Stiglitz: Bush Likely Contender for Worst President Ever

Joseph Stiglitz, professor of Economics at Columbia University, argues that George W. Bush may displace Herbert Hoover as the worst president ever for economic stewardship of the country. From an article by Stiglitz in Vanity Fair:

When we look back someday at the catastrophe that was the Bush administration, we will think of many things: the tragedy of the Iraq war, the shame of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, the erosion of civil liberties. The damage done to the American economy does not make front-page headlines every day, but the repercussions will be felt beyond the lifetime of anyone reading this page.

I can hear an irritated counterthrust already. The president has not driven the United States into a recession during his almost seven years in office. Unemployment stands at a respectable 4.6 percent. Well, fine. But the other side of the ledger groans with distress: a tax code that has become hideously biased in favor of the rich; a national debt that will probably have grown 70 percent by the time this president leaves Washington; a swelling cascade of mortgage defaults; a record near-$850 billion trade deficit; oil prices that are higher than they have ever been; and a dollar so weak that for an American to buy a cup of coffee in London or Paris—or even the Yukon—becomes a venture in high finance.

And it gets worse. After almost seven years of this president, the United States is less prepared than ever to face the future. We have not been educating enough engineers and scientists, people with the skills we will need to compete with China and India. We have not been investing in the kinds of basic research that made us the technological powerhouse of the late 20th century. And although the president now understands—or so he says—that we must begin to wean ourselves from oil and coal, we have on his watch become more deeply dependent on both.

Up to now, the conventional wisdom has been that Herbert Hoover, whose policies aggravated the Great Depression, is the odds-on claimant for the mantle “worst president� when it comes to stewardship of the American economy. Once Franklin Roosevelt assumed office and reversed Hoover’s policies, the country began to recover. The economic effects of Bush’s presidency are more insidious than those of Hoover, harder to reverse, and likely to be longer-lasting. There is no threat of America’s being displaced from its position as the world’s richest economy. But our grandchildren will still be living with, and struggling with, the economic consequences of Mr. Bush. [full text]

h/t for the link.

5 thoughts on “Stiglitz: Bush Likely Contender for Worst President Ever

  1. Thanks, Ron. We too are sad that our money is worth less and less in Canada. It also makes it hard for Canadian businesses that counted on people crossing over and exchanging their dollars. It makes it very hard to do business with the dollar falling all the time, and the national debt will surely come back to bite us as China comes to own our debt and we become economically beholden to them.

  2. Rolling Stone magazine posed a similar argument in its May 4, 2006 issue. W’s biggest disaster was losing world support for the US, particularly after 9/11. Then, he compounded this disaster by dividing the domestic populace over the most narrow political issues and insisting that only his way was acceptable.

    The real long-term impact — one that is only just now dawning on the neoconned — is that the erosions of constitutional protection and personal liberties that Bush has engineered will take at least a generation to restore, and that his executive power-grabs will be available to all future presidents, even (gasp!) Democrats.

  3. I am no fan of the current Mr. Bush and believe that he has badly missed the target on many issues of great significance to all Americans. However, with the negatives of his administration, one must look to where the balance truly lies in his Presidential accounting. The judgement of history will find where the tipping point of the scales lie. One thing is certain: that beauty is in the eye of the pollster seems to be the lesson of hisotry and are there ever Presidential polls to look at when it comes to Presidents of the United States. Polls seems to be delineated along party lines with the expected results excepty for the pantheon of mythic Presidents, the small circle of Lincoln, Washington, Roosevelt, Jefferson (both FDR and Teddy), and a second tier of Wilson, John Quincy Adams, Jackson, Truman and slipping in is the new appraisal of Eisenhower. Criteria utilized are as important as when the evaluations are made. Lincoln, early in the Civil War, was very harshly treated, but his selection of Grant as his General, the victory and Lincoln’s martyrdom in preserving the Union evoked respect for his heroism.

    Unfortunately Mr. Stiglitz seems to have ignored the scholarship of historians and has Mr. Hoover last, where all the historians of significance never seem to place him. I am more comfortable with what went on 65 million years ago and must depend on the judgement of other “human type” historians for expertise, none seems to now place Mr. Hoover “last” despite the Great Depression, and not even the troubled Mr. Nixon, Mr. Carter, or even Mr. Clinton arrive at the very bottom, a place reserved for the likes of Warren G. Harding, James Buchanan, Franklin Pierce, Andrew Johnson, Millard Fillmore, William Henry Harrison and John Tyler (ah, do we all remember that ringing campaign slogan “Tippecanoe and Tylor Too”). Mr. Harding seems to be the President last on most lists, with the fellow that preceded Lincoln, James Buchahah very close to last.

