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Zapped by the 'Ray-Gun'

Ronald Reagan is my hero.


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That was so hard to say. You have no idea.

The teflon president, the man who rambled about Santa Barbara, Calif., during a presidential debate, who allowed aides to mug the United States Constitution. The great leader who regarded Reader's Digest as a research tool, for goodness sake.

I could go on, but it hurts.

Nonetheless, I have two children in college, am about to buy a home, have a retirement account in pretty good shape. And I have just read this week's Work & Money.

Ronald Reagan. M'main man.

Place your pupils, dear reader, on Shelley Coolidge's article to the right. Children are walking out of college and into jobs worth 40 grand a year. Some companies are so desperate for high-tech hires, they raid the classroom before graduation.

Keep in mind that these are 20-year-old, glorified calculator jockeys, not really important people like professional basketball players.

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Now flip to Page B3. That which Americans treasure as their national heritage, the crucible of the culture, the thing that brings "Oprah" in 35-inch, digitally enriched, surround-sounded color - the television set - is about to get cheaper.

Does it get any better?

Mortgage rates are falling, inflation has skedaddled, unemployment is lower than experts thought possible, the stock market has almost tripled this decade, and platform shoes are back in style.

Open up Pages B6 and B7. Almost a third of the global economy remains tangled in a financial crisis, yet the impact here ranges from minimal to positive.

Economists think the Asian meltdown could shave half a percentage point off US growth next year, but prices on consumer goods and mortgage rates will fall.

This is a consumer bonanza. And, especially for investors who start shifting their money into bonds, the stock market fallout seems muted.

Who gets the credit?

Richard Nixon doesn't, but he once remarked that the US economy is so strong that it would take a genius to break it.

So Bill Clinton gets credit for either not being that smart or knowing not to stand in front of a locomotive.

Most of the kudos, though, appear to possibly go perhaps in some significant and maybe subliminal way (I told you this was hard to say) ... to President Reagan, and for reasons that explain why Asian economies are caught in a monsoon while the US basks in the sun.

Reaganomics gave us deregulation. Entire industries - energy, airlines, financial services - were freed from too many government rules in the 1980s and allowed to bring prosperity in the '90s.

And that which lighted the fires in the US has torched economies from Japan to Thailand. They maintained state-run or state-protected industries, marching to the beat of government inefficiency and corruption rather than free markets. And the free markets pulled the plug.

Reagan also lowered top tax rates from 70 percent to about 28 percent, and he launched a defense budget that essentially drove the other guy out of business.

Admittedly, Paul Volcker, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, merits much credit for killing the inflation monster.

But Reagan helped forge a business community ready to grow when economic conditions stopped standing in the way.

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