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The Presidency of Ronald Reagan, 1981-89

2. Big Government

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In this module, we think about Reagan's approach to government spending, focusing in particular on: (i) the tradition in US politics, and in the Democratic Party in particular, for high government spending on social security, e.g. Roosevelt's 'New Deal', Truman's 'Fair Deal', Johnson's 'Great Society'; (ii) Reagan's belief that high government spending had a deleterious effect on the US economy and society; (iii) Reagan's consolidation of social security programmes in the United States, including Medicare and Medicaid; (iv) the difference between discretionary and mandatory spending in the US budget, and the importance of the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1987; (v) the impact of deregulation, especially in the media industry with the abandonment of the right of reply in 1987; (vi) the importance of the Cold War in Reagan's approach to government spending and the expansion of defence spending; (vii) the reduction in foreign aid spending; (viii) the contrast between the reality of Reagan's approach to government spending and his legacy in conservative memory/mythology today.


In this course, Professor Iwan Morgan (University College, London) explores the presidency of Ronald Reagan (1981-89). In the first module, we think about Reagan's handling of the economy, focusing in particular on the shift away from the economic orthodoxy of the past fifty years to adopt supply-side economics and monetarism. After that, we think about Reagan's attempts to reduce government spending, before turning in the third module to consider his impact on American culture and society. In the fourth module, we think about the broad political changes that took place during Reagan's administration, before turning in the fifth and final module to consider the extent to which Reagan restored the prestige of an office that had been diminished by Vietnam, Watergate, and the underwhelming administrations of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter.


Iwan Morgan is Professor of US Studies at the Institute of the Americas, University College London, and also holds an honorary position as Commonwealth Fund Chair of American History in the UCL Department of History.

Professor Morgan is a distinguished fellow of the Rothermere American Institute, University of Oxford. He was awarded the British Association of American Studies Honorary Fellowship in 2014 in recognition of his contributions to the discipline over the course of his career; his work The Age of Deficits (Kansas University Press, 2009), won the American Politics Group's 2010 Richard Neustadt Book Prize.

Professor Morgan has published widely in various fields of modern US political history and in political economy. Much of his work has a presidential focus. He is director of the United States Presidency Centre. He was also chair of the executive committee of the Historians of the Twentieth Century United States from 2007 to 2013. He was a member of the executive committee of the British Association of American Studies in 2009-2012.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Morgan, I. (2021, March 05). The Presidency of Ronald Reagan, 1981-89 - Big Government [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Morgan, I. "The Presidency of Ronald Reagan, 1981-89 – Big Government." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 05 Mar 2021,

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