
      the right buttons.

      BTW Kline, who would you pick that wasn’t a White man?

      1. ChrisTiburon

        Forgot to add that he’s served his time as governor of California and had proven that he could combat those
        hairy barefoot hippies that so outraged parts of the nation. Kline, perhaps our sound system wire ripping out tam o s hanter wearing Senator Hayakawa would have qualified as a great [non] White man in your tribal analysis.

        Anyone know how to restore the right wing of this comment window? I mean there’s no right border and characters just flow off into space…(Firefox, Mac O.S.10)

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      I’m clearly no Reagan fan, but there is one place in which he deserves credit. He clearly had learned how to be a not-bad executive in a largely political context via his experience as head of the SAG and Calif. governor. And that was in how to push for and get an agenda through. He came into office with some pretty clear objectives and got 75-80% of what he wanted. And where he caved (not getting budget cuts when the supposed objective of tax cuts was to force the shrinkage of government) may have been a fail by design (David Stockman in his book on his time as budget director pretty much said that; he felt bait and switched by Reagan).

      By contrast, Obama gets similar chops for being good at rhetoric (although I’ve never been taken by his speechifying, it tends to be “hypnotic language” meaning when you parse through it, their is little signal in all the noise) but he’s a terrible negotiator. He asks for little and then caves. Arguably that’s by design, to allow him to pander to his supposed Dem base. I think that is true but far from the primary driver. I think he’s genuinely self deluded (as in he thinks he’s more fair and liberal-minded than he really is and is primarily loyal to his class), doesn’t have much spine (as in won’t get into fights that will be hard for him to win) and simply is not experienced (as in doesn’t know how to use the leverage he has as an executive).

      1. Glen

        Not to want to take anything away from Obama (or overinflated the already ready to burst Reagan legacy) , but he’ll never have the cultural legacy of “Bedtime For Bonzo!

        It’s the popular Republican American trifecta:

        B-list actor
        Self-made (GE) political puppet

        Obama’s going to have a hard time reaching Reagan’s legacy despite his own professed admiration, and his so far extremely successful effort at becoming a corporate puppet. Too bad he decided to became the ultimate political puppet right when the sell before date expired.

        1. rkka

          Not quite. The Democrats under Clinton raised taxes and balanced the budget, though the rethuglicans vituperated them for it.

          And since all that accomplished was to give wastrel Dubya and the rethuglicans a surplus to squander, its not clear that the country really benefitted from that sacrifice on the part of the Democrats.

          1. Keenan

            Clinton was the beneficiary of the dot com boom and Reagan appointee Greenspan’s easy money policies. I’ve a hard time envisioning that history would have played out that much differently under a Gore administration, given that the DC-Wall Street axis was already solidly established.

          2. Anonymous Jones

            Sometimes I read comments like Keenan’s and I reach the absolute pit of despair. Yes…maybe…it’s a counterfactual…so we’ll never know.

            But do you really think Gore would have lowered taxes on the wealthy? And do you honestly think that didn’t have much to do with what seems to be plaguing us, regarding the increasing power of the elite, the increasing income distribution to the elite, the increasing socialism for the rich and the increasing deficit? I mean, really? You really have a hard time envisioning this?

            I think you’re running extremely low on imagination if this isn’t possible in your counterfactual world.

  2. avgJohn

    I recall reading a book in the ’80s by a top business consultant of the day, and remember his advice to aspiring young business executives: “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”.

    He was an actor, plain and simple. But you have to give him credit, he sure knew how to get the most from the camera shot and play to his targeted audience. Most folks, still don’t realize it was only a movie and he was just reading from the script.

    1. DownSouth

      Yep, probably no single person exemplified America’s descent into Banana Republicanism more than Ronald Reagan, where reality was exchanged for illusion and the national political discourse became indistinguishable from soap opera.

      1. Skippy

        And those that resist the programing are called delusional, funny that. On that note I resonantly saw Hannity (FUAX NEWS). thank god that Ruppert had so much *money*, that it enabled him (Hannity) to be in his employ (cough boot licker…sigh…lament.

        Skippy…although the tens of thousands that volunteered to clean up around here (on going) has been a lift to my spirits, it was beautiful DS…simply beautiful…

  3. rkka

    People will reply “But Reagan won the Cold War!”

    Remind them of the consequences of that victory for “The Captive Nations” we were so hat to “save”.

    In 1992 there were 52 million Ukrainians, and that number was was growing. There are now 45.5 million, and deaths still exceed births by ~200k/year.

    In 1992 there were 2.66 million Latvians, and that number was growing. There are now 2.2 million, and deaths exceeded births in 2010 by 3:2.

    Its the same story for Estonia, Lithuania, Russia, and Belarus, though Belarus has had the least percentage population decline of them all, due largely to their refusal of “reform”. Russia has been recovering demographically ever since Putin told Western “economic advisors” to get lost, and even more since he wrested control of Russia’s energy revenue back from the likes of Khodorkovsky.

    Guess which ones The West hate.

    1. Benedict@Large

      Important to note exactly what goes into these dismal statistics. What is happening in these countries is that their young in large numbers are fleeing economic deprivation, seeking jobs in other lands. This leaves an older population, which of course leads to greater death rates and lower birth rates per capita. Literally, these countries are being starved into oblivion by their adopted neoliberal economic policies.

      1. rkka

        “Literally, these countries are being starved into oblivion by their adopted neoliberal economic policies.”

        Precisely. Latvia’s international debt service cost is about 30% of GNP. The Banksters like the Latvian government because the government agree that it is more important that reckless Nordic banksters get bonusses instead of haircuts than that people are able to work and raise families in Latvia.

        Hence the glowing coverage of the Latvian example in the Wall Street Journal and other media venues. The fact that the country is dying on its feet is irrelevant.

        The fact that the country is dying on its feet

    2. Sid_finster

      In Poland, Czechia, Hungary and some other such countries, Reagan is almost literally a deified being.

      You dare not criticize Reagan in Poland.

      Ukraine, for instance, is a different animal. Here nostalgia for the Soviet Union is still quite strong. Many of the people here who are not nostalgic for the USSR are nostalgic for the Nazi occupation.

      As for why population rates fell; remember that the Soviet Union offered many direct and indirect subsidies for bearing children. Those mostly disappeared, along with the Union, or were watered down.

      1. Jane

        Hunh? That would explain why the rate of increase might fall, or why the population might even stabilize at a certain number, but absolutely not why the population would actually *fall.* After all, many those people who might not have existed but for baby subsidies are presumably at child-bearing age themselves. The fact that they’re not having children, or are leaving the country, is stark evidence that something’s wrong. Even Botswana and Swaziland, where a quarter of the population has AIDS, have not seen such a precipitous drop in their population as the Ukraine.

  4. Woody

    Ninety-five percent of the impetus, stimuli, and bad ideas which eventually culminated in the Crash of ’07-08 originated under Reagan. Twelve years of unabated, unadulterated CorpoRatism–20, if you count Clinton, the most effective GOP president of the 20th Century–led inexorably to the collapse we’re now STILL in the midst of…

  5. Keenan

    We’ll hear mainstream media commentators on the Reagan presidency who, even with the benefit of 22 years retrospection, minimize the disasters to protect his mythology. Rothbard saw through the sham and penned his forthright critique in early 1989, which holds up very well in light of history & events of the ensuing years:

  6. Heritage Of Violence

    Pro-Defense Contractor. (business model that attaches it’s blowhole to the Government revenue pipe, while viciously funding a press that uses the “free market” wool to cover the citizens eyes)
    Long live the senile gangster!

  7. Paul Tioxon

    There is no lie more disgusting than the Cold War was won by Reagan. From the founding of NATO, the containment policy of George Kennan out of the state department, to the National Security Act, the Korean War, the Viet Nam war, and all of the clandestine efforts to choke the life out of the Soviet Union, and all of those that fought and died, who will tell you they did it in order to defeat communism, to hand this accolade to Reagan, is some kind of National Lampoon High School popularity contest satire. The trillions of dollars spent on the military, diverted from better use to eliminate poverty, crime and the injustices of a rapacious capitalism, all were part of the bill, that we all paid growing up and living through that era, for the defeat of communism. No, Mr Militant Right Wing Reactionary, Reagan did nothing of the sort. A sustained multi generational effort resulted in the eventual downfall of that regime. He just happened to be occupying the office when it happened.

  8. ep3


    “the big thing about Reagan is how he moved the country so far right.” – money quote.

  9. rOn cOn cOMa

    “These gentlemen (mujahideen) are the moral equivalents of America’s founding fathers.” . . . yes Reagan introduced the creation of a radical Islamic Afghanistan so well. He took Sadam off the terrorist list, gave the Ayatollah Khomeini anti-tank rockets. I hated all his secret wars, but at least we sorta had a democracy back then.

    1. Mr. Incognito

      “These gentlemen (mujaheddin) are the moral equivalents of America’s founding fathers.” . . .

      I’m pretty sure Reagen was referring to the Contras in Nicaragua when he said this.

  10. Deus-DJ

    BTW Yves, I think all of these revolutionary types that have consistently posted on your blog HAVE had an affect on you and moved you to the left a little bit, even if you really don’t think so. Or..perhaps your rhetoric was allowed to go more leftward? But then you wouldn’t be QUITE as harsh on Obama than you really are…so I would argue that you have moved SLIGHTLY to the left, and I only say this because I went through your archives and can tell a slight difference.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I don’t see that I’ve moved to the left as much as have been forced to become noisier about my views. I’ve always felt the financial services industry needed firm and sound regulations. I’ve gotten more strident, which is NOT the same as changing my stance, because I am so disgusted with how Wall Street behaved in the wake of the crisis, as well as Obama’s failure to take advantage of the opportunity he had to implement real reforms when he came into office. The financiers were still cowed and reeling.

      The change in my rhetoric (not my stance) is due to disgust at the failure to implement measures that would prevent large scale looting from happening again. That if anything came about via seeing Obama roll over to the financiers in early 2009 plus the research I did for ECONNED. When I sat down to put the pieces together, I could see it was ever worse than I had realized.

      Had the industry behaved responsibly and taken its medicine, or at least made some admission of guilt and implement some reforms, I’d feel differently. But the ‘tude they’ve copped post crisis and the egregious 2009 bonuses hardened my attitude. The industry needs to be leashed and collared. It is an enemy of the people in its current form.

      1. Aquifer

        “It is an enemy of the people in its current form.”

        Amen – that sums it up in a nutshell. One might even call it a “terrorist” organization in its current form, in that it, quite arguably, has been responsible for the downfall of more Americans (and others) than al-Queda. In that light, wouldn’t you think it would qualify for Obama’s “targeted assassination” of America’s enemies? (regulation is, after all, “assassination” of business in right wing parlance, isn’t it?)

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