Reagan’s Mountain

There’s a man called Chuck Muth in Arizona who’s determined to name a mountain after Ronald Reagan.

Chuck Muth. It’s an odd sort of name. Hardly one to trip off the tongue; more like a character from the Simpsons than your upright, all-American, God-fearing, citizen on a crusade.

Yet, Mister Muth is undoubtedly on a crusade. He considers the late Ronald Reagan the best thing for the human race since God invented apples, and is determined to ensure the ex-President’s legacy is set in stone.

And, why not? After all, Mount Rushmore has its Lincoln, its Roosevelt, its Jefferson, and its Washington. Why should Ronald Reagan not be similarly honored?

There’s a very simple answer to that question. While Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and Roosevelt were possessed of their shortcomings, none came near Reagan’s ability to drag this nation down into the slough of despond in which it festers today – as a direct result of the Reagan presidency.

Not that Reagan was an evil person; quite the opposite. He firmly believed that all he undertook was right. It’s unfortunate he was so often mistaken. First and foremost, he was an actor – and not a particularly good one at that. Like the present presidential incumbent, however, he did have ‘a gift of the gab’ and it was this, rather than any great ability as either governor of California or US president, that helped him into office so successfully.

He was a man who had difficulty making up his mind. Originally a Democrat, he became a Republican. Back in the nineteen twenties, when racism was rife and the local inn refused blacks admission, the young Reagan would take them home and put them up for the night.

But, by the 1960’s he was opposing civil rights legislation, though much later he decided to withdraw his objections.

He was bitterly opposed to the introduction of Medicare in 1961, complaining America would become a socialist state, and he was a lifelong member of the National Rifle Association.

None of this would prove a problem to the average Republican voter. He was, after all, toeing the official Republican line. The real damage to this country, and much of the western world, came about as a result of his association with two influential personalities who, together with Reagan, would formulate an ideal that would effect everyone of us right up to the present day and far beyond. That ideal was “monetarism”.

Monetarism, at least in the 1980’s, was the brainchild of an economist, Milton Friedman. His willing pupils were Ronald Reagan, and the then British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

Any attempt to argue for or against the principles of monetarism is way beyond the scope of this article, but its results in both America and Britain have proved, and are still proving, catastrophic.

To severely restrict a nation’s governmental control of its monetary policy, and place that control in the hands of a deregulated private (for profit) sector has the immediate effect of forcing money from the bottom of the economic pyramid to the top.

In brief: the poor get poorer and the rich grow immensely more wealthy. Milton Friedman was an undoubted expert in his field, but the consequences of his policies, as implemented by Reagan and Thatcher, only serve to illustrate the dangers of relying solely on those so blinkered by their life’s work that they fail to take account of factors outside their expertise.

In Friedman’s case the factor he overlooked was one of simple greed. Offer a group of hard-boiled, wealthy, powerful, businessmen the opportunity to control and run a not-for-profit organization previously under government control, and they’ll happily do so – at a profit.

That profit boosts their shares, which in turn lines the pocket of Wall Street financiers, and before you know it something called the “hedge fund” becomes immensely popular.

Hedge funds weren’t new to the Reagan era, but they did become much more powerful during the stock market rise that accompanied the Reagan/Thatcher/Friedman monetarism policies. Thanks to governmental deregulation, both in Britain and America, during this period the financial sectors of both countries flourished, but at what cost?

Money has to come from somewhere. When a rich man forms a company that offers services or products to a consumer, that consumer will buy the product a) if the consumer has sufficient funds to afford it, and b) if the product or service is sufficiently desirable to the consumer.

The latter is taken care of by the exquisitely simple process we call, “marketing”. One only has to look at the long queues outside Apple stores when the latest iPad or iPhone is marketed to appreciate the mass effect of marketing.

Unfortunately, those who control the markets and run the companies suffer from an innate human trait we know as greed. Taking money out of the pockets of the consumer and into the bank accounts of those topping the financial pyramid has become, in our capitalist society, a huge industry in itself.

