LOOKING FONDLY BACK AT THE REAGAN YEARS

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The 1980s are getting new respect.

For a while pundits were taking great delight in bashing the '80s as the greed decade during which the dealmakers cleaned up but everybody else found it tough. , especially during the election campaign, ran story after story about how the rich got richer and the poor got poorer in that wretched period.

Now, magically, there has been a transforma tion. The 1980s are the years when our economy got leaner and we began to regain our productivity lead ership. In the last half of the '80s, it now develops, productivity in the auto industry rose 10% a year.

"You're seeing today the results of actions undertaken in the second half of the '80s," Stanley Gault, the ceo of Goodyear, told the Times.

Even the greed part of the greed decade may not have been so bad.

The focus by investors and bankers on the previous quarter's bottom line "may turn out to be less of a handicap than some argue. Impatient institutional investors blew the whistle when profits shrank, as did bank lenders without the cozy ties to corporate boards that exist in Japan and Germany," the Times acknowledges.

Can you believe it? The same Times writer who spent most of 1992 wringing her hands over the state of the economy is currently of the opinion that the investment bankers who got rich during the '80s on the backs of the rest of society played a very beneficial role in re-establishing our economic pre-eminence. The next thing I'll read is that junk bonds were the mover and driver and Michael Milken should be voted Man of the Decade.

But wait, there's more. All those layoffs we endured during the '80s actually produced "important gains. ... the number of new jobs has far outstripped the number of jobs lost in recent years," the Times stated.

I'm sure President Reagan will be glad to hear that, upon further reflection, he didn't preside over a sinking, or even foundering, ship. But I can't help wonder why, at this particular time, it has been proclaimed Politically Correct to view the 1980s as having some redeeming qualities. The obvious answer, of course, is that the Times' man, President Clinton, needs all the help he can get in view of his mounting Whitewater problems. It's hard to see how Bill Clinton can get credit for the rise in productivity over the last nine years, but the theory the Times is probably working under is that any good news could rub off on the president. The news has been incredibly bad. Sen. Mitchell is the fifth Democratic senator to throw in the towel this year, and Rep. Rostenkowski had the audacity to say he'd consider holding hearings on Whitewater (I'll bet Clinton wonders why he bothered to go to Chicago to try to pull Danny's fat out of the fire).

It's comforting for me to note that revisionist history, as it applies to the 1980s, isn't carved in stone.

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