Reagan's Moral Judgment

In response to a post by guest blogger Mike Rappaport at the Volokh Conspiracy, Matt Yglesias asks,

Just to add a further word, the linked post contains a great example of the incoherence of Reagan-worship. Was Soviet Communism really such a brilliant politico-economic system that only Ronald Reagan's brilliant leadership could take it down, or was Ronald Reagan right and free market economies simply outperform command-and-control ones?

False dichotomy. Reagan was right that free market economies simply outperform command-and-control economies. Yet, this is precisely the reason that communism was imperialistic.

Free market economies result in a positive-sum system, in which wealth is created through division of labor, specialization, capital investment, and productivity increases. Communism relied on fixed-sum interactions, redistribution of wealth, and nationalized industries, all of which lead to wealth destruction. As a result, communists had to find more and more free people to conquer and turn into slaves to feed their parasitic system. That is the reason communism conquered Russia, the Ukraine, the Baltic states, central Asia, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Eastern Europe, all in less than half a century.

Sure, it would implode eventually because of its faulty economic structure, but I sure would not want to be swallowed up in its path before it did.

That is not to say Reagan's policies had anything to do with the end of the USSR. I remain unconvinced that his military spending forced the Soviets to ratchet up their own military spending putting the final nail in the coffin. I am also not uncritical of some of his other policies.

Having said that, Reagan's greatest triumph was using the pulpit of the American presidency to loudly proclaim communism to be the evil that it was - the greatest evil of the 20th century - all the while Western intellectuals were fiercely defending its supposed superiority. (Many of them still cling to the seductive dream even today.) He convinced not just Americans, but even those living under communism that the communist state's time was up, and it was this moral judgment and statement of fact that did more to bring down communism more than any of his policies. Ideas have profound impact, and it was the ideas Reagan spread in his forthright, unapologetic, categorical fashion that had the greatest effect on the world.

[cross-posted at The Agitator]

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