This only works while a percentage of that money is being returned to the consumer in the form of wages and salaries. When greed – the opportunity to make greater profits by returning less in salaries and wages – takes over, and lower wages can be paid to non-consumers i.e. foreign workers, the end result is a gradual drop in the amount of money flowing back to the bottom of the pyramid, causing demand for the product or service to drop off.

While there may well be some demand for the iPad/iPhone among Chinese workers, they certainly don’t pay to use, for example, the privately run US health service. American consumers, made redundant by cheap Chinese labor, can no longer afford to do so as those at the bottom of the social/financial pyramid sink deeper into poverty.

Friedman calculated that, given a deregulated marketplace, the economy would stabilize itself. He was partly right. Unfortunately, it does so in a most un-stable manner, over long periods of boom and bust brought on by greedy corporate bosses always seeking the best, short-term, profits.

Nowhere has this been more evident over the last ten years than in the banking sector. With virtually all financial regulation curtailed by Congresses and Parliaments – their members in the pockets of the financiers – the industry ran riot in its greed, eventually bringing not just America and Britain to its knees, but the whole of the western world.

The greatest miscalculation perpetrated by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher was in failing to realize that by giving industry the power to regulate itself, they were giving away a fundamental principle of democracy – the power of governments to govern.

As Lincoln succinctly put it in his Gettysburg Address, a democratic government is one composed of the people, by the people, for the people. He meant all the people, not just the wealthy and powerful.

When government gives away its power to the industrialists it has no option but to become subservient to them. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher apparently overlooked this minor complication. The result is what we see today: in the US the middle classes are being financially sucked dry. Many are slipping into poverty, swelling the underclasses.

In the UK, the situation is even more extreme. Once a proud socialist nation with a National Health Service and education system the envy of many nations, under a government headed by the corporate puppet, Cameron, the NHS is being dismantled and privatized (“…on the lines of the US model…”) as is the education service.

Entitlements – pensions and allowances worked for by the people for all their lives – are being cut to the bone, while the numbers of wealthy industrialist bosses making the country their home and paying little or nothing in the way of taxation, are swelling.

While Reagan and Thatcher may not have been the instigators of this switch from democracy to plutocracy, their embrace of Friedman’s monetarism, and its subsequent use to disseminate power from government to corporations, kicked the ball neatly down to the goalmouth, needing only a tap to send it into the back of the net. Game over!

The future effects of such monumental irresponsibility on the part of these individuals are difficult to forecast. Any possibility of regaining democratic government seems most unlikely without bloody revolution. The added complication of man-made climate change – still doggedly refuted by the very industrialist powerbase whose greed made it inevitable – may well become the harbinger of such revolt. By then, it will be too late and civilization as we know it will break down irreversibly.

Perhaps, after all, that may well turn out to be the legacy of Messrs Reagan and Thatcher.

Meanwhile, Mister Chuck Muth, let’s name a mountain after your hero.

Might I suggest this one?

3 Replies to “Reagan’s Mountain”

  1. Somewhere, the heartbeat of true democracy can be heard, RJA. I may be an eternal optimist but IdleNoMore isn’t dead yet and the march by natives on Ottawa continues, unabashed.
    Reagan was a poor excuse for a politician, a dimwit controlled by the corps. And now a monument?
    We only have to look around us. Kissinger is still called a hero in some circles.

  2. I’ve read of several Democrats who later became Republicans – like Reagan. Very strange transition to my mind, it must occur when money and greed for more power begins to infect their humanity.

    I wonder if there are many transitions in the other direction?

  3. WWW – yes, but sadly in real terms nothing much has changed (apart from becoming much worse) since Bill McKibben wrote this article for Rolling Stone back in July last year. Were it not for climate change I’d say we were in with a chance, but with that complication logic dictates we’re doomed.

    Twilight – I think you got it in one – money and greed. There have a been a few moved the other way: Arlen Specter in 2009, and of course Charlie Crist last year. The drift in the opposite direction is way stronger.

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