December 19, 2005
Lessons of 25 Years
At year's end, it is often useful to look back at the year past
and seek to learn its lessons. But it's more useful now, I think,
to look back at the past quarter-century.
years ago, in December 1980, Jimmy Carter was serving his last
full month in office and Ronald Reagan was president-elect. More
than 50 Americans were being held hostage in Iran -- an act of
war by the revolutionary mullahs. The Soviet Union was on the
march in Afghanistan. The American economy was finishing a decade
of high inflation and sluggish growth, at best -- stagflation.
The past three presidents had been repudiated: Richard Nixon in
1974, Gerald Ford in 1976 and Jimmy Carter 1980.
preached that America's best days were behind it, counseled that
we seek accommodation with the Soviet Union and urged nations
of the avaricious North to share their wealth with nations of
the deserving South. Low-inflation economic growth was no longer
Now we know,
with as much certainty as is possible in these things, that these
experts were dead wrong. Less than a decade later, the Berlin
Wall fell -- and not long after that, the Soviet empire was no
more. If you had told anyone in the early 1970s that advances
in human freedom would be led by the king of Spain and the pope,
he might have doubted your sanity. But King Juan Carlos I moved
to bring democracy to Spain, with reverberations in Portugal and
Latin America, while Pope John Paul II, speaking to crowds of
millions in his native Poland, spread the message that the people
of Eastern Europe need not be afraid and could build for themselves
a better future.
had similar hopes -- and produced similar results. The hint that
he would use force persuaded the mullahs to return the hostages
the moment he took office. His assertion that communism was on
the ash heap of history gave heart to jailed dissidents like Natan
Sharansky, and his robust defense budgets laid down a challenge
that the Soviets' sclerotic economy could not meet. Reagan's tax
cuts and tight money squeezed the inflation out of the economy
and produced vast economic growth.
the lessons of the past 25 years?
military power can advance freedom and democracy to all corners
of the world. Under Reagan and his three successors, America has
played a lead role in extending freedom and democracy to most
of Latin America, to the Philippines, Indonesia and almost all
of East Asia, and, most recently, to Afghanistan and Iraq, with
reverberations spreading through the Middle East. Area experts
said, often plausibly, those countries' cultures were incompatible
with democracy. Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and brave men and women
in those nations proved them wrong.
markets work, and lower taxes and less onerous government produce
more economic growth than the alternative. About 43 million jobs
have been created in the United States since December 1980, while
the number in the more statist nations of Western Europe is on
the order of 4 million. Markets are creating millions of jobs
in nominally Communist China and once-socialist India.
and effective government can, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan said,
change the culture. The crime-control methods pioneered by New
York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and the welfare reforms pioneered
by Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, imitated around the country
and followed up by federal legislation, resulted in huge decreases
in crime and welfare dependency.
have been widely learned and widely applied, by George W. Bush
but also to a large extent by Bill Clinton. But not, curiously
enough, by those who see themselves as the best and the brightest,
our university and media elites. They would still like to see
America's power reined in, as it was in the 1970s.
insouciant about the costs that larger and more intrusive government
and higher taxes impose on the economy. They think that leniency
and subsidy are the appropriate responses to deviant and self-destructive
behavior. They think our most important right is a right to kill
our unborn children. You have to be awfully smart, someone once
said, to believe something so stupid. And to be so blind to the
clear lessons of the past quarter century of history.
Copyright 2005 US News & World Report
Distributed by Creators Syndicate