Ronald Reagan - a disastrous president

Last month a statue was unveiled in Grosvenor Square to the memory of Ronald Reagan. He is now celebrated as one of the great presidents of the 20th century – by Republicans anyway. Many want to carve his head into Mount Rushmore alongside Lincoln, Washington and other greats. He was clearly a man of charm and decency but I would contend that, for Americans anyway, he was a disaster – and did more than anyone to set the stage for the post-imperial decline that America is clearly entering.

First, he won the Cold War. While this was unambiguous good news for nearly three billion Chinese, Russians and East Europeans who suffered so terribly in the ideological cul-de-sac that was communist tyranny, for Americans and the rest of the capitalist west it introduced three billion competitors who have hollowed out the industrial base that gave so much post-war prosperity. These three million now also compete for the earth’s finite resources, driving their prices ever higher. Selfish – but true.

Secondly, the cost of the victory has bankrupted America. During the 1980’s the arms race that Reagan initiated raised the US deficit to unprecedented levels. That may have been in order if the victory had been followed, as after most wars, with a scaling back of the military to pre-war norms. Instead the  military/industrial complex insinuated itself, alongside the financial industry, within the very heart of US government where they both have corrupted the political process to their own ends. Imperial overstretch is the commonly used description of its result, the consequences of which are now becoming clear.

Thirdly, he gave political heft to the academic theory that market forces know best. It was Reagan who set in motion the deregulation of financial markets that culminated in the disasters of the last three years – and disasters they are, condemning the developed West to a future that looks horribly like Japan of the last twenty years.

It is in Tiananmen Square, not Grosvenor Square the statue of Reagan rightly belongs. What an irony.

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