JANUARY 24, 2006


Philip Jenkins


This class will examine the economic foundations of the Reagan years. We will consider the following themes:


*The Decline of the Old Economy

Making the Rustbelt

Cars and steel

The decline of organized labor

Impact on the cities

The new age of unemployment

The fate of agriculture


*The New Economy

The information economy

New forms of employment and the impact on gender relations

The impact of Bayh-Dole

New concepts of urbanism and retailing


*Revolution in Personal Finance

How the middle class became the money class

Credit cards, money markets and discount brokerage



*The Politics of Taxes and Welfare

Crisis of the New Deal state

The Tax Revolt

Supply-side economics and the Laffer Curve

Trickle-down economics



Tax cuts and passing ERTA

The 1981-82 slump

Deficit spending

Deregulation across the board

Environmental impacts

The defense build-up – who benefited?

Voodoo economics?

The Gramm-Rudman counter-attack


*The International Context

The rise of Asia

Would Japan be Number One?

Oil prices as the key determinant of the global economy

Iran and Iraq


*Masters of the Universe

Reshaping Corporate America

Mergers and acquisitions

The new world on Wall Street

The capitalist as superstar – Trump and Iacocca


*The Dark Side of the Force

Reagan-era scandals as the by-product of the new ethos of deregulation

Defense procurement scandals

Wall Street scandals and the arbitrageurs


The meltdown of the Savings and Loans


The 1987 stock market crash


Was the US going through an economic revolution? How was it manifested? What had happened to the traditional pillars of the economy, such as steel, coal, cars? How about agriculture?


What had happened in hi-tech, in the information economy?


What were the social effects of these changes?


What were the racial effects of these changes?


What were the gender effects of these changes?


What effects had these changes had on the nationÕs geography? Its urban structure? Which regions did well? Which not?


What effects had these changes had on the mass media?


What about education?





Just like last time, I will begin with a series of generic questions that you should be asking yourself when you read each and every book in this course:


1.First, obviously, what is the book about, and what is its central theme or point?

2.Does the author make his/her case well and clearly? Is the book well-written and well-argued? (the two points are not necessarily the same!) If not, why not?

3. The fact that the book was published indicates that somebody thought it made an important and innovative point – thereÕs no point in just rehashing old familiar arguments, or so we would think. WhatÕs new about this book? Is it a controversial study?

4. What did the book tell us that was not previously known? What can we learn about how the book fits into the existing literature, yet advances beyond previous knowledge? What earlier or established position is it arguing against?

5. Why are people studying this kind of topic right now? What does this tell us about the state of historical writing and scholarship?

6. Does the author push the evidence to make it fit into contemporary concerns and obsessions? How?

7. What major questions and issues surface about the era we are discussing?

8. Is the book of any interest or significance beyond the immediate scope of the study addressed?

9.Are there questions that you would like to ask that the author does not deal with, or covers poorly?

10.What can we learn from the footnotes and acknowledgments about how the author went about his/her research?


And some specific questions arising from the book:


Like Troy, Ehrman places heavy emphasis on the president –this is Òthe age of Reagan.Ó Is that a fair perception? Does he justify it?


Does he have a political bias or slant? In which direction?


How does he summarize the social and economic achievement of the Reagan administration? Does he justify his conclusions or claims?


Ehrman writes a lot about the economic liberalism of the post-New Deal years, and what had gone wrong with it by the 1970s. What were its assumptions? What had gone wrong? Was there a way of saving the New Deal world-view? Did liberalism commit suicide or was it murdered?


Many (all?) of the same issues and themes are hotly debated today. What can we learn from the economic experience of the Reagan years? How has the economy changed since that point?


Did the Reagan experience shift economic attitudes and assumptions so much that even if we wanted to, we could not go back to the old economic order?


ItÕs easy to write about economic change in a way that just appeals to policy-makers and academics, but Ehrman tries to illustrate the changes through their impact on everyday life. What were these changes? Which were most significant? Can you think of others that he is missing? In short, how effectively does he do what he sets out to do?


What themes or factors does he miss? What does he miss that Troy picks up on – or put another way, where he succeed better than Troy? How do the two books compare?


EhrmanÕs chapter five raises the intriguing question, ÒIf things are so good, why do I feel so bad?Ó, which becomes more or less an overview of his whole argument. What does he say here, and how does he explain the paradox of the chapter title?


What do you think about his remarks about universities in that same chapter? Are they fair and accurate?


Please note the lengthy interview with John Ehrman about his work at





You can find sample reviews of EhrmanÕs book at: