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Volume 6, Issue 23: June 7, 2004
- Debating the Reagan Legacy
- CIA Director Tenet Resigns; Who's Next?
- Remembering the Tiananmen Square Massacre
1) Debating the Reagan Legacy
The legacy of President Ronald Wilson Reagan (1911-2004) undoubtedly will be hotly debated in the coming weeks. And charitable debate, like charity itself, begins at home.
One issue likely to be debated for years to come is the impact (if any) of the Reagan arms buildup on the implosion of the Soviet Union and its client states. Independent Institute Research Fellow Paul Craig Roberts, who played a significant role in writing the law that cut marginal tax rates during the first Reagan term, argues that it was not military growth under Reagan that caused Soviet leaders to lose confidence in communism and thus inaugurated the collapse of the Soviet Union, as is often said; it was the tax cuts, Roberts argues.
"Reagan changed the world because he did not believe capitalism was a spent force," writes Roberts in a new op-ed. "He liberated our economy and chased away the 'malaise' that had paralyzed the Carter administration and given hope to Soviet leaders."
Interestingly, this theory was supported by the members of the Soviet Academy of Sciences with whom Roberts spoke during a visit to Moscow months before the collapse of the "evil empire." But even if Soviet economists held unanimously that Reaganomics hastened the unraveling of the Iron Curtain, this by itself wouldn't suffice to establish the truth of the claim that Reagan's domestic policies were a great success. That claim presupposes that the agenda Reagan articulated in his noted speeches was actually implemented -- a proposition not clearly evident.
Deregulation -- that most famous pillar of Reaganomics -- was stalled largely due to the corrupting influence of bureaucrats and special-interest groups adept at protecting their turf from reforms that would benefit taxpayers and consumers, as explained in REGULATION AND THE REAGAN ERA, an Independent Institute book whose contributors include several economists formerly employed by the Reagan administration.
Although the administration deregulated telecommunications, it abandoned -- to name but one example -- its early proposal to privatize five percent of non-sensitive federal lands. Also, the Reagan administration's progress in fighting protectionism was dismal at best, while its "frontal assault" on the welfare state was non-existent. Despite Reagan's rhetoric about the need to shrink the absolute size of the federal government, no major agencies were phased out. Any slowdown in the growth of the federal government that it may have achieved was short lived. By 1989, federal revenue as a share of GDP was as large as it was in 1979, when high inflation fed the federal coffers.
These criticisms won't be the ones most often expressed during the upcoming debates over the Reagan legacy, but they are the type of disappointments that Reagan himself perhaps might have expressed.
See "Reagan Changed the World," by Paul Craig Roberts (6/7/04)
REGULATION AND THE REAGAN ERA: Politics, Bureaucracy and the Public Interest, ed. by Roger Meiners and Bruce Yandle
"Ronald Reagan and the Rise of Large Deficits" by Timothy J. Muris
"What Really Happened in 1981" by Alan Reynolds
"What Really Happened in 1981" by Paul Craig Roberts
William Niskanen's review of DISMANTLING THE WELFARE STATE? Reagan, Thatcher, and the Politics of Retrenchment, by Paul Pierson (THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Winter 1998)
2) CIA Director Tenet Resigns; Who's Next?
Although the failures of former CIA Director George Tenet certainly warranted his resignation last week, they "pale in comparison to those at the high levels of the Pentagon," according to Ivan Eland, director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at the Independent Institute.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and Vice President Dick Cheney were so enamored with the idea of dethroning Saddam Hussein that rather than pay heed to the skepticism of others in the federal government, they "embarrassed themselves by relying on false intelligence from Ahmed Chalabi -- an Iranian sympathizer and maybe even an Iranian spy," writes Eland, in his latest column. "Chalabi, in turn, showed his disloyalty to the United States by divulging to the despotic Islamic regime in Tehran that the United States could read encoded Iranian government transmissions."
But the failures of the Pentagon's civilian leaders were more blameworthy than simply succumbing to the machinations of the manipulator Chalabi, Eland argues.
"Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz exhibited mind-blowing arrogance in believing that a much despised United States could invade a sovereign Islamic nation, remove the only force (Saddam's government) holding a cauldron of ethnic rivalry in check, and socially engineer a fractious society with an unfamiliar culture into a western-style free-market democracy," Eland continues. "Many Middle Eastern scholars raised warning flags about the planned invasion, but the self-assured Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were too busy studying their military chessboard to pay attention."
Concludes Eland: "To get better results from future government actions, heads should roll when current initiatives turn out to be a disaster. That is what finally did in Tenet. But Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz should also go -- and soon."
See "Tenet Now, Rummy and Wolfie Soon," by Ivan Eland (6/8/04)
More information about the June 17th Independent Policy Forum, "THE FUTURE OF IRAQ: Democracy or Quagmire?" featuring George Bisharat, Ivan Eland, James H. Noyes, and Robert Scheer, see
Order PUTTING "DEFENSE" BACK INTO U.S. DEFENSE POLICY: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World, by Ivan Eland
Order the videotape, "Understanding America's Terrorist Crisis," featuring Gore Vidal, Robert Higgs, Barton Bernstein, and Thomas Gale Moore.
Center on Peace & Liberty
OnPower.org -- Gulf War II: War with Iraq
OnPower.org -- Terrorist War
3) Remembering the Tiananmen Square Massacre
Last week marked the fifteenth anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, when army tanks of the People's Republic of China rolled into the square and fired upon peaceful student protestors, killing hundreds. The words spoken at out 1999 Independent Policy Forum, "Tiananmen Square: Ten Years Later," are worth recalling.
From Danxuan Yi (Co-Founder, Guangzhou Patriotic Student Federation):
"The student movement failed. We have to accept that. Yes, it failed. Hundreds of students were killed, and thousands of them were arrested and put in jail. Millions suffer because of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, the June 4th pro-Democracy movement. But also I can say it succeeded. It succeeded because its impact is positive and profound in shaping the foundation of Chinas democratization.... Also, the Tiananmen Massacre and the later persecution awoke a huge amount of the people who surely believed in Communism before. But after June 4th, they totally are desperate to Communism, and many of them became Democracy fighters. Like last year, the first time the Chinese people first organized publicly organized the party, the China Democratic Party, to challenge the Communist Party. Most of these leaders were involved in the students movement in 1989."
From Jing Chang (General Secretary, Tiananmen Generation Association):
"The 1989 Student Movement captured the worlds attention and made the issue of democracy and human rights in China an international issue. The democracy movement in the Communist China used to be very isolated and lonely. Today, it has support from the international community and from people all over the world. I think that it implies that China is no longer an isolated Communist country. It has been fully integrated with the international community, not only economically, but also politically and socially. No doubt, with the influence from the international community, Chinas progress toward democracy will be accelerated.... What should we do to ensure the peaceful transformation? There are two areas of work we need to do to ensure the peaceful transformation in China. One area includes the work we are doing right now: continue growing the opposition movement and pressing the Chinese government on issues such as constitutional rights of Chinese citizens, human rights and social justice. The second area focuses on rebuilding the Chinese culture to change China into a democratic society."
From historian Timothy Brook (Stanford University):
"There are some who wonder what the purpose of this is, particularly in a world in which we have more atrocities than any of us can deal with; we have Yugoslavia, we have Kosovo, we have Rwanda, we have Somalia, we have Iran, we have Kuwait. The list is almost endless. Why care about a couple of thousand people dying in Beijing? I think we cant all care about everything, but I think it is important that when violence is used by the state in protection of its own interests, it is necessary for people to speak out against it and I think for consequences to be applied."
For a first-hand account of repression in China, see the Independent Policy Forum transcript, "Tiananmen Square: Ten Years Later" with historian Timothy Brook, Danxuan Yi (co-founder, Guangzhou Patriotic Student Federation), and Jing Chang (General Secretary, Tiananmen Generation Association).
Audio Files: http://www.independent.org/tii/forums/990616ipfReal.html
"A Chinese Word to Remember: Laogai" by Harry Wu (5/27/96)
"Autocratic Ghosts and Chinese Hunger," by Bryan Caplan (THE INDEPENDENT REVIEW, Winter 2000)