Monday, February 21, 2011

Manifesto Joe's Great Moments In Conservative History, Chapter 11: Mr. Magoo Wins The Cold War

By Manifesto Joe

Revisionist history has it that Ronald Reagan "won the Cold War" by, in essence, outspending the Soviet Union on a military buildup. Those evil commies just couldn't compete, the myth has it, and they were suddenly forced to fold their empire all over the world.

What utter right-wing hogwash.

Let's look a bit more closely at the situation as it really was in those days. The U.S., typically, has spent perhaps as much as 6% of its GDP on the military. The old Soviet Union often spent as much as 25% of its GDP on military outlays, depriving its civilian population of many basic needs so that lonely, unhappy young men could sit around on military bases in the Soviet part of the world, getting sick on boiled carp and bad vodka.

I remember all the right-wing alarmist BS of the time. I read in the National Review in 1985 (that was when I could still read that rag without tossing my cookies and making the pages stick together) that the Red Army was arguably the most formidable fighting force that the world had seen up to that time.

We know now that, around 1985, the Soviet military was a large, but largely ineffective, fighting force, ill-equipped and with miserable morale. Hell, the Mujahideen in Afghanistan kicked 100,000 of their asses for years and years, finally forcing them out of the country. (And yet, nobody now seems to be arguing that U.S. Rep. Charlie Wilson, D-Texas, won the Cold War. The argument seems at least as plausible.)

After the Soviet Union collapsed, conservatives all of a sudden crowed about the superiority of American fighting forces over those hapless commies. The story kept changing whenever it was convenient. So, which was it, right-wingers? The most formidable fighting force the world had ever seen, or a bunch of homesick clowns who couldn't beat a ragtag guerrilla force in one of the world's poorest countries?

The Soviet economy was at the root of the empire's decline, and it had been in trouble for a very long time. Its centrally planned economy was stagnating by the mid-1970s, when Reagan was still sticking his foot in his mouth as governor of California. Here's a passage from that summarizes this pretty well:

The vigorous Soviet economy of the late-1960s and early 1970s quickly fell victim to the very factors that had contributed to its success, central planning and raw materials allocation. Brezhnev recognized that the Soviet economy was slowing, and attempted to patch problems rather than completely overhaul the system. His efforts failed. Even if Brezhnev had attempted to overhaul the Soviet economy, the highly entrenched special interests that made their living by manipulating the Soviet Union's centrally planned economy could have defeated Brezhnev's efforts.

Throughout the 1970s and into the mid-1980s, the Soviet Union's GNP and industrial output continued to increase, but at a lessening pace, eventually leading to economic stagnation. The Ninth Five Year Plan (1970–1975) saw a growth rate of approximately 3%. The period of 1975–1980 experienced a growth rate of between 1% and 1.9%, depending on whether revised Soviet numbers or the West's estimate is examined. Likewise, 1980–1985 saw a further decline in economic growth, between 0.6% and 1.8%. Declining economic growth rates were not confined to the Soviet Union. Eastern Europe, with its economies intertwined with the Soviet Union's, suffered a similar fate.

This declining growth rate in the 1970s and 1980s resulted in the Soviet Union receiving a diminishing rate of return on capital investment. This proved disastrous for the Soviet economy, because by 1980, the Soviet Union was spending nearly one-third of its GNP on capital investment, with most of the sum dedicated to the military. The military was consuming such a large portion of the Soviet economy for two reasons: the Soviet involvement in Afghanistan and the arms race with the United States. These two events would weigh heavily in the Soviet economic demise and lead to its inevitable fall. A weak economy prevented the Soviet Union from reacting appropriately to each experience.

Now, what Reagan admirers would have one believe from this is that the U.S. military buildup of the 1980s was what "won" the Cold War. The Cold War had been going on for about 35 years by the time Reagan even took his first oath of office. Did he hasten the Soviet collapse by a year or two? Perhaps -- but it's pretty clear from what we now know that the Soviet Union's economy was already, in essence, a dead man walking by 1980. Just a basic maintenance of the U.S. military for another 11 years was quite sufficient to see them run out of gas.

I've read that when one says something to Russian economists nowadays about Reagan winning the Cold War, they are unable to restrain their laughter. Everybody knew what the problems were in those days, they would say, and they were all right here.

Does this demonstrate the superiority of capitalism? Well, yes and no. Many of those who led the U.S. through the Cold War were Democrats, who advocated a mixed economy and were regarded by capitalism's right-wing ideologues as heretics. The Democrats weren't fans of the Soviet command economy, either, or of its police state. But they recognized a need for a reformist approach to capitalism, which one would be at a loss to explain to the typical Tea Party activist of 2011.

Now, less than 20 years after the final collapse of the Soviet Union, it looks like it is capitalism that is in trouble all over the world, and that seems largely for similar reasons -- its apparent inability to reform itself. For over 30 years in the U.S., wealthy individuals and giant corporations have insisted on gaming the political system to evade taxes, and on demagoguing much of the public into believing that any sort of tax increase will ultimately be a tax increase on them.

