In all the hoopla — whether is was praise or damnation — over Ronald Reagan’s political legacy, almost no one has talked about the other evil Reagan helped to defeat — inflation. But Robert Samuelson remembers:
Inflation also gets neglected because it doesn’t fit anyone’s political agenda. To the right, Reaganomics means lower taxes and smaller government. But Reagan didn’t shrink government, and lower inflation — not lower taxes — mainly revived the economy. To the left, Reaganomics means smaller (and meaner) government, irresponsible tax cuts and big, destructive budget deficits. But again, Reagan didn’t shrink government, and Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson started persistent (though smaller) deficits, which in any case didn’t destroy the economy. Still, the media often heed rhetoric more than reality, so the basic story is missed.
No other major leader — Republican or Democrat — would have then done what Reagan did. “The President stands almost alone among Washington’s current politicians in his instinctive comprehension that inflation is a profoundly destructive phenomenon,” wrote David Stockman, Reagan’s first budget director, in an otherwise critical 1986 book. Giving “Volcker the political latitude to do what had to be done . . . was a genuine achievement.” More than genuine, it was magnificent.