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Hullabaloo


Sunday, December 16, 2007

 
Digging Through The Rubble

by digby


Joseph Stiglitz writes in the new issue of Vanity Fair:

When we look back someday at the catastrophe that was the Bush administration, we will think of many things: the tragedy of the Iraq war, the shame of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, the erosion of civil liberties. The damage done to the American economy does not make front-page headlines every day, but the repercussions will be felt beyond the lifetime of anyone reading this page.

[...]

Up to now, the conventional wisdom has been that Herbert Hoover, whose policies aggravated the Great Depression, is the odds-on claimant for the mantle “worst president” when it comes to stewardship of the American economy. Once Franklin Roosevelt assumed office and reversed Hoover’s policies, the country began to recover. The economic effects of Bush’s presidency are more insidious than those of Hoover, harder to reverse, and likely to be longer-lasting. There is no threat of America’s being displaced from its position as the world’s richest economy. But our grandchildren will still be living with, and struggling with, the economic consequences of Mr. Bush.


Read it and weep. It goes on to lay it all out in excruciating (and depressing) detail culminating with this:


Whoever moves into the White House in January 2009 will face an unenviable set of economic circumstances. Extricating the country from Iraq will be the bloodier task, but putting America’s economic house in order will be wrenching and take years.

The most immediate challenge will be simply to get the economy’s metabolism back into the normal range. That will mean moving from a savings rate of zero (or less) to a more typical savings rate of, say, 4 percent. While such an increase would be good for the long-term health of America’s economy, the short-term consequences would be painful. Money saved is money not spent. If people don’t spend money, the economic engine stalls. If households curtail their spending quickly—as they may be forced to do as a result of the meltdown in the mortgage market—this could mean a recession; if done in a more measured way, it would still mean a protracted slowdown. The problems of foreclosure and bankruptcy posed by excessive household debt are likely to get worse before they get better. And the federal government is in a bind: any quick restoration of fiscal sanity will only aggravate both problems.

And in any case there’s more to be done. What is required is in some ways simple to describe: it amounts to ceasing our current behavior and doing exactly the opposite. It means not spending money that we don’t have, increasing taxes on the rich, reducing corporate welfare, strengthening the safety net for the less well off, and making greater investment in education, technology, and infrastructure.

When it comes to taxes, we should be trying to shift the burden away from things we view as good, such as labor and savings, to things we view as bad, such as pollution. With respect to the safety net, we need to remember that the more the government does to help workers improve their skills and get affordable health care the more we free up American businesses to compete in the global economy. Finally, we’ll be a lot better off if we work with other countries to create fair and efficient global trade and financial systems. We’ll have a better chance of getting others to open up their markets if we ourselves act less hypocritically—that is, if we open our own markets to their goods and stop subsidizing American agriculture.

Some portion of the damage done by the Bush administration could be rectified quickly. A large portion will take decades to fix—and that’s assuming the political will to do so exists both in the White House and in Congress. Think of the interest we are paying, year after year, on the almost $4 trillion of increased debt burden—even at 5 percent, that’s an annual payment of $200 billion, two Iraq wars a year forever. Think of the taxes that future governments will have to levy to repay even a fraction of the debt we have accumulated. And think of the widening divide between rich and poor in America, a phenomenon that goes beyond economics and speaks to the very future of the American Dream.

In short, there’s a momentum here that will require a generation to reverse. Decades hence we should take stock, and revisit the conventional wisdom. Will Herbert Hoover still deserve his dubious mantle? I’m guessing that George W. Bush will have earned one more grim superlative.


*sigh*

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