    Mr. Stiglitz seems to ignore history in the case of FDR (and I am an admirerer of FDR. In fact, FDR did not reverse the depression he inherited from Mr. Hoover, and much in the first term of FDR was one failed economic policy after another. The Depression ended when America went back to work and factories produced and that was a direct result of the gathering storm that was to be WW II. Similarly, Mr. Bush is asked to bear the burden of trade deficits and ithe internationalism and loss of American manufacturing to China and India. In truth, these awful policies Mr. Bush embraced, were Clinton policies. One would have wished Mr. Bush had turned these around and initiated some good, old fashioned Democrat protectionism and strong unions, both lost before Mr. Bush took office. This, the massive trade deficit is bad, is horribly bad, but is a continuation of the revisionist Clinton policies embraced with enthisiasim by Mr. Bush.

    One suspects history will not be generous with Mr. Bush, but much will rest with the outcome of the unnecessary war in Iraq, whether he has wisely selected General Petraeus as his Grant, the end game in Pakistan and what results in the Iranian confrontation. Only a future poll will tell.

  4. Mr Wolberg, if I may add a few points?

    The writing of history is very often driven by the thesis/antithesis/synthesis pattern. After the Depression, the thesis was created that Hoover was a bad president; given that millions of people were alive to contradict a false thesis, this thesis stood unchallenged until the 1980s.

    Then, as the Depression generation started to die off, the Reps began a propaganda campaign (the antithesis) to rehabilitate Hoover’s reputation. This campaign wages unabated. Don’t believe it. The people who lived through it knew better.

    Hoover made pale and ineffectual attempts to alleviate the Depression. FDR tried harder, with more success. Again, the generation who lived through it understood the difference between the two presidents and venerated FDR while excoriating Hoover. I will trust the opinion of the eye-witnesses.

    As for the end of the Depression, you are correct that it was WWII. But what is a world war? It is gov’t intervention into the economy on a massive scale. As men are siphoned into the military, unemployment plummets, driving up wages for those remaining. At the same time that unemployment dropped, demand–for planes and tanks and bullets–soared.

    This is the lesson that the Republicans would like us to forget: that it was gov’t intervention into the economy that solved the problem. I have read numerous claims that FDR didn’t do it, but the war. But this argument is specious. There were limits on how far FDR could go, but the war removed those limits, allowing him to do what he was trying to do on a scale far beyond what even FDR could have imagined.

    And there is a difference between a nonentity and a bad president. Many of the ciphers who inhabited the White House in the 1800s were not actively bad; rather, the Senate ran the gov’t, and the pres had little effective power to stand up to the Senate.

    Bush, on the other hand, is actively bad. He is hell-bent on pursuing bad policies; he wanted to be a war president, so he plunged us all headlong into a stupid, needless war; he has actively set out to enrich the wealthy even further, while beggaring the middle class.

    And the policies you describe as “Clinton’s” are Rep policies. Clinton was famous for his triangulation; he perpetuated and enlarged on what Reagan had begun. We began bleeding jobs in the 1980s, and the pain crept up to the white-collar class by the 1992 election, which is why George I lost.

    However, if you look at median wages, they fell or stagnated under Reagan/Bush, but rose slightly under Clinton, only to fall again under Geo II. So Clinton arguably could have done more to protect the middle class, but the deterioration of the middle class was arrested, and even reversed under Clinton, to begin deteriorating again under Geo II.

    Overall, I really believe Stiglitz is right. Geo II is the culmination of 70 years of Rep efforts to repeal the New Deal. Bush did what he wanted to do, and what the Reps wanted him to do. IMHO, that choice will damn him in the annals of history, because he presided over the death of the American dream, because children now must be lucky to equal the economic status of their parent.

  5. Klaus, you make many interesting points and expand on some of my observations. It would be fasciating for someone to write a book on the “minor” Presidents who kind of ill in the years between the activists. I think you are right on target with the idea that the economic radical conservatives of the republican Party would like to have the New deal reforms and the Great Society reforms of Mr. Johnson wiped off the books. The notion that the rich and powerful know what is best, however, if very bipartisan I think and involves just as many fat cat Democrats as Republicans. Or what I interpret as fat cat politicians really reflects the fact that American politics today is dominated by the very rich who happen to be members of both parties. The republican wealthy are joined after all by names such as Kennedy, Kerry, Rockefeller, Clinton and many others who seem to have accumulated very large bags of gold. Any believer in the democratic process must look with trepedation on the dynastic tendencies of the wealthy that do color public policy over generations. The Presidential greats, interestingly enough, Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR, and near greats such as Wilson or Truman, left no familiy members in the mix, and the nation was better for that.

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