Ronald Reagan’s Birthday

Well, it’s Ronald Reagan’s 100th birthday, and all the garden-variety conservatives are busy touting that. It seems, therefore, appropriate to republish some of the actual facts about Ronald Reagan, who, like virtually all politicians, talked a good game but didn’t deliver. The following is from a post I did December 16th, 2009:

It’s high time we dispel once and for all the absurd myth that Ronald Reagan was somehow for deregulation.

Statistically speaking, the size of bureaucracy, in terms of sheer civilian manpower, increased dramatically under Reagan, so that by the time he was finished, there were well over 200,000 more government workers than in 1980, when he took office.

In fact, the size of government under Ronald Reagan grew astronomically in virtually every way. To wit:

At the end of the first quarter of 1988, government spending had increased to 28.7 percent of the national income (“national income” refers to the private money generated by the hard-working citizens of this country). To put that into better perspective, this figure is even higher than Jimmy Carter’s outrageous numbers: in his final year as president, Carter maxed out at staggering 27.9 percent. Indeed, both Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter cut government spending far more efficiently than Ronald Reagan. Here are some of those numbers, which don’t lie:

Under Reagan, Social Security spending went from 179 billion in 1981 to 269 billion.

Farm programs skyrocketed: 21 billion to 51 billion.

Medicare jumped from 43 billion in 1981 to 80 billion in 1987.

During the Reagan era, federal entitlements alone rose from 197 billion to 477 billion.

Reagan promised the people that he would “abolish” the Department of Energy and the Department of Education. He did no such thing. On the contrary, these budgets more than doubled under Reagan. In his own words: “We’re not attempting to cut either spending or taxing levels below that which we presently have.”

In addition to not cutting, however, Reagan also upped the spending a few notches, thus: the Gross Federal Debt went from 900 billion to 2.7 trillion. Ford and Carter simply doubled it; Reagan tripled it.

Spending habits (which are a better gauge of government size than are taxes) increased under Reagan’s leadership in almost every way. But in any case, Reagan hardly cut taxes: by the end of 1987, government revenues, a good indicator of taxes and tax cuts, were nearly identical to those of Carter.

Reagan’s Economic Recovery Act, so-called, was negated a year or two later by his Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA).

He furthermore placed a five-cent-per-gallon tax on gas.

He hiked up taxes on the trucking industry.

He succeeded in increasing the Social Security tax – to the tune of 165 billion. In terms of foreign trade, Reagan was the most mercantilistic since Herbert Hoover: import restriction doubled under Reagan, and quotas were placed on countless products.

Foreign aid went from 10 billion to 22 billion.

Reagan also supported seatbelt laws and federal airbag laws.

Reagan increased regulation of the auto industry by not opposing that monstrous thing known as Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ).

In the final analysis, Reagan, like all the other bureaucrats, was just another interventionist. So please don’t be fooled.

If the mark of a minimal government is a government which, in Thomas Jefferson’s words, “extends only to such acts as are injurious to others” (i.e. which limits itself to protection against the initiation of force), then Reagan was about as far from that as any President ever, right or left.

That is, until now.


  • Nick

    February 6, 2011

    But, but…but what about freedom?!

  • Ray

    February 7, 2011

    It’s still as important and as vital as it always has been and always will be, and all the wearying attempts to ridicule it don’t change that. Fortunately, enough of it still exists for people to continue to take it for granted, a fact you illustrate nicely.

  • Redmond

    February 9, 2011

    Reagan was of course a left-winger back in the day…
    here are some other sweet facts about the gipper

    Despite his bravado about having stopped the growth of state government, the actual story is that the California budget grew by 122 percent during his eight years as governor, not much of an improvement on the growth rate of 130 percent during the preceding two terms of free-spending liberal Pat Brown. The state bureaucracy increased during Reagan’s administration from 158,000 to 192,000, a rise of nearly 22 percent — hardly squaring with Reagan’s boast of having “stopped the bureaucracy cold.”

    by the end of Reagan’s eight years, state income taxes had nearly tripled, from a bite of $7.68 per $1000 of personal income to $19.48. During his administration, California rose in a ranking of the states from twentieth to thirteenth in personal income tax collection per capita, and it rose from fourth to first in per capita revenue from corporate income taxes.

    In the first place, the famous “tax cut” of 1981 did not cut taxes at all. It’s true that tax rates for higher-income brackets were cut; but for the average person, taxes rose, rather than declined. The reason is that, on the whole, the cut in income tax rates was more than offset by two forms of tax increase. One was “bracket creep,” a term for inflation quietly but effectively raising one into higher tax brackets, so that you pay more and proportionately higher taxes even though the tax rate schedule has officially remained the same. The second source of higher taxes was Social Security taxation, which kept increasing, and which helped taxes go up overall.

    But to save the president’s rhetorical sensibilities, they weren’t called tax increases. Instead, ingenious labels were attached to them: raising of “fees,” “plugging loopholes” (and surely everyone wants loopholes plugged), “tightening IRS enforcement,” and even “revenue enhancements.” I am sure that all good Reaganomists slept soundly at night knowing that even though government revenue was being “enhanced,” the president had held the line against tax increases.[2]

    # “forced Japan to accept restraints on auto exports”;
    # “tightened considerably the quotas on imported sugar”;
    # “required eighteen countries, including Brazil, Spain, South Korea, Japan, Mexico, South Africa, Finland, Australia, and the European Community, to accept ‘voluntary restraint agreements’ that reduced their steel imports to the United States”;
    # “imposed a forty-five percent duty on Japanese motorcycles for the benefit of Harley Davidson, which admitted that superior Japanese management was the cause of its problems”;
    # “pressed Japan to force its automakers to buy more American-made parts”;
    # “demanded that Taiwan, West Germany, Japan, and Switzerland restrain their exports of machine tools”;
    # “extended quotas on imported clothes pins”;
    # and “beefed-up the Export-Import Bank, an institution dedicated to distorting the American economy at the expense of the American people in order to artificially promote exports of eight large corporations.”

    As Reagan’s Treasury Secretary, James A. Baker, put it, Reagan “granted more import relief to U.S. industry than any of his predecessors in more than half a century.”

    And they say Obama was the Manchurian Candidate?

  • Dale

    February 10, 2011

    One swimming upstream in river of shit is likely to accumulate some smears.

  • Ray

    February 11, 2011

    Ha-ha! And yet …

  • Nick

    February 11, 2011

    “…all the wearying attempts to ridicule it don’t change that. Fortunately, enough of it still exists for people to continue to take it for granted, a fact you illustrate nicely.”

    Clarify, por favor.

  • Redmond

    February 15, 2011

    And you wonder what is hurting the US Manufacturing Sector…
    It isn’t competition, it is the lack of it.

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