- Ronald Reagan, 1975I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism.
When one discusses the Reagan-era deficit spending with conservative apologists, the usual excuse given is that they were "the fault of the Democratic Congress", or remnants of the Carter Administration. Murray Rothbard, often considered the dean of American liberalism, disagreed with that assessment, and while I have my own issues with Rothbard (his tendency to ally with labor protectionists like Pat Buchanan), I admire what he wrote of Reagan:
Of course, nobody today takes seriously the argument that Reagan actually put a dent in the government's rate of expansion, and any honest assessment of his Presidency will admit that he did not even propose to do so after his election. However, most libertarian critiques of Reagan end here: many cannot bring themselves to admit that Reagan was a bad President, from a libertarian perspective, even outside concerns of economic Statism. But that's a discussion I feel it's important to have - hence the thread.There was no "Reagan Revolution." Any "revolution" in the direction of liberty (in Ronnie’s words "to get government off our backs") would reduce the total level of government spending. And that means reduce in absolute terms, not as proportion of the gross national product, or corrected for inflation, or anything else. There is no divine commandment that the federal government must always be at least as great a proportion of the national product as it was in 1980. If the government was a monstrous swollen Leviathan in 1980, as libertarians were surely convinced, as the inchoate American masses were apparently convinced and as Reagan and his cadre claimed to believe, then cutting government spending was in order. At the very least, federal government spending should have been frozen, in absolute terms, so that the rest of the economy would be allowed to grow in contrast. Instead, Ronald Reagan cut nothing, even in the heady first year, 1981.
At first, the only "cut" was in Carter’s last-minute loony-tunes estimates for the future. But in a few short years, Reagan’s spending surpassed even Carter’s irresponsible estimates. Instead, Reagan not only increased government spending by an enormous amount – so enormous that it would take a 40 percent cut to bring us back to Carter’s wild spending totals of 1980 – he even substantially increased the percentage of government spending to GNP. That’s a "revolution"?