Vox Writer Blames Reagan for Decline of Liberal St. Louis

Timothy B. Lee is the Lead Writer for the New Money section of the reflexively leftist Vox.com. He has looked at what has happened to the city of St. Louis during the past 60 or so years, and thinks that Ronald Reagan is largely to blame.

Too bad for him that most of the reasons for St. Louis's decline have absolutely nothing to do with the Gipper. Even the alleged damage done in Washington in relaxing previously overzealous antitrust law enforcement that Lee erroneously cited as a major factor occurred during several presidential administrations.

The immediate comeback to Lee's lament is that it's pretty rich to go after a Republican Commander-in-Chief who presided over a six-year string of economic growth (annually averaging 4.5 percent compounded from 1983 to 1988) which hasn't been seen since. If one is looking for cause and effect, it's far more relevant to note that St. Louis has had only Democratic Party mayors since 1949.

The city's Democratic mayors, like so many others throughout the land, have been noticeably reluctant to address crime. St. Louis currently has the highest murder rate of any U.S. city with over 100,000 people and "the highest violent crime rate in the U.S."

The story with the city's schools is similarly awful. A 2016 survey put the St. Louis's schools in the nation's bottom 2 percent. Overall, St. Louis was named "the Worst City in the U.S. for Young Families."

Also, as seen in so many other cities, these horrid results have been achieved in the presence of high taxes.

Crime, lousy schools, and high taxes have driven the city's population down from 856,000 in 1950 to an estimated 311,000 in 2016. But almost 75 percent of that population decline (to 450,000) occurred by 1980, the year before Ronald Reagan became President. And yet Lee believes it might be even remotely reasonable to place significant blame on the Gipper? What a hoot.

His primary linked article, an early-2016 screed by Brian S. Feldman, a researcher-reporter with the Open Markets Program at the left-leaning New America think tank, only partially buys that blame-Reagan assessment.

A full reading of Feldman's ponderous piece, which tries to blame mid-sized U.S. cities' implosions on loosened antitrust laws and the many company headquarters lost as a result of permitted mergers, actually criticizes three presidential administrations — two of them run by Democrats:

... In 1978, Jimmy Carter signed the Airline Deregulation Act, which swept away the Civil Aeronautics Board and paved the way for massive industry restructuring. ...

...Meanwhile, under the Reagan administration, the federal government fundamentally changed course on antitrust enforcement. The Reagan Justice Department wrote new guidelines that rejected regional equity or local control as considerations in deciding whether to block mergers or prosecute monopolies. Enforcers were instructed to wave through mergers and tolerate consolidation, as long as there was no active collusion and consumers didn’t immediately suffer higher prices. Even more, Reagan’s administration cut the budgets of the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice, leaving both agencies with limited resources for enforcement.

Fact check: Reagan did cut spending at the FTC, but according to the American Enterprise Institute he "never cut the budgets of the departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Justice, or State." Perhaps Feldman meant that DOJ, even with its overall budget increases, decided to direct fewer resources towards antitrust enforcement and evaluation. But that's not what he wrote, so we don't know.

Now let's get to a later administration tagged with blame by Feldman:

... in 1994 the Clinton administration followed suit with the passage of the Riegle-Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Efficiency Act. Since 1984, the number of independent banks has fallen by more than half, from 15,663 to 6,799 in 2011. Of those now-defunct banks, more than 8,352 either merged or were consolidated.

Clinton also had the chance to change the overall thrust of antitrust enforcement Feldman considered too lax. If he did, Feldman didn't note it. Instead, the Clinton administration is best remembered for one case, that of going after Microsoft by suing it over its dominance of the PC operating system market. How quaint it is today to read about the supposedly unstoppable "chokehold" that company had "on the computer industry." (And please, don't even try to give the Clinton DOJ credit for the change in circumstances.)

Feldman believes that St. Louis, along with many other mid-sized cities, suffered severely when longtime corporate headquarters were severely downsized or eliminated, leading to related reductions in the professional services workforces at the companies and at other firms which served them, like advertisers, accounting, legal, etc. But even he acknowledges that St. Louis was doing quite well in some respects well into the mid- and late-1980s. For example, a new convention center built in 1977 was "booked in advance for ten years straight." That takes us to Year 7 of Reagan, sir.

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I would not be at all surprised, based on my take on similar but not as extreme experiences in the Cincinnati area where I live, that the complacent professional class in St. Louis was likely duped for decades into thinking that it could somehow work with anti-business Democratic Party mayors and city councils. By the time they figured out that they'd been had, irreparable damage had been done.

In sum, Vox's Lee created a weakly supported piece and gave it a clickbait headline designed to get leftists all excited about the idea of blaming a Republican legend for one city's urban decay. Those who actually read it, along with Feldman's underlying support piece, will be sadly disappointed to find that there's virtually nothing there, and that the answer to Lee's headlined question — "Is Ronald Reagan to blame for the decline of St. Louis?" — is "No!"

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

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