The history of America since 1980

by on June 30, 2008 at 9:04 pm in History | Permalink

Brad DeLong spells it out:

  1. The end of the Cold War
  2. Other winner-take-all factors that have, in combination with
    education, pushed American income polarization back to Gilded Age
    levels.
  3. The failure of American taxpayers to support their state and local
    governments in expanding funding for public education–and the impact
    of reduced public education effort in sharpening the distinction
    between rich and poor.
  4. The computer revolution in productivity growth.
  5. The rise of China (and soon, we hope, India) as industrial powers.
  6. The extraordinary social liberalization of America–if you had told
    any Republican in 1980 that 2008 would see (a) a Negro with an
    Arabic-Swahili name beating a veteran fighter pilot in the presidential
    polls and (b) gay marriage as the big cultural issue of the day, said
    Republican would have blown several gaskets. And if you had said that
    this would have been the result of an "Age of Reagan" said Republican
    would have melted down completely.

I’m mostly on board (and read the broader post) but, in addition to mentioning Latinos, I’ll suggest two revisions.  First, on #3 I doubt if the stagnation of American lower education is the result of insufficient dollars.  It is notoriously difficult to find a convincing link between educational expenditures and educational quality and I don’t think that is econometric problems.  On #6 I never saw most of the Reagan Republicans as especially prudish or socially conservative; that was just a lie told to one of the interest groups attending the party.  Revolution in the Head — which is oddly enough a social history of the Beatles — is especially good on the connection between 1960s morals and the Reagan Revolution.

1 Mr. Econotarian June 30, 2008 at 9:08 pm

“real Per Pupil Expenditures for public elementary and secondary schools has increased from $6051 in 1985-86 to $9295 in 2005-2006, a 53.61% increase”

http://mjperry.blogspot.com/2008/04/and-you-thought-gas-prices-were-high.html

2 wintercow20 June 30, 2008 at 10:45 pm

I tend to only take umbrage with #3. From the Census of Governments, between 1990 and 2006 state and local government expenditures on education grew from $324.6 billion to $728 billion in current dollars, or from $499.9 billion to $728 billion in constant dollars – a 45.6% real increase.

What has happened to real compensation for “average” workers over that time?

3 JBJB June 30, 2008 at 10:52 pm

Delong writes:

Yet Reagan’s conservative achievements were remarkably limited:

* A tilting of the tax code to redistribute income to the rich

Can someone explain how you “redistribute income” to the people who EARNED it in the first place? I guess Brad Delong actually thinks that your earned income really belongs to the government, and they are doing you a favor by letting you keep some of it.

4 Frank June 30, 2008 at 11:39 pm

# 3: Who would want to pour money into that sinkhole? Wintercow’s numbers amount to a less than 3 ppa real growth rate, so the interest groups kept up their fair share. Burn down; start over. Pity, DeLong knows this, or should know it.

5 Anonymous July 1, 2008 at 12:19 am

DeLong’s casual use of the word “Negro” is simply nasty because it serves no conceivable purpose except to try to create the false impression that conservatives were still using this word as late as 1980. (For the younger generation: it went out of use in the late 1960s).

DeLong’s broken-record “Carthago delenda est” shtick (“Impeach absolutely everybody and their little dog Toto, too, now”) hardly does him credit either. For that matter, “Grasping Reality with Both Hands” sounds just a wee bit pretentious and self-important.

In any case, talk of blown gaskets and meltdowns is greatly exaggerated. Time was, divorce was a scandal and a divorced man could not hope to be elected dogcatcher, but the first divorced president in American history was none other than Ronald Wilson Reagan.

Who knows? Perhaps the first gay president fifty years from now will be a conservative Republican too.

6 jorod July 1, 2008 at 1:10 am

A drivers education teacher in my district makes $148,000 per year. What do you mean taxpayers don’t support education? The unions are stealing us blind.

7 Steve Sailer July 1, 2008 at 2:47 am

Having been a Republican in 1980, I think what would have surprised Republicans more is not that a black man is running for President in 2008, but that he’s running as a Democrat, not a Republican. It’s like a movie star running as a Democrat. A bigger surprise in 1980 to any admirer or Margaret Thatcher would be that no woman has been nominated for the Presidency in the 29 years since Thatcher was elected Prime Minister.

8 Jason Malloy July 1, 2008 at 3:13 am

if you had told any Republican in 1980 that 2008 would see (a) a Negro with an Arabic-Swahili name beating a veteran fighter pilot in the presidential polls… said Republican would have blown several gaskets.

According to the General Social Survey there was no significant difference between the number of Republicans and the number of Democrats who said they would vote for a black president circa 1980. Since most people answered the question that way the poll soon stopped asking it.

9 Vanya July 1, 2008 at 6:56 am

In 1980 Obama was a “mulatto”, not a Negro. He is after all half white. At least in New Hampshire in 1980 Reagan Republicans probably would have said “mulatto”, and probably meant it as a compliment.

10 Charlie July 1, 2008 at 8:37 am

On #6, I think Robert Byrd is much more upset than your average Reagan republican. People like to stereotype Republicans and Democrats without thinking about the history of the two parties.

11 Floccina July 1, 2008 at 9:50 am

Sorry in teh above post that should have been in responc to 2 and 3

12 SteveM July 1, 2008 at 10:43 am

Just love economists who make assertions (like #3) without consulting the facts.

Since WWI, inflation adjusted spending on public K-12 education in the U.S. has grown in 2002 dollars from $1,214 per student to $4,479 by 1972 and $8,745 in 2002. According to a 2002 study by the OECD of the spending of its member nations on public education, the typical European country spends on average about 65 percent of what we spend per pupil on k-12 education. Ditto for Japan.

