...America's revolutionary economic message [is one of] of free enterprise, low taxes, and open world trade ... that truth is fundamental to both liberty and prosperity ~ Ronald Reagan addressing middle school children on 11/14/1988.
President Obama plans to address our nation's school children on September 8th, 2009. The Department of Education's website notes that the speech will be "about persisting and succeeding in school". And that "The president will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning". You may have heard that Republicans are "outraged", believing that the President will take the opportunity to indoctrinate the school children with his "socialist agenda".
Is this just another partisan attack, or are they really worried? Maybe they really are worried, considering the fact that their hero Ronald Reagan DID take the opportunity to interject conservative ideology when he addressed a group of school children back in 1988. The quote from Reagan I opened my post with certainly could be described as conservative indoctrination - or at least completely inappropriate.
Seeing as every US president from Ronald Reagan forward have followed a policy of "open world trade", perhaps Reagan's indoctrination was successful. Reagan got the ball rolling in 1986 with the Uruguay Round, a series of multilateral trade negotiations which dropped US tariffs from an average of 48% down to 3%.
The Uruguay Round eventually lead to the formation of the World Trade Organization in 1995 and the signing of NAFTA by President Bill Clinton in 1993 - although negotiations began in 1991 under President George H.W. Bush.
According to the Economic Policy Institute, hundreds of thousands of high-wage manufacturing jobs have been lost since the signing of NAFTA. Progressive talk show radio host Thom Hartmann puts it bluntly, credibly claiming that "Free trade is a guaranteed ticket to the poorhouse for any nation".
The sub prime mortgage crisis may have been what took us over the edge of the cliff, but it has been the Milton Freedman free trade polices we've been following since Reagan which has taken us to the edge. And, even though, during the Democratic primaries all the candidates appeared to acknowledge that NAFTA had it's "failings", now President Obama thinks that maybe NAFTA is not so bad after all.
Is "open world trade" good for US businesses because it allows them to export their wares without being slapped with high import tariffs (thus making their exported goods cheaper), and good for US (Wal-Mart) consumers who benefit from lower prices? Or are the primary beneficiaries trans-national corporations who export US jobs to lower wage countries and import their finished goods without having to worry about "protectionist" tariffs?
Another policy that funnels more money upwards to the determent of everyone else (except for workers in 3rd world countries who snagged some sweet pennies-per-hour jobs)? Maybe it's time we went back to a sane trade policy? A policy which was put forward by conservative Alexander Hamilton in his 1791 Report on Manufactures, adopted by Congress and largely adhered to until Reagan. Following sane trade polices, regulation of the private sector, and the application of progressive tax rates may be why the period starting in 1935 with the New Deal and ending with Reagan's massive tax cuts in 1981 was the last time America experienced sustained stable, steady growth (without bubbles).
Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, describing how our economy functioned during this time period, writes, "[it was a] virtuous cycle of prosperity ...where productivity growth was widely distributed in wage gains, which increased consumption, which increased corporate investment and expansion, which led to increased productivity growth [and so on, and so on]". Since Reagan took office productivity growth has been widely distributed in wage gains - for CEOs - while wages for ordinary workers has flatlined.
Back to President Obama's upcoming indoctrination of our school children - if protectionism, which was conservative in Hamilton's day, is now socialist - I say go for it. "Get good grades" and "stay in school" are both important messages, but how about instituting some policies that encourage companies to keep jobs in the US? It's kind of discouraging to students who want to get a good job after leaving school when they see our government instituting policies which encourage US businesses to take those jobs elsewhere.