Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Right Isn't Totally Wrong (Just Mostly)

I know I compared the Tea Party and Glenn Beck to the Nazis the other day, but that doesn't mean I think they're genocidally wrong about everything. They're right to oppose the bailouts, although they seem to think that the bailouts were meant to give government greater control over private enterprise. Members of Congress have said they were told by (Bush's) Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson that, if they didn't vote for the first bailout immediately, the economy would collapse. I think the politicians were trying to save the economy, but they refused to attach strings to the money, due to either their faith in laissez-faire capitalism or their being so deeply tucked into the pockets of Big Business they can't see $#!+.

They should've demanded that the bailed-out financial institutions cease the risky behavior that precipitated the crisis. Instead, we're stuck with too-big-to-fail banks that are now even bigger after gobbling up a bunch of little banks that didn't get government handouts to help them through the crisis. As if that weren't enough to induce vomiting, the TBTF banks are still playing fast and loose with their money, secure in the belief that the government will bail them out the next time they go belly up.

No matter how much I loathe the idea of bailing out corporations, the economic devastation that could've resulted from doing nothing was scary enough to bring me around to George W. Bush's point of view, a monumental feat. Of course, the way the money was distributed left much to be desired. Rather than letting the companies use it to buy out the competition, the government could've paid off all those subprime mortgages. The banks then could've wiped the toxic assets off their balance sheets, and the homeowners could've kept their homes.

But the bailouts did achieve their stated goal: The economy didn't go into freefall. Unfortunately, all we got for our $42 billion (officially, the amount that hasn't been paid back) was the elitist oxymoron of a "jobless recovery." It's a recovery only for the financial industry, whose government-favored goliaths enjoyed a record-breaking rebound from the Great Recession. The rest of us have to deal with the lingering symptoms of unemployment and foreclosures, which don't seem to disturb the Wizards of Wall Street in their glass towers.

Besides redistributing wealth to the wealthy, the bailouts were misguided in another crucial way. They were predicated on the assumption that continued economic growth is good and, with correct government policy, inevitable. If our leaders knew the folly of infinite economic growth as it relates to resource depletion and environmental degradation, they would've used the bailouts to begin a managed contraction of our economy.

As it stands now, we've left Nature to manage the contraction, and, the more we rage against her limits, the more precipitous and chaotic our decline will be. It's possible that more bailouts will be passed by Congress and signed by the President as the economy lurches from crisis to crisis. But, given the extreme unpopularity of the bailouts and the emergence of a well-endowed, right-wing movement dedicated to their rejection, I doubt it. The only saving grace might be to attach meaningful strings to the money, and I don't see the free-market acolytes on the Right going for that.

What we're left with is the probability of a swift, chaotic collapse of the economy in the near future. The people who would be presiding over that situation range from those who think capitalism occasionally needs no-strings-attached handouts and a little regulation (Democrats) to those who think capitalism works best with no handouts and no regulation (most of the GOP and all of the Tea Party). I really don't think they have the knowledge to deal with such a contingency. Barring the ecological enlightenment of our federal government, they will keep trying to grow the economy, which will have the rather ironic effect of digging us deeper into a pit of poverty.

No comments: