It is time to revive this blog after a longer absence on my part. Welcome, everyone.
Regular readers know that I’m a great admirer of Ronald Reagan, even though I’m also a critic of current US foreign policy (which has strayed far away from Reagan’s guding principles). Today, though, instead of directly critizing the latter, I will instead focus on Reagan’s two most important teachings the US (and more broadly, all nations around the world) can and should apply: the practical importance of liberty and the necessity of defending that liberty with a well-armed military.
Why Economic Freedom Really Works Best
First, let’s focus on what Reagan rightly called ‘the practical importance of liberty’.
The detractors of economic freedom (i.e. the statists, “social democrats”, and socialists of all stripes) falsely claim that free-market economics (also called “economic liberalism” or “neoliberalism”) is just one theory among many, just one school of economics. And a failed theory, they claim.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The reality is that, judged solely by evidence from the real world, free-market economics is the only system which (when applied consistently) brings about prosperity: low unemployment, growing personal and household income, low inflation, and thus, greater purchasing power (and greater standards of living) for individuals and families.
And no country exemplifies this better than the US today. The tax cuts and regulatory relief passed by Congress at President Trump’s behest have resulted in:
- economic growth of over 4%;
- an unemployment rate at just 3.9% (one of the lowest on record);
- record numbers of people converting from part-time to full-time work;
- record-low unemployment rates for men, women, teenagers, African Americans, and Hispanics alike;
- rapidly rising salaries and, at the same time, disposable income for households, because not only do American workers earn more now, they also take home a greater share of their pay.
Similarly, despite Brexit, the UK economy is still healthy (though not as strong as before the Brexit referendum), with unemployment below 5%.
Similarly, in Germany, thanks to the painful but necessary reforms begun by Gerhard Schröder (a Social Democrat!) and continued by Angela Merkel, unemployment stands at just 5,1% and the country has the greatest financial surplus of any country in the world.
President Reagan understood the ‘practical importance of liberty’ well. As he stated in his Brandenburg Gate speech in 1987 :
Adenauer, Erhard, Reuter, and other leaders understood the practical importance of liberty–that just as truth can flourish only when the journalist is given freedom of speech, so prosperity can come about only when the farmer and businessman enjoy economic freedom.
Socialism, whether tried outright or in a “milder” form, always, inevitably, leads to economic stagnation, poverty, and backwardness. Anyone claiming otherwise is blatantly lying or uninformed.
It is not just outright “socialist” countries like Venezuela, Cuba, and North Korea that are failing. Every country with a heavily-statist economic system is failing. Italy is virtually stagnant, with GDP growth at 0,8%, and France is hardly doing better, at 1,1%. The “Nordic” (Sandinavian) countries, held up as an example to follow by socialists and statists of all stripes, are hardly worth emulating. Although resource-rich Sweden is doing well at 4%, even more resource-rich Norway is economically sluggish with growth at just 1,6%. Denmark and Finland are doing even worse, with economic growth at 1,2% and 0,4%, respectively.
In short, the Scandinavian countries are no example to follow, unless you believe that an economic growth rate of barely 0,4% or 1,2% is robust.
Why A Strong Defense Is Important
And so we come to Reagan’s second key lesson given at the Brandenburg Gate in 1987, also applicable today: freedom is precious, and there are many in this world – inside and outside the West – who would like nothing more than take it away from us.
Today, just as back then, Russia threatens the West with its massive nuclear arsenal aimed at all major Western cities, as well as its increasingly capable conventional military.
There are some in the West, including a number of former senior US government officials, who claim that if the West (especially the US) develops and deploys its own new generation of strategic weapons in response, relations with Russia will be poisoned, as Moscow would view such deployments as a threat.
But just as in 1987, these people are wrong. Strong defenses do not lead to war; they prevent it. Ronald Reagan’s massive defense buildup did not lead to war; instead, it won the Cold War without a shot being fired.
Strong defenses deter aggressors; military weakness, on the other hand, encourages aggression.
But even more fundamentally, strong defenses do not lead to war because, quite simply, they are not the cause of the bad relations between the West and Russia. The real cause is different:
We must remember a crucial fact: East and West do not mistrust each other because we are armed; we are armed because we mistrust each other. And our differences are not about weapons but about liberty.
The real source of icy relations between the West and Russia is not the US missile defense system, the planned modernization of the US nuclear deterrent, or anything of the sort. No, the real source of the problem is Russia’s aggressive, belligerent behavior towards various European countries – especially its neighbors.
Consequently, there can be no real peace between the West and Russia until Moscow forever renounces this aggressive behavior, especially towards Ukraine.
However, this would require Russia to allow Kiev to freely determine its path of development, towards greater freedom and greater integration with the West.
And were that to happen, the Russian people would suddenly see, on their own doorstep, a former non-Baltic Soviet republic successfully transforming itself from a post-Soviet, Putin-style despotic kleptocracy into a prosperous, free society…
… And if that were to happen, the Russian people would understand that their own country can also transform itself this way – and that, in turn, would mean a Russian Euromaidan and the end of Putin’s regime.
Therefore, as long as Russia remains an oppressive dictatorship run by KGB thugs like Vladimir Putin, it will always remain an aggressor. And as long as such aggressors exist, the West will always need strong defenses.