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The Man Who Sold the World
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The myth of Ronald Reagan-s greatness has reached epic proportions in recent years. The public rates him as one of the most popular presidents, and Republicans everywhere seek to cast themselves in his image. But award-winning journalist William Kleinknecht shows in this penetrating analysis of his presidency that the Reagan legacy has been devastating for the country - especially for the ordinary Americans he claimed to represent. So much that has gone wrong in America - including the subprime mortgage crisis and the meltdown of the financial sector - can be traced directly to Reagan-s policies. The financial deregulation launched in the 1980s freed banks and securities firms to squander hundreds of billions of dollars and make a shambles of the economy. Boom-and-bust cycles, obscene CEO salaries, blackouts, drug-company scandals, collapsing bridges, plummeting wages for working people, the flight of U.S. manufacturing abroad - these are all products of Reagan-s free-market zealotry and his gutting of the public sector. Reagan pioneered the use of wedge issues like race and the war on drugs to distract America while his administration empowered corporations to lay waste to our traditional ways of life. In the spirit of Thomas Frank-s What-s the Matter With Kansas, Kleinknecht even take us to Reagan-s hometown of Dixon, Illinois, to show that he was anything but a friend to Main Street America. Relying on detailed factual analysis rather than opinion, The Man Who Sold the World is the first major work to explode the Reagan myth.

Customer Reviews:

  • A much-needed summary
    Within a couple of days of each other, this volume and Will Bunch's "Tear Down This Myth" were released. The Reagan theologians were on the warpath and criticized both authors for being, essentially, blasphemers. But both texts have been long awaited.

    This book has so much in it--in my case that means I nearly drained a highlighter--that it's difficult to summarize. There is a chronological element to it, but the text is more thematic in its approach. The introduction gives us a taste of what we'll find throughout the book, e.g., that before Reagan there were regulations governing advertising in children's television programming. No longer during and post-Reagan. There were questions of value later discussed in greater detail, e.g., the ethic of consumption having reached dogmatic proportions during Reagan, rather than responsibility to one's community.

    The book then starts with Reagan's roots in Dixon, IL. It's fascinating in that it covers Reagan's upbringing, his father's alcoholism and its influence on Reagan's behavior, but doesn't get over-burdened in psychobabble. And among the highlights of the chapter is that Reaganomics was a disaster for Dixon! That chapter also summarizes many of Reagan's political roots, especially where his support came from among the moneyed interests. And it summarizes some of Reagan's changes, from a liberal union leader (SAG) to an anti-tax reactionary and snitch for the FBI.

    The author discussed Reagan's relationship with Tip O'Neill, speaker of the house at the time. I was in grad school then and I recall O'Neill as challenging a president who called upon religious values yet didn't even attend church on Sunday.

    There was enough history in the text to understand what had been happening before the Reagan "values" came home to roost. The author covers a number of laws which ensured the safety of the public, most of which were thrown out once Reagan was in office. The McFadden Act, passed before the Depression, aimed to help out community banking by restricting the ability of financial institutions to operate in more than one state, and the Glass-Steagall Act (1933) broke up unethical collusion between banks and brokerage houses. They were designed to protect the consumer--you and me--yet, Reagan, or his handlers, effectively dismantled them. And among the consequences were the $150 billion savings and loan bailout in the 1980s and the disaster in which we find ourselves today--for both of which we taxpayers are paying dearly.

    The author reminds us several times throughout the book that the US economy was doing best historically when we were watching out for each other, rather than appointing corporate chieftains to regulate--or not--themselves. He also makes connections between those "values" that were dominant during the Reagan years and what dilemmas we're facing today.

    Among the more important elements of the book was how Reagan's regime changed the values of Washington. The Republicans running for president in 2008, for example, all declared their following in Ronnie's footsteps--as if that was a good thing!

    An important chapter of the book addressed issues of corporate mergers which became the trend while Reagan was in office. They were a consequence of Reagan's disregard for anti-trust policy. Kleinnecht, by the way, refers to Reagan's complete disregard for many a law, when Reagan told corporate leaders that he won't enforce the regulations!

    In "Wrecking Crew," Thomas Frank refers to statements made in the early 20th century by acclaimed "conservatives" that to dismantle government, be sure to place unqualified people to run regulatory agencies. One of the inadvertently "amusing" portions of the book refers to characters who were responsible for Reagan's Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Whether it makes you laugh or cry, that's up to you, but the evidence is solid that the Reagan administration learned from those whom Frank had quoted.

    And those who're not Reagan fans will remember that Ed Meese, Reagan's attorney general, said that those accused of crime must be guilty. In a chapter entitled "The Man with the Badge," some of those of the Reaganut idiosyncrasies were exposed. Think: an attorney general with such disregard for the constitution. That may be a fair summary of the whole book!

    A portion I almost forgot to include is a summary of Peggy Noonan's book "When Character was King" and a Meese memoir of the Reagan administration: 1) There really was no evidence of any "character" in the Noonan book and (2) Meese warmly recollected Reagan's activities as if ANYONE else you worked with wouldn't have done the same thing!

    Again, there is so much in this fine book that I cannot do it justice by reviewing it here. The author relies on credible sources--despite what the Reagan theologians would like to admit. There were references in the text to the crimes for which an unprecedented number of Reagan's lieutenants were indicted and/or convicted. I wish the author had covered more on the Iran-Contra scandal for which the administration was afraid of Reagan's impeachment. Yes, those issues have been covered by other books, particularly Draper's "A Very Thin Line." But, since that was among the most conspicuous--and damning--of the Reagan criminality, I wish it had been covered a little more.

    Most important, I guess, is to read this and recollect that we need a sense of collective values, the antithesis of that for which Reagan ostensibly stood--if we're all to survive the present day disaster which is a by-product of the Reagan years.
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  • Not Even Good Fiction
    Ronald Reagan won the Cold War and restored America's confidence, while the economy awoke from a decade of malaise and boomed after his drastic tax reductions. Interest rates were 21% for mortgages, inflation, and unemployment were greater than 10 percent when he took office. Income tax rates were as high as 70 percent when he came into office, and as low as 28 percent when he left... lower than they are in 2009. ...more info
  • It's all true
    I loathed the Reagan era. And the lack of accurate history about it astonishes me. Five stars. (And I've read the book.)...more info
  • Breathtaking
    No more can really be said. It left me breathless. What a read! Not-put-downable. Breathtaking! The crash of a world economy wrought by the gospel of greed. He soaked, sold out, bilked and bamboozled the very Americans who he claimed to champion. He set the policies and practices that sucked America dry like a lemon only throw away the empty, bankrupt, skin. He dismantled the New Deal, dis-empowered the unions, castrated government For The People, and left us with nothing left to steal. Behold the ruins and the infamy of Reaganomics! And we are left with the socialized risk. Here's your "change" chumps. He laid it all on the backs of the little man and the middle class that lies in shambles. This book makes Ronald Reagan and all his cohorts imminently worthy of the guillotine. Evil Empire indeed! ...more info
  • The Flim-Flam Man
    William Kleinknecht is a veteran reporter for the Newark NJ `Star-Ledger' who won awards from the Associated Press. He analyzes Reagan's legacy to show how it has devastated the country of ordinary Americans. [No mention of Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II.] Today's economic troubles (the failures of the financial sector) originated from the financial deregulation of the 1980s. [No mention of Congress.] Falling wages, higher taxes, the devalued dollar, and the loss of manufacturing jobs (NAFTA) have impoverished Americans. The `Introduction' says this book will expose the reality behind the myth of a popular Reagan. His smiling charisma triumphed like emotion over reason. Or was that the advertising in the media? Kleinknecht says Reagan was "the least patriotic president in American history" (p.xi). His policies helped to wipe-out high-paying jobs in manufacturing and weaken families all around the country. Small businesses and plants were closed (p.xii). Corporate pressure banned a historical drama about "The Reagans" (p.xiii).

