“President Reagan, as much as any president, helped restore a sense of optimism in our country, a spirit that transcended politics, transcended even the most heated arguments of the day.”
– President Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan Centennial
President Reagan is a symbol of the wounded American colossus. His presidency, although sanctified by the American right and by some historically inaccurate and ideologically biased high school textbooks, was riddled with grave deficiencies. Reagan, like so-called American democracy and the market’s “invisible hand,” was an illusion.
I will not detail Reagan’s every shortcoming and the absurdity of his cult of personality. He was an actor and political fraud. Throughout his tenure, he had little control over his administration, which the Iran-Contra Affair exposed. But his 1987 Brandenburg Gate speech in which he urged Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev to “tear down” the Berlin Wall, a totemic moment for conservatives, deserves attention, as it also denotes the birth of neoliberalism, a mode of economic thought that subsequently came to prevail in most western governments, despite the fact of it being nothing more than a Ponzi scheme.
Conservatives often laud Reaganomics and its half-witted manifestations in the rest of the Anglo-Saxon world: Thatcherism (UK), Economic rationalism (Australia), Rogernomics (NZ). The political right believes that Reagan's economic policies saved the US from collapse. In fact, the economic recovery during his tenure was not the result of fiscal responsibility; federal government spending under Reagan was higher than that of previous administrations. When Reagan took office, the US was the largest creditor in the world, when he left office the US was largest debtor in the world—but rather a consequence of the 1980’s information technology revolution. This confirms once again that only technological advances and the productivity gains they facilitate are the linchpins for economic growth and prosperity.
Reagan also believed that laissez-faire ensured high US living standards. This myth of the “invisible hand” is historically inaccurate. It is the worst political justification for economic liberalism. Since the country’s foundation, American industry has been constantly assisted by government intervention. Duties on British and foreign goods nurtured American industry, as did Henry Clay's “American System,” government-subsidized railroad construction, military spending during the War of 1812, World Wars I and II and the Cold War, the GI Bill, and the Space program, to name a few examples. American business is entirely dependent on big government. American business is and has always been on welfare.
Indeed, the very concept of “pro-business” is ridiculous. It only means shifting government handouts from the private citizens to the biggest players in the private sector, as was done by the Obama administration during the crash of 2008. Billions of dollars of tax money was handed out to banking giants, such as AIG, which promptly used the largess to increase executive bonuses and subsequently sued the US government for taking a stake in the company.
What does so-called free-market capitalism do for United States? Several trillion dollars of spending later in the wake of the recent economic crisis, the country’s pro-business policies have proven a disaster. The economy remains moribund. The money would have gone to productive ends had it been spent on alleviating student debt or funding research program. It wasn’t.
Pro-business doesn't mean what US political culture makes it out to be. It doesn't represent smaller government, transparent public finances, and fiscally responsible policy. It only means that politicians get to pay back the people who get them in office. No great conservative values are in the equation; honesty and transparency are virtually non-existent under neoliberalism. Scoundrels and politically endorsed organized criminals posing as businessmen thrive.
The people of the United States, in the spirit of liberty, must bring the Reagan legacy to an end. With an endless trail of blood, the neocons and neoliberals walk hand in hand freely, beyond accountability, seated on the corpse of a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” While the fates of all nations are interlinked, we Canadians bid our southern neighbors a freer future. We have our own house to clean and in a common spirit we say: “Liberté, Egalité Fraternité.”