How Bush Ruined the Free Market
(or Why Your Cousin on Wall Street Can't Bet With Your Money Anymore)
Do you realize it took George Bush longer to "win" his war against a small, third world nation once led by a third-rate dictator than it took us the U.S. to defeat the two empires of Germany & Japan in World War II? Well, while Karl Rove, Ari Fleischer, and Dick Cheney continue to make their case for W's legacy on national security, they missed their president's most astounding accomplishment of all.
No one since the era of slavery has done more damage to the free market than George W. Bush.
During his eight years in office, Bush created policies that effectively canceled the fundamental operation of the free market economy. He and his Republican majority in Congress (1994-2006 R.I.P.) killed their sacred bull thinking, in fact, that they were worshiping it.
Here's how. Truly free markets depend on two essential ingredients to succeed. The first is greed (or the desire to succeed, get rich, achieve, innovate, and so on). The second is risk. Risk governs greed and prevents greed from getting out of control and knocking the market out of balance. Simply put, if you're afraid of losing all your money, you work harder to make smart decisions about what to do with it. Our recently past president removed risk and left only unmitigated, unwatched, untamed greed.
Free markets depend on greed -- at least those markets that, when working properly, have allowed our nation to become not just the wealthiest, but also the most medically, technologically, and economically advanced nation in history. That's not a statement on whether greed is good or bad. In this case, it is simply as important to the economic engine as fuel is to a car engine. If you want to drive, you gotta put something in the tank.
The risk of failure (or, for Wall Street, losing gobs of money) once made the economically powerful stop and think. Then came a Bush SEC that refused to do its limited job of overseeing proper accounting practices, ignored corporations' responsibilities to their shareholders, and failed to follow leads on crooks like Bernie Madoff until it was far too late. On top of that, tax benefits went to those who were wealthiest -- whether or not the money they earned was based on hard work or just came from "guaranteed" bonuses and "passive" income. Republicans won the class warfare war.
That's certainly not all. Rev. Bush preached a good sermon on the ownership society in 2004. While it is good when folks own their own homes, it is not good when lenders can give someone a mortgage that they cannot afford simply because that lender got a sales commission every time he loaned an irresponsible home buyer somebody else's money. Bush encouraged the market to take the sub-prime floor out and, even when things were clearly going too far, looked the other way in the name of deregulatory ideology.
I would go on with more examples, but by now only Karl and Dick still don't get what I'm saying.
It was a perfect market during Bush's White House years -- perfect for the greedy. But it was not a free market because nothing -- neither the market nor the government -- inserted any risk.
Bush and his Republican Party have confused and conflated greed and ideology. They have even connected greed to right-wing theology by arguing, as NY Times best-selling minister Joel Osteen has said, "God wants us to prosper financially."
Which brings me to another point ... Which Sunday school class did I miss where Jesus went to see his rich buddies in the country club, promised them a tax cut, and then ran off to pre-emptively start a war? I thought He was hanging out with children, prostitutes, criminals, and cripples.
The GOP's stated ideology of smaller government, individual responsibility, and moral behavior surely could not have resulted in economic policies that have resulted in what Barack Obama now must clean up:
* more people out of work than at any time in decades
* the end of the budget surplus that Bill Clinton deeded to George Bush
* a federal government that was bloated by cronyism at best and criminal malfeasance at worst
* the short-term government control, beginning with strokes of Bush's pen in 2007 & 2008,
of many large banks
* and, worst of all, the destruction of millions of Americans' hard-earned life savings while
corporate executives and government leaders argued that they deserved their golden parachutes,
fat tax cuts, and free government bailout money
While people like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity rant on about the Democrats' desire to destroy our nation's free market economy, they have chosen to ignore the fact that Bush was president for the last two terms. Listen to them this week. The NEVER mention his name. But it was their cowboy hero of the past eight years who almost succeeded in slaughtering the sacred market bull.