We now have the vantage point of seeing, from the second term of the Clinton administration, that it is quite possible for the federal government to raise enough revenue to run comfortably in the black without damaging the economy. But one wouldn't know that, if one listens to rich people and Corporate America, and takes their swill seriously.

Back to the Cold War -- it came to an end because of a general collapse of the Soviet economy, and that was something that was many years in the making. A military empire has to be paid for, and the Soviet empire had their system overextended long before Reagan became president. Less than 20 years later, it looks increasingly like something similar is happening here.

Years ago, there was a saying that the U.S. didn't win the Cold War -- Japan won it. Now I'd say it's looking more and more as though China was the real winner. The U.S. is so deeply indebted to them, and largely because of war expenses, that we aren't likely to get out of that debt within any living American's lifetime.

Now, as for Reagan and Mr. Magoo

Ronald Reagan was apparently an inspirational leader for many people. In contrast, what I generally saw for 8 years was a "Teflon" presidency and the amusing rightness of his critics' comparison to the cartoon character Mr. Magoo.

For those perhaps too young to remember, Mr. Magoo was a cartoon character whose life span was from about 1949 to 1965. The late character actor Jim Backus was his voice. Mr. Magoo doesn't get a lot of retro TV airplay nowadays, because I think he's regarded as far too politically incorrect, sort of like comedian Bill Dana's character Jose Jimenez or advertising's The Frito Bandito. I'll explain.

Mr. Magoo was a rich old dude who had poor eyesight and was hard of hearing, yet he insisted on continuing to drive his outdated flivver and to stroll through life as though there were nothing wrong. He would instigate catastrophes everywhere he went, but would himself walk away unscathed and oblivious about anything that had happened. People who had impaired eyesight and hearing were eventually offended by the character, so despite great popularity in his day, Magoo had a pretty short shelf life on the rerun circuit.

Compare this to a president who cut and ran after hundreds of Marines got blown up in Lebanon, yet today few call him a coward. (If it had been Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, there would have been all kinds of editorial comments about how yellow is not a color that goes with the decor of the Oval Office.)

Compare this to a president who was basically giving his blessings to a tradeoff with terrorists of arms for hostages -- and yet now few seem to remember this.

Compare this to a president whose policies led to the most expensive failure of U.S. financial institutions since the Great Depression. Not many seem to remember that, either.

Compare this to a president who created record deficits by cutting taxes broadly on wealthy Americans and big corporations, so much that now you can't reason with the average shithead on the street about how these people are looting the store and pushing the burden onto him or her.

This is a litany that could go on a long time -- but finally, compare this to a president who just happened to be sitting there, on the edge of dementia, at the time that Mikhail Gorbachev decided that the Soviet system was no longer workable. And now, right-wing revisionist historians are strutting about, posturing as though this were a feat that Reagan pulled off all by himself. Few seem to recall the reality of the situation -- they just remember glittering speeches about the myth of some "shining city on a hill."

Mr. Magoo, I sez. The senile old fool walked away from multiple disasters unmarked. And he's still doing it posthumously.

"Magoo, you've done it again!"

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.


Jack Jodell said...

Manifesto Joe,
What an outstandingly accurate piece of writing. Thank God for clear heads and accurate memories like yours! You should really consider writing a book, my friend. The world would be a better place for it.

Your comparison to Mr. Magoo is right on the money. Reagan got by with murder, and I have little regard for the type of fools who hold him up with high adulation today, or attribute all kinds of falsehood to who and what he really was. Fellow blogger Jerry Critter recently explained all the crazy adoration of Reagan by Republicans as being the fact that Reagan is all they have to hold onto nowadays, with HW and W being less-than-inspirational figures and Nixon and Ford nothing to crow about either. That esplains a lot about how bankrupt and desperate the current Republican Party truly is!

I would give you a doctorate in history for this post, Joe. Keep up the extraordinary work!

Marc McDonald said...

I know you're not allowed to say it in America (which is strange for a "democracy" with "freedom of the press") but the fact is, the Soviet Union DID have its good points.
Having traveled in that part of the world, it seems to me that all the good things that exist there now are a legacy of the Soviets (good public transport, a good education system), etc.
Has capitalism brought anything good to Russia? Hmmm, let me think. Oh, they do have high-end fashion stores where you can buy Prada in downtown Moscow now. Too bad that only the very rich (and by definition, corrupt) can afford Prada.
Average life expectancy rates have plummeted since the fall of the Soviet Union, which indicates to me that the U.S.S.R. wasn't all bad. If there is a more definitive yardstick for quality of life than average life expectancy, I'd like to hear about it.
Note that I'm not necessarily defending the Soviet Union----all I'm saying is what no American is allowed to say (or think): that maybe the Soviet Union wasn't all bad.
Considering that the nation is now run by a bunch of corrupt politicians and gangsters, I really wonder if today's Russia is an improvement on the Soviet Union. (A lot of people would disagree---I saw large pro-Communist rallies when I was there). Indeed, the Communists are still the second largest party in Russia to this day. If Communism was so "evil," I wonder why millions of Russians continue to vote Communist?
But, like I said, you're not allowed to say stuff like this in "free" America. All we're allowed to say (or think) is that the Soviet Union was entirely evil and had zero redeeming qualities.
The child-like American masses don't seem to be able to grasp anything other than:
Capitalism: good
Communism: evil

Manifesto Joe said...

Jack, thanks for stopping by, as always, and for all the kind words. Let me comment that one reason I'm writing this blog is that the odds of getting a book commercially published in the U.S. are about 1 in 100. You can pour three years' worth of your spare time into a manuscript and have it come to nothing, read only by the publishers who, by odds, will reject it over and over. And sometimes I doubt that they even read much of the manuscripts. I've sent shorter manuscripts to magazine publishers and had them come back to me after months, and it's obvious that the person maybe read some of the first page, saw one detail he or she didn't like and then just tossed the whole thing aside. I even had one fool write on the first page, which ruined the manuscript for reuse.

The Internet has empowered we the people to circumvent such foolishness. I can publish anything I want, and often more people now read my work in a month than used to read it in a decade.

Manifesto Joe said...

Hi, Marc:

With all due respect, I'd say the obvious problem in today's Russia is that the country went quickly from a centrally planned command economy to Gilded Age chaos with no middle ground. Lots of people lost pensions and such. The way I once saw it phrased was that what Russians wanted was Sweden, but what they got was Mexico.

Oh, BTW, I've only been posing as a liberal blogger all this time. I'm actually an agent for the U.S. secret police (we're so secret, nobody even knows the name of the agency). As such, it will be my duty to report you immediately to my superiors for this vile sedition. Some night -- you won't be able to know when -- agents will be inside your house before you know it, and you will vanish without a trace. That is what happens here to thought criminals like you.

Anonymous said...

Except Mr. Magoo didn't cause decades of and trillions in damage even after his death/cancellation.


Marc McDonald said...

>>Some night -- you won't be
>>>able to know when -- agents will
>>be inside your house before you
>>know it, and you will vanish
>>without a trace.

Actually, that exact scenario is happening today. Iraqi families regularly have their doors kicked in during the middle of the night and see their husbands dragged off by U.S. armed forces, never to be seen again.
Oh wait: that's all happening overseas---not here in the glorious U.S.A., right?
I think there's a number of people who'd disagree.
Take the victims of COINTELPRO, for example. Or the persecuted members of the IWW. Or the Black Panthers. The latter had their doors kicked in and their members shot down in cold blood.
But (I can hear you say), we're a democracy and our system works: that's why the abuses of COINTELPRO were eventually revealed.
Actually, that's not true. We only know about COINTELPRO, because a group of leftist radicals in 1971 broke into an FBI office and grabbed documents exposing COINTELPRO and turned them over to news organizations (which in turn initially refused to publish them).
This latter point makes me wonder if there aren't other sinister COINTELPRO programs out there that have never been exposed. I'd suspect there are.
Incidentally, I fully expect that I myself will eventually be silenced one way or another. The only way these bastards will ever shut me up is to kill me. And I'm sure they won't hesitate to do this.
The Powers That Be killed everyone from JFK to RFK to MLK. I don't think they'll have any problem getting rid of a little working-class turd like myself. They can always call it an "accident" (like they did Karen Silkwood) or "suicide" (like they did Danny Casolaro).
The Great GOP/Nazi Crackdown on the working class has begun, in Wisconsin. This is only the beginning----it's going to get ugly in the years to come. (Yes, I know the GOP has persecuted working people for years---but now it's become all-out war).

Cletis said...

Joe, this is an astonishing post. I had a student killed in Lebanon. He had been in my history class only a few years before and I still feel the emptiness in my stomach when his sister stopped by my classroom to tell me he was killed. He was a great kid with a big smile. This is a lot to ask but I would love to reprint this post with proper attribution, of course, to your blog. It deserves as many readers as possible. I think you have my e-mail address. Cletis

Manifesto Joe said...

Fire away, Cletis.

Manifesto Joe said...

Marc, again with all due respect:

I am aware of what happened to the original Black Panthers -- they were basically targeted for extinction. A lot of the Wobblies were either slain or imprisoned. I am also aware that there have been some rather shocking black ops reported from Iraq. America was founded as a slaveholding nation, and I understand that about a million Filipinos were murdered or otherwise wiped out during the subjugation of that country, roughly 1898-1910. Quite a few Native Americans were rubbed out, too.

One finds a disheartening and disturbing amount of such activity all over the planet. As Bill Hicks said, "Humans suck. ... We're a virus with shoes."

Some political systems, though, have made it much easier for humans to carry out such evil intentions. Even Noam Chomsky, marginalized dissident through he is, is free to speak at functions and regularly publishes books. Some other places in the world, he would have been worked to death in a prison camp long ago.

I hate to rain on your parade, but you and I are just minuscule specks on The Man's radar screen. There are thousands of us little lefty bloggers out there. If it ever comes to a dissident crackdown in the U.S., there are plenty of people they will take away long before they would ever get around to the likes of us.

Cletis said...

Joe, thanks for the loan. It was very well received.