March 16, 2008

The Bush Economy: End of the "Almighty Dollar"?

After the American Century

The US mortgage crisis and the falling prices for houses have been making headlines for months. The stock market is also jittery because consumer spending has begun to fall, as homeowners feel the equity shrink. In a few cities, such as Cleveland, a glut of unsold homes on the market has created a crisis. Housing values are in free fall. Even though most people are not selling their homes, when the value of a house drops, it has a psychological effect.

Bear-Stearns was part of the rush of speculators who got caught up in the housing bubble, stimulating the market, acquiring sub-prime mortgages, luring people to buy homes they could not afford. And now, Bear-Stearns, on the brink of collapse, has been "saved" for a little while, at any rate. Why did the Bush Administration not try to save the homeowners? Then it might have saved Bear Stearns as a secondary result. Why is a speculative corporation more worth saving than several million home owners? This is the Bush double standard at work.

Of course, if Bear Stearns collapses, other investment houses and even some banks might collapse as well. (It might be the domino effect, which never happened in Vietnam, but maybe this is where the under performing domino effect can make a comeback.)

If a really big organization like Bear Stearns is run badly, society has to pay for it twice - first by suffering the effects, and second by bailing out the people who inflicted the suffering. Instead, Bush should take a truly conservative line: corporations that are run badly should not expect a government handout. Their overpaid executives, many of whom make more money in one year the most working people make in their entire lives, should not helped. Rather, the victims of such corporations should be protected from unscrupulous lenders.

My father was a lifelong Republican, of the old school. He had actually read Adam Smith. He was an engineer and an educator who ended his career as a college dean. He also was a investor. But his fellow Republicans wandered far off the path of hard work, stewardship, and honesty, and he was robbed in the last years of his retirement by Enron. That corporation's brazen lies, arrogance, and manipulations knew no bounds, and the executives of that corporation were campaign contributors to George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

A few of Enron's executives have been sent to prison, but the Bush Administration did not punish many, and the punishments were mild compared to the economic destruction they caused. The executives cooked their books and issued misleading profit statements, when they were really losing money. Near the end, they quietly began selling their own stock holdings, since they knew that the company was close to worthless. But they would not let their employees sell their stock, and many lost everything. Enron's leaders milked the company literally to death, as they robbed investors and abandoned their employees, who lost their jobs and their pensions.

That is how the Bush League Economy works. It started by giving huge tax cuts to the wealthy. It continued by letting many of the white-collar criminals from ENRON get away. In Iraq, it was time to give away billion dollar contracts (with no competitive bidding) to Bechtel executives and other old friends. And now it is time to bail out Bear Stearns. Save the capitalists, and the American public be damned? Actually it is worse than that.

The Bush economy apparently will end with a debacle much bigger than the collapse of Enron. Does this prove that the Republicans cannot safeguard the economy for the well-being of all Americans? No, it is much worse than that. The Republicans have failed to safeguard the value of the dollar itself, which is plunging to new lows. Things will continue to get worse before they can have any hope of getting better, because the Bear Stearns bailout requires the US Federal Reserve to print more money, making the dollar even less valuable. Ominously, the oil markets are beginning to operate in other currencies, and one wonders if the dollar will ever again be "almighty". If things get much worse, this blog might have to change its title to "After the American Economy."