13 SteveM July 1, 2008 at 10:45 am

Opps. that’s supposed to be inflation adjusted spending since WWII…

14 Bill Harshaw July 1, 2008 at 11:31 am

Add feminism to #6, then use it to explain #3 (because smart women can be Supreme Court justices and politicians, etc. the supply of smart women for teaching has decreased–meaning increased expenditures buy lower quality.

15 Superheater July 1, 2008 at 12:28 pm

To end the Cold War by trusting Gorbachev’s good faith–in spite of everything the Republican foreign-policy establishment and the wingnut ideologues could throw in his path to try to stop them.

First, ending the cold war wasn’t a liberal acheivement. Second, it wasn’t accomplished through trust. Reagan’s trust was limited to “trust, but verify”. The presence of verification nullifies the trust. It was the left swooning over Gorbachev the way they swoon over Obama, not Reagan.

Reagan ended the cold war by trusting Gorbachev, he did it by bankrupting the Soviets in large ways (SDI, missile deployments) and small – tying them up in Afghanistan. We can argue about the wisdom of arming the Afghani insurgency, but he was busy announcing the end of the Soviet Union in speeches in the early 80’s while the academic left praised and excused the USSR.

Brad DeLong might be a perfessor, but he’s an idiot.

Incidentially, given the direction of Tyler Cowen’s commentary of late, perhaps “marginal revolution” should be renamed “cultural revolution”.

16 RVTurnage July 1, 2008 at 1:27 pm

“Anyone who thinks state-wide averages of per-pupil expenditure represent salient facts in this debate needs to go back to school and learn about statistics and cost of living differences.”

Looking at per student spending of individual school districts in Mississippi, there doesn’t appear to be any evidence of funding per student being the driving force of performance. Of the top 30 school districts (152 total) in the state, only 1 is in the top 30 of per student funding. Only 4 are in the top 60 in funding. On a side note, student/teacher ratios also appear to be of little importance to performance in Mississippi.

17 spencer July 1, 2008 at 3:37 pm

Education is an interesting industry. Despite all the various claims it is one of the few sectors of the economy where we have both a large public and a large private sector. Moreover, it is probably the only economic sector where productivity in both the public and private sector is at best flat and just as likely negative. All the quotes above about the cost of public education are true. But what the quotes do not point out that the cost of private education has increased just as much, if not more than the cost of public education.

But my question is simple, if private education is so great, why hasn’t the large private education sector managed to generate a better productivity record than the public education sector?

18 spencer July 1, 2008 at 5:20 pm

Interestingly, the education component of the CPI for elementary and high school tuition is what private schools charge. Since 1978 that has increased from 100.0 to 909.7 in 2007, or about triple the increase in the overall CPI.

Wintercow says public education spending from 1990 to 2006 grew 45%.

But over this same period private tuition for elementary and high school increased 195%.

this implies that the public sector is doing a lot better then the private education sector.

It is interesting what a single statistic in isolation can be used to demonstrate until it is compared to something else.

19 Sal Paradise July 2, 2008 at 12:18 am

Spencer, I’d also suggest looking into demand for private schools. In Japan, there is a huge boom in private education, and it’s pricing middle-class expats out of the international schools they could previously afford to send their kids to.

A vast increase in demand for private schooling outstripping supply would result in price increases (or should, at any rate), so solely looking at the price of schooling wouldn’t tell the whole story either.

20 Anthony July 2, 2008 at 10:34 am

The actual response in #6 would have been “Where’d they find a Democrat fighter pilot?” And by 1985, we could see gay marriage on the horizo – at least those of us who thought that medical science would find treatments for AIDS.

#3 could be read as “the dawning realization of taxpayers that more money to schools/government was not generating better results”.

21 sethstorm July 2, 2008 at 10:07 pm


The rise of China (and soon, we hope, India) as industrial powers.

They still make tons of junk and perform poorly enough to require a United States citizen to fix the problem. I give them at least a couple of centuries before they’re anywhere close. The United States is not going to be fading away into the sunset anytime soon.

They forgot:
7: Businesses going “open season” on workers and domestic labor.
8: The increasing use of hostile/third-world countries for labor, lowering overall quality and choice down to junk.
9: The change of citizenship as a badge of honor to a scarlet letter.
10: The attempt to redefine freedom to include business but exclude government or non-business individuals.
11: The realization that social protections cannot be cut without consequence.
12: Government has become an acceptable punching bag for those who want a cheap target.

which left/liberals sitting in the dustbin of history
Then why are they experiencing a resurgence in places that are not hostile to their presence? The US is discovering the hollowness of Reagan’s “prosperity”, the UK is less militant on union action, Spain has gone leftward, France is narrowly denying itself a Thatcher, and Russia is switching communism for mild nationalism.

I’d have to say they’re not anywhere close to the dustbin. Those who followed the ways of Reagan are finding themselves a bit closer.

22 Superheater July 3, 2008 at 8:05 am

Why do people continue to allow conservatives to participate in the discussion?

Because its still not a fascist state, dipwad.

Notice too, conservatives aren’t people. Perhaps you can round up your
ideological opponents and intern them in concentration camps, mein fuhrer?

On the other hand, thanks for putting the leftist impulse on full display.

23 cheap snw vis January 2, 2009 at 1:59 am

And the more cheap snw vis is very good for you.

24 seo December 9, 2009 at 11:09 pm

Great, history is used to learn from.

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