"When Ronald Reagan took power in 1981, Americans lived completely different lives. Health care insurance was a given for nearly all working Americans. Downsizing - the concept of mass layoffs in order to boost a CEO's bonus - hadn't entered the vocabulary. Neither had outsourcing. Working parents came home from work before sundown and ate dinners with their families. Unions were strong, and the industrialists felt a social responsibility to ensuring their workers' well-being. This was all reflected in the income differential: in 1979, the average CEO earned 30 times his average employees' wage. For some reason no one wants to remember this part of the past - because it's too depressing, and speaks too obviously to the real decline in America.
Reagan came to office and told the plutocrats to take everything that they wanted. I mean everything. Today, CEOs make 571 times their average employees' wage. Today's male white collar workers in America only earn, in real dollars, six cents per hour more today than they earned in 1973. Health care is increasingly hard to come by, no job is ever safe, Americans work far longer hours and suffer from stress-related illnesses once unheard of. As an Economic Policy Institute report noted, 'What income growth there was over the 1979-1989 period was driven primarily by more work at lower wages.' What happened to Russia in the 90s was really started by Reagan's attack on Americans in the 80s. When Reagan fired the striking air traffic controllers in 1981, he told America he was literally willing to kill us all if we didn't give in to his plan to transfer the wealth out of the pockets of the middle- and lower-middle classes and into the plutocrats' offshore accounts. It was so shocking that it worked. The air controller's union broke - and so did a whole way of life. Thanks to Ronald Reagan, we are all miserable wage slaves . . . or exiles."
This wasn't an accident. It was - dare I say it - a conspiracy. Reagan was put in power with the express purpose of destroying the middle class and ending any hope that the sons and daughters of the poor might rise to the middle class through education and hard work. The destruction of the middle class is his real and lasting legacy. Reagan's murder of the middle class and its institutions, a process which has led directly to Bush's neoconservatives, has just now been noticed by progressive commentators (see here and here and here or here and - my favorite, from Canadian painter Robert Bateman - here), some of whom have suggestions for how to resuscitate it. In reflecting on the nearly disastrous Canadian election, I noted how easy it is for conservatives to destroy the results of the hard work and sacrifices (up to and including their lives) of generations of progressives (if you look at the list, you can see that all good is done by progressives, and conservatives spend all their time trying to destroy the good). The effort of decades or even centuries can be destroyed, probably permanently, by the work of a tiny group of conservatives in power for only a few years. The key point of the conspiracy, and the permanent legacy of Reagan, was drastically to reduce the cost of labor. The middle class was an obstacle to this, as by definition the middle class consisted of workers who had enough economic security to have some control over the sale of their labor, and the ability to educate their offspring to rise above their own economic status. The point of post-Reagan conservatism is to create such fear and uncertainty in people that they can have no ability to prevent the ongoing erosion of their earning ability. The main goal of today's conservatives is cheap labor, and it is accurate to describe them as 'cheap-labor conservatives'. Not forgetting all the other awful things that Reagan did, what he should always be remembered for is his start of the process, a process which continues with a vengeance by Bush, of destroying middle class America in order to create a permanent underclass whose sole purpose is the enrichment of the plutocrats. Unfortunately, it will be decades, if not longer, before this terrible wrong is righted. The destructive capability of today's cheap-labor conservatives is so great that even voting for them once, in order to chastise another political group, is madness.