And yes, I know the political and economic machinery was already in place before Bush took the reins. The question is– on top of the endless list of other sectors and industries (not to mention competitiveness of the United States abroad) left in ruins as a direct result of this administration— how much did (the thankfully departed) Bush influence the economic collapse? Here, TIME/CNN highlights the not-so-smart calls. Since I hate click-whore web setups, I’ll just list them here.
1. The Return to Deficits: Bush’s tax cuts and spending increases — and clear disdain for the pay-as-you-go approach that had brought deficits down in the 1990s — brought a return to permanent deficits.
2. Iraq: Even if you STILL think we had a logical reason to go to Iraq, and that the war brought benefits to the U.S., does the $1-3 trillion dollar (and growing) price tag justify this huge blunder?;
3. Tax Cuts for the Rich: Bush came to Washington facing almost diametrically opposing economic conditions, yet he offered up the same Reaganomics solutions.
4. Financial Regulation: What is true is that most Bush-era financial regulators were less than enthusiastic about the very act of regulating, and that Bush’s “ownership society” push glossed over a lot of potential dangers.
5. Telling Us to Go Shopping: After 9/11, Bush didn’t call for sacrifice. And people blindly heeded the call to go shopping.
6. Energy Policy: What energy policy?
7. A State of Denial: Every Administration spins and sugarcoats the economic truth. But the Bush White House took this disingenuousness to new levels (dissent is apparently non-Christian, against democracy, against the troops and against the US)
8. The Muddled Bailout: The main problem was the flagrant incompetence out of both Paulson and the White House in handling the financial rescue.
And Floyd Norris in the Business Section of NYTimes has this to say:
…the economic record of President George W. Bush was largely a disappointing one. During his administration, the country grew at the slowest overall pace of any recent president, whether measured in gross domestic product or employment. The last president to preside while the stock market did worse was Herbert Hoover.
Economic performance was actually good for much of the middle years of Mr. Bush’s eight-year term, but it began and ended with recessions.
Some of the disappointment with Mr. Bush may stem from the fact that he took office at the end of a huge boom, in both the economy and the stock market.
“No matter who took office in 2001, they were destined to oversee dashed expectations regarding the economy, the markets and the geopolitical outlook,” said Robert Barbera, the chief economist of ITG. “It was all captured in the lunacy of the $5 trillion surplus on the horizon. That vision required no wars, no recessions and a nonstop spectacular bull market for equities.”
“That said,” he added, “it certainly did not have to come to this.”
Barry Ritholts sums it up very well:
The main problem I see in Bush’s economic approach was an odd form of Reagan worship. Despite wildly disparate economies, Bush adopted Reagan’s approach. That the market had just collapsed, rather than was in year 14 of a secular bear market, rates were low and going lower, and the biggest Tech boom known to man were all but ignored.
Imagine a doctor who was once successful prescribing Penicillin to a patient with an infection. The next sick person comes in with diabetes — and he prescribes Penicillin again. The Penicillin supply-side school of medicine is genuinely shocked when the patient dies.
I wrote about this back in 2002-03: The epitome of the Bush approach to the economy was to vigorously apply Reagonomics directly to the forehead, despite a very different set of fiscal and economic conditions.
Surprise! The patient died!
Given all of this, Alan Abelson of Barron’s offers a reason why we haven’t been attacked since 9/11, in Parade of the Basket Cases.
Thanks to his vigilance, this nation was spared a terrorist attack after 9/11. And so it was, for which we are all profoundly grateful. And only the most vehement Bush-basher would sniff that the real reason for the absence of an attack was that Mr. Bush did such a thorough number on the country all by himself that the terrorists figured, why bother?
No argument that he is leaving an economy in absolutely awful shape. Our budget deficit is ballooning toward the trillion-dollar mark and isn’t likely to stop there. We are mired in the worst recession since the grandaddy of them all in the ’30s; its end is by no means in sight. The stock market after crashing 35% to 40% last year (depending on which bourse you follow) has started off ‘09 on the wrong foot, not an auspicious omen for the year as a whole.
Unemployment is pressing remorselessly higher, housing is a wreck, industrial production is contracting at the wickedest rate in 35 years, the retail business is in the dumps almost across the board. Detroit is about as near to running on empty as you can get without grinding to a halt. There is a whiff of deflation in the air.
Not all of this, obviously, is Mr. Bush’s fault. But it happened on his watch. Not the kind of stuff, we are afraid, that shining legacies are made of.
So it doesn’t exactly come as a surprise when the blogosphere starts hopping with this piece of news: moving into the White House is kind of like going from an XBox to an Atari! (I like the part about Bush complaining of the missing keys on the keyboards when he moved in.)