It is a waste of time to jump up and down and scream about the ludicrous nature of the Republicans “ideas” about the economy, and, specifically, the proposal put forth by John Boehner regarding the phony debt and deficit “crisis”. These people are nuts and, worse, they either lie or are ignorant about the facts when it comes to the economy. So, it’s more important, in my humble opinion, to ponder the proposals floated out there by people who claim to be representing the “left” or “center” and, even more astonishing, “the last good economy”.
In case you wonder who claims to be among the people who brought you “the last good economy”, you guessed it. Ladies and gents, it’s the retreads from the Clinton Administration who are just aching to get back into power.
It is only because of the foolish, disastrous stewardship of the economy under Republican presidents and Republican Congresses that people look at the Clinton years as somehow a time when we had “a good economy”. I’m going to come back to the specific proposal that triggered this post in a sec — and chat about these retreads. But, first…
Just to keep in mind these facts, and I am only focusing on a few key ones because this could go on and on and on:
During the Clinton “good economy”, the people in charge — including the president and his Secretary of Labor Robert Reich (who, as is his habit, has remade himself into a new persona that fits with whatever is “hot” at the moment) — promoted so-called “free trade”, starting out with NAFTA, passed in 1993. The global class warfare that so-called “free trade” ignited in the 1990s is, at heart, one of the reasons people struggle today to make a decent living.
During the Clinton “good economy”, all this chest-puffing about the creation of millions of new jobs ignores the fact that wages still were not keeping pace with productivity — partly because Clinton had no real interest in unions, except when he needed to collect a campaign check. So, people were sinking deeper into debt. It also ignores, conveniently, that much of the economic “growth” was a lot like eating…Twinkies…because as Twinkies may not last, neither would an economic “growth” that was powered by stock market bubbles and, in particular, the Internet-driven bubble, which started in Clinton’s second term partly driven by the mania of deregulation and low interest rates.
Ah…deregulation. It’s hard to find a president, certainly a Democratic president, who was so focused on letting business interests off the leash. Keep in mind just two examples. First, wonky as it may sound: The Telecommunications Act of 1996. No law in the past 60 years gave more power to media companies, triggering consolidation and powerful concentration of the media into a few hands. Al Gore did get a bad rap about whether he invented the Internet — it was his boss who reshaped the media and communications landscape, in a very bad way for consumers and democracy. It also helped fill up the Democratic Party’s coffers with lots of campaign cash.
And, you can blame, rightly so, all the Wall Street greedy bastards who looted the economy and drove millions of people on to the unemployment lines. But, it was Clinton, and his Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin (who I will come to in a moment) who gave the Wall Street low-lifes the keys to the bank: the 1999 repeal of the Glass Steagall Act removed the separation between commercial banks, insurers and investment banks. It allowed the self-dealing, manipulation of mortgages and interests rates and accelerated the shifting of huge wealth into the hands of a few.
During the Clinton “good economy”, the decline of organized labor continued. The president, and his Secretary of Labor, did very little to arrest the decline. In fact, when the ban on striker replacements came before the Senate, the president did virtually nothing to pressure his two fellow Arkansan Senators to vote to end a Republican-led filibuster — and the bill died, short of those two votes to force it to the floor. How many people lost their jobs in legal strikes, or were afraid to organize a union lest they lose their jobs, because Clinton and Reich let that bill die?
I could go on.
But, just remember this: the Clinton years were horrendous for the average worker, and for democracy.
Now, come the retreads to offer us salvation via a proposal from, among others, Roger Altman, William Daley, John Podesta, Robert Rubin, Leslie Samuels, and Lawrence Summers. The unveiling of the proposal, of course, comes with the usual self-promotional, self-congratulatory, smug, “listen to us, we can fix this, we know how this is done”.
There are really only two things you need to know about this proposal. One, it pretty much tracks what the current president wants to do, but raises a little more money by tinkering around the edges.
Second, and this is the most important point, it does virtually nothing — nothing — to change the vast divide between rich and poor, the shoveling of wealth to a small elite, the on-going assault against wages (the proposal does not use the word “union” even once– and any proposal that does not contemplate empowering organized labor is a failed economic proposal).
Why is that?
Well, just ponder two names.
William Daley. Daley was Clinton’s “czar” on NAFTA. He engineered the passage of NAFTA, using legalized bribery (this is all richly detailed in the Center for Public Integrity’s “The Trading Game: Inside Lobbying for North American Trade Agreement“). And Daley is one of those fixers, the bridge between the political world and business.
Robert Rubin. My favorite. This proposal is, in some way, a cleansing of Rubin, who has spent the past 3-4 years, evading his responsibility for the financial crisis, (mainly, in his role at Citigroup) by blaming others and, then, dropping below the radar screen. And it could be said, after reading his sworn testimony before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, that he outright lied; if not lies of an indictable nature, then, certainly he had a convenient loss of memory and recollection.
I wrote about this in detail here. My conclusion, then, was simple:
Robert Rubin believes in the foolish system we have had in place for the past three decades. No, he helped put in place, guard, defend and use that very system.
Conclusion: Robert Rubin Should Be Radioactive. Giving him a forum, a way to rehabilitate himself, is a stain on the Democratic Party
There is strong evidence that he has not been truthful about his role in the financial crisis.
At best, he bungled his role at Citigroup, or, at best, was asleep at the wheel while collecting millions of dollars in compensation–so it just defies logic that anyone would turn to him for advice on how to run anything.
But, most important, he carries the flag of a discredited economic philosophy. If Democrats want to keep walking behind that standard-bearer, then, we have not learned anything–and woe to the people of this country, and the planet, if we continue to blindly repeat the mistakes of the past 30-40 years by defending an economic system that has impoverished the many while enriching the few.
I’m not much for the spectrum thing, as in figuring out whether to call these retreads “centrists” or whatever. I use the term “center” in the headline but the more important term is “elite”. These folks do not want to change the system that has fed them quite well.
They are not simply retreads. They are dangerous and false prophets.