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Joseph A. Palermo Headshot

An Economic Katrina

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At this point in the Bush presidency most of us expect him to be totally indifferent to the plight of millions of Americans who have lost their homes in subprime Ponzi schemes. But who could imagine the son of the Carlyle Group being so cavalier in the face of Wall Street losses that might even "trickle up" to touch some of his daddy's friends?

On Friday, Bear Stearns, one of the largest firms on Wall Street, took a deathly plunge and the Federal Reserve (part of "Big Government") had no choice but to float a short-term bailout to the venerable investment-banking house lest the nation's financial system possibly collapse. At the Economic Club in New York, President George W. Bush did little to reassure a jittery Wall Street by saying, in effect: "Brownie, You're doin' a heckuva job."

Now that the "vision" for America of the cardsharps and market fundamentalists has born its bitter fruit, what is there to say to the Club for Growth, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the CATO Institute, Americans for Tax Reform, the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and other "think tanks" that have replaced academia as economic policy makers in the Bush years?

In the 1980s, it was the Savings and Loan industry. In the 1990s, it was the dot.com stock bubble. Then came Enron, Worldcom, and Global Crossing, and now we're facing an even more devastating economic crisis.

It's a familiar story: Corporations and trade associations hire lobbyists and donate campaign cash to gain access to elected officials. They pitch the virtues of "deregulation" citing "studies" from think tanks they finance, and imply there'll be plenty of money to go around for future campaigns. The cronies in Washington follow through and snip out laws and regulations that were carefully put in place by earlier lawmakers. The hucksters and profiteers poised to make big bucks on the new lax regulatory environment rush in and abuse it for all it's worth. And then they dump the wreckage on to society and on to the taxpayer.

The profits-driven propaganda of the free marketeers has filtered into the crevices of our popular imagination. We have soaked up the mythology that markets work magically if only government would leave them unfettered. Mantra-like, we hear it repeated through the corporate media. The right-wing think tanks produce cooked up studies "proving" that regulation is "costly" to airline travelers, or utility rate payers, or consumers of shipping services, etc. but they ignore the much larger costs that are passed on to society resulting from deregulation such as the last big stock crash that burned through $7 trillion in misallocated investment capital.

And to what end is this de-regulation frenzy? In what direction do they wish to take the nation? What do they want the United States to accomplish over the next 20 years? Where are we heading? We've already seen what unbridled capitalism looks like. Charles Dickens described it vividly. I guess this is part of the "vision thing" that George Herbert Walker Bush used to talk about.

Enacting policies that worsened the current accounts deficits and trade imbalances, ballooned the $9.7 trillion national debt, threw away $12 billion a month occupying Iraq, created $250 billion-plus yearly budget deficits, tore apart pensions, inflated the cost of gasoline and heating oil, tanked the dollar, and all the other attendant ills of the Bush regime sure are strange ways of expressing "patriotism." Many historians thought the nation had already learned the lesson from the Great Depression that greed is not only bad morals but also bad economics.

And can anyone imagine what the current crisis would have done to Social Security if Bush had gotten his way and tossed a third of the trust fund to his friends on Wall Street?

Bush appointed Foxes to guard the chicken coops. But what happens after the Foxes have eaten all of the chickens?

Some of the nation's leading economists predict the Iraq occupation will ultimately cost $3 trillion. What makes John McCain or anybody else believe we can afford that kind of expenditure amidst the current economic meltdown?

It's astonishing that people who wear flag lapel pins and constantly extol their "patriotism" and question the patriotism of their political opponents have caused so much damage to a country (and a people) they claim to love so much. And this is only the beginning.