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6/09/2004

Reagan: Opponent of Professional Government

Reagan on the Civil Service:

Arthur B. Shostak, a retired Drexel University professor who wrote a book about the strike and briefly worked for PATCO, argues that breaking the strike with a mass firing should not be regarded as a Reagan victory.
PATCO, which had endorsed Reagan's candidacy, was replaced by another union, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, affiliated with the AFL-CIO, which wields considerable power today in the Federal Aviation Administration, Shostak said.
Although Reagan's action stopped talk by federal unions of staging strikes and other work actions, it drove union members into the Democratic Party and insulted the civil service, he said.
Reagan took "the most talented people in the civil service and put them on the trash heap. They were blacklisted from employment in the civil service," Shostak said.
Hindsight is everything, and Reagan's approach should not have been surprising. In his November 1979 speech announcing his presidential candidacy, Reagan told a New York crowd:
"We must put an end to the arrogance of a federal establishment which accepts no blame for our condition. . . . I will not accept the supposed 'wisdom' which has it that the federal bureaucracy has become so powerful that it can no longer be changed or controlled by any administration."
The anti-government rhetoric of the right is hollow, but their policies make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. The civil service is one of the great achievements of the earlier anti-government era - the Progressive Movement. Rolling back those protections returns us to an era of graft, corruption, and incompetence - much like our present administration. Harold Meyerson makes a broader point in todays Washington Post:
Roughly a quarter of American workers belonged to unions when Reagan took office. When he broke the PATCO strike, it was an unambiguous signal that employers need feel little or no obligation to their workers, and employers got that message loud and clear -- illegally firing workers who sought to unionize, replacing permanent employees who could collect benefits with temps who could not, shipping factories and jobs abroad. Reagan may have preached traditional values, but loyalty was not one of them.

In his efforts to return capitalism to its previously unlamented Hobbesian past, Reagan had plenty of company. His helpmeet Maggie Thatcher made similar changes on her side of the pond. Throughout the advanced capitalist nations, the power of workers weakened as the old industrial economies ceased to expand and global investment began to outrun the constraints of the state. But nowhere was the force of investment stronger and the force of labor weaker than in the United States. The explosion of the trade deficit, no less than the budget deficit, dates to Reagan's morning in America.

Reaganomics reflected the rise of Sunbelt capitalism -- of right-to-work-state businessmen who, unlike their Northern counterparts, had never cottoned at all to unions or regulations. From Reagan's dictum that government is the problem to Tom DeLay's equation of the Environmental Protection Agency with the Gestapo, the idea that there are higher purposes than private profit, or gainful pest extermination, has been banished from modern Republicanism. And though Reaganomics may have begun in the backwaters of American capitalism, it soon spread to Wall Street, which has rewarded our current Reaganaut, George W. Bush, with more money for his campaign than any other sector. Scrap the taxes on dividends, and that musty financial oversight, and watch finance become the political clone of the oil bidness.

 

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