The Reagan surpluses: An overlooked legacy

By Bruce Walker
web posted February 12, 2001

As we celebrate, perhaps for the last time, the transforming legacy of President Reagan, those liberal pundits who never had a kind word for this kind man have placed blunts on every foil with which they once fenced - ferociously, yet haplessly - with this brave, quick, smart, and happy foe. All fencing foils, perhaps, save one: The Reagan Deficits. They still bring up deficit spending during that particular decade (out of so many others!) during which President Reagan and President Bush were in office.

What President Reagan did twenty years ago was work with Democrats, who ran everything except his office and the Senate, to gain big cuts in marginal tax rates and huge increases in military spending in return for his acquiescence with Democrat social welfare political bribery. The deficits, of course, were essentially the product of unrestrained domestic spending and not the military build-up. Supply-side economics, based upon the common-sense notion that lower tax rates increased taxable economic activities and so tax revenues themselves, was proven beyond serious dispute as well.

Ronald ReaganIf President Reagan had been able to dictate the budget and tax rates, then the 1980s would not only have been a period of low inflation and much real growth, but also reduced deficits and even surpluses in his last few years of office. President Reagan made a choice to accept deficits in exchange for tax cuts and military strength. Was he right?

Liberals and moderates ignore the full consequences of the Reagan military build-up. It did drive the Soviet Union into a state of helplessness and then collapse, and that brought freedom to almost half a billion people. Freedom is immeasurably important, as people denied freedom have throughout human history shown by the sacrifices made to be free. But ignore that...

His build-up meant that the only major war America has fought which resulted in almost no casualties at all was also its most spectacular triumphant, despite being waged against the large, battle-tested army of Iraq. It does not diminish the luster on President Bush's great victory to examine much of why so few American boys died in the Arabian deserts: President Reagan rejected liberals' miserly reluctance to "gold plate" weapons, and so for once we did not pay the costs of war with wooden coffins, but rather paper dollars. But ignore that...

Be wholly mercenary, just like liberals. Think only about the financial benefits of preventing war. It may not be true that war is the most destructive and wasteful of all human activities. Naked Communism, after all, killed more inhabitants of the Soviet Empire that the Great Patriotic War, which was the most vicious war in human history. Stalin and Mao also reduced living standards in their nations so drastically that it is difficult to imagine that Nazi or Japanese conquerors could have impoverished those peoples more.

But war is by any standard horribly wasteful. It consumes and destroys economic resources. It disrupts trade and commerce. It diverts talent and enterprise away from their natural paths of joyful creation and into the unnatural journey of calculated wrecking. It leaves disabled veterans to house and treat or widows to support. The sheer economic cost of the Second World War cannot begin to be measured in government budgets. The strong, confident military that he left us kept the peace well, prevented the economic calamity of war. But ignore that...

Yes, ignore or place the most nominal financial value you wish on the freedom of hundreds of millions, the blood of hundreds of thousands, or the savaging of factories, cities, and farmlands by war. Still Reagan was right and you were wrong. How?

What is the "great triumphant" which liberals attribute to that ghoul who recently left our nation's highest office? Balancing the budget! Deficits are a tax on our children and a drain on capital. Except in times of war, deficits are bad. But Mr. Clinton did not help in balancing the budget. Mr. Reagan did all the heavy lifting, and make accomplished the most vital component of our balanced budgets: He won the Cold War. In crass terms (i.e. terms that liberals understand) Ronald Reagan made the best investment in American History, with the possible exception of the Louisiana Purchase. His peaceful disintegration of the Soviet menace meant that for eight years Bill Clinton could strut like Mussolini without having paid for his swagger stick.

The Clinton surpluses are the Reagan surpluses. Moreover, Ronald Reagan understood the multiplier effect of certain actions. Lower taxes, stronger money, fewer trade barriers, budgets in black instead of red - all these produce a synergy greater than the individual parts. Projections of surpluses far into the future are all part of the extended and perfectly true vision of Ronald Reagan. On this too, he was right. Even the Clinton Economy is a cosmic joke: It was all the dream of Ronald Reagan, his loyal Vice President and his many supporters; none of it - not a single bit - was Clinton.

So for liberals who suddenly thing Scrooge was good, look back at Defense spending in Reagan's eight years, adjust it all for inflation, and project it into Clinton's two terms. No Reagan Cold War Victory, no bragging Clinton surpluses. The loudest bragging of the worst lout in our nation's history was the nothing more that his ceremonial presence in the White House while you true plans unfolded. Thank you again, President Reagan.

Bruce Walker is a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

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