    This book focuses on domestic policy and the damage done to Americans, particularly in small towns between the coasts. The bottom 40% of households went from a net worth of $4,700 to minus $4,100 during Reagan's terms (p.xx). The middle 20% grew by about 6% from 1983-89. This was caused by corporate decisions (p.xvii). They concentrated on mergers and acquisitions rather than better products (p.xviii). Prosperity was highest when "government activism" peaked (p.xix). Labor unions were at an all-time high. "Treating public offices as a vehicle for their own enrichment" began centuries before Reagan (p.xx). "Are you better off that you were four years ago" is always a good measurement (p.xxii). Shouldn't parents be blamed for allowing children to watch so much TV (p.xxiii)? "Hollywood trash" is funded mostly by Wall Street investors who donate to both parties (p.xviv). It is not true that slashing income taxes will increase tax revenues (p.xxvii). Deregulating the financial sector did not benefit most Americans. ["The Market" is a concept like "The Weather" that reflects reality but is not a compass to guide our future path.]

    Reagan's policies failed to save family farms in the 1980s (p.10). [Was this to benefit corporate agriculture?] Reagan was the "liberator of the entrepreneurial class" (p.52), the `nouveau riche' (p.59). Most businesses were locally owned in the 1920s (p.64), the Great Depression helped large corporations to grow and impoverished small towns. Chapter 4 reminds us how government regulations and tariffs created the national railroad system and large manufacturers. The ICC was created to prevent state regulation of the railroads (p.81), and example where the industry controlled the regulators. Inflation is mostly caused by printing paper money that has no intrinsic value (p.85); this increases the money supply and lowers interest rates (p.87). The Great Depression was not caused by "government mismanagement" (p.89). Inflation created higher taxes on ordinary Americans (p.97).

    Chapter 5 explains how the repeal of regulations lead to today's financial crises (p.105). Reagan attacked health and safety regulations (p.111). Chapter 6 tells about the mergers and acquisitions of corporate raiders. Too much debt can lead to bankruptcy (p.137). Mergers squeezed wealth from corporations and led to lower profits and devalued shares (p.139). Antitrust enforcement ceased (p.144). Leveraged buyouts led to looted corporations (p.146). Did management loot the shareholders (p.150)? Creating huge companies from mergers led to instability (p.153). The complaints in Chapter 8 describe some distant past of "the good old days" which never were. HUD was mismanaged (pp.197-202), so too the EPA (p.204). Was Reagan involved in decision making (Chapter 9)? Reagan hid "his real agenda" (p.218) and attacked the people's right to know (p.221). Other rights were attacked (p.228); so too Bush and Clinton (p.231). Was Reagan gullible and befuddled (p.235)? Chronic unemployment causes the break-up of families (p.268).
    Kleinknecht seems to believe that all of our problems were due to Reagan, and ignores the Presidents before and after him. Does a country get the government it deserves?
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  • Comes from an award-winning journalist
    THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD: RONALD REAGAN AND THE BETRAYAL OF MAIN STREET AMERICA comes from an award-winning journalist who offers an analysis of the Reagan legacy - which has been devastating for the country. So much modern woe can be directly traced to Reagan's policies - and THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD identifies these, offering a survey of his pioneering and ultimately dangerous policies. A 'must' for a range of libraries, from general-interest collections to those strong in political science and American history.
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  • An effective polemic
    Had a discussion a couple of years back with a politician (liberal) on the subject of comparing Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush. His argument was that Reagan damaged the country more than Bush did - that his policies set the pattern and created the framework for what Bush would extend so significantly three terms later on.

    This book makes the most of that argument, that the pattern and path set by Reagan were what allowed for so many of the excesses of the second Bush Administration, even if Reagan himself never went quite that far. (In a few spots, the book suggests that Reagan himself would have been appalled at some of what transpired in this decade.) It is a polemic, an argument, and it isn't a balanced book on Reagan. That isn't its mission; somewhat like Seymour Hersh's The Dark Side of Camelot, its purpose is as a corrective to a side of that story that in recent years hasn't gotten enough attention. If it strains a little at times, it also contains a pile of useful material on parts of the Reagan years too easily forgotten, or maybe never learned by those who came of age since.

    It is also, by the way, solely devoted to Reagan's domestic activities. Will he do a sequel on Reagan's foreign policy?...more info