The Revolution that Failed by David Stockman
Revolutions have to do with drastic, wrenching changes in an established regime. Causing such changes to happen was not Ronald Reagan’s real agenda in the first place. It was mine, and that of a small group of supply-side economic intellectuals.
The Reagan Revolution, as I defined it, required a frontal assault on the American welfare state. That was the only way to pay for the massive tax cuts central to the Reagan agenda.
Accordingly, forty years’ worth of promises, assistance, entitlements and safety nets issued by the federal government to every component and level of society would have to be scrapped or drastically modified.
A true economic policy revolution meant risky and mortal political combat with all the mass constituencies of Washington largesse — Social Security recipients, veterans, farmers, educators, state and local officials, the housing industry, and many more.
Behind the budget cuts and tax cuts was the central idea of the Reagan Revolution. It was minimalist government — a spare and stingy creature, which offered even-handed public justice, but no more.
Its vision of the good society rested on the strength and productive potential of free men in free markets. It sought to encourage the unfettered production of capitalist wealth and the expansion of private welfare that automatically attends it. It envisioned the opposite of the coast-to-coast patchwork of dependencies, shelters, protections, and redistributions that the nation’s politicians had brokered over the decades.
Here’s the truth: The Reagan Revolution never had a chance.
It defied all the overwhelming forces, interests, and impulses of American democracy. Our Madisonian system of checks and balances, three branches, two legislative houses, and infinitely splintered power is conservative, not radical. It hugs powerfully to the history behind it. It shuffles into the future one step at a time. It cannot leap into revolutions without falling flat on its face.