What happened between Reagan and Obama that led America astray?
By Robert W. Merriam.
When President Ronald Reagan gave his inaugural speech in 1981, he addressed a powerful nation that had undergone a remarkable recovery from the Great Depression and the upheavals of World War II. It was a time often characterized as a golden period for America; jobs were sufficient and the country was widely respected in the world. That period shows what good leadership can do for a country: excellent economic growth, labor and management advancing together, and, above all, an earned sense of national pride and confidence in government.
In those postwar decades, with much of the industry of competing nations destroyed by war and the United States’ productive economy in high gear, American companies found receptive markets at home and abroad. In a war-torn world, President Harry Truman and Congress took an unprecedented step in implementing the Marshall Plan, which channeled over $13 billion in aid to war-devastated countries. The amount was equivalent to $120 billion in 2016 dollars. The government took this action when the U.S. national debt as percentage of GDP was greater than it is today. That act garnered worldwide recognition of America’s leadership in fostering world stability, with military and economic power unsurpassed on the world stage.
Other investments in infrastructure in those early post-war years reaped enormous benefits in the form of well-paying jobs and by laying the technical foundation of American commercial enterprise. Initiated under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the interstate highway system opened the U.S. interior to better development that has paid off in both commercial vitality and private convenience. The investments in the nation’s future included large water conservation and irrigation projects. The establishment of nuclear energy research laboratories opened new possibilities for national energy production as well as research that extended nuclear technology into other areas of science such as medicine and biology. The Department of Defense awarded private contracts for communications research that laid the groundwork for the the Internet. These public investments in science and technology deserve part of the credit for America’s commercial preeminence in world markets.
During these post-war decades, three other factors of note complemented the nation’s economic successes. The national debt, incurred largely by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in fighting the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II, was systematically reduced year by year. From an unprecedented 122 percent of GDP by the end of the war, debt had been reduced to 32 percent by the end of President Carter’s administration in 1981. This paying down of the debt was accomplished under four Democratic and three Republican administrations, collaborating with congressional chambers variably controlled by each party. The branches of the federal government worked together, with cooperation and compromise, as intended by the country’s founders.
The second element of this golden period was the …
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