Bush Another Hoover?

Simon and I made the case in a current Mother Jones magazine article that the 2008 election may well be like 1932. Among other things, Bush has the potential to do what Hoover did – tarnish the conservative brand for a generation or more.

Some have pushed-back that on the economic front Bush can’t be compared to Hoover, who was the steward of the biggest economic catastrophe in the nation’s history, The Great Depression.

But economist Joseph Stiglitz attempts to make the case of the enormity of the Bush economic catastrophe in the December issue of Vanity Fair magazine. We may not have to dig out of another Great Depression (thank goodness), but Bush’s economic legacy is going to be very bad. That legacy will include:

"…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.”

The piece is well worth reading, though I do think Stiglitz goes a bit too far in criticizing our economic prospects. Many fundamentals are still in place that should allow the American economy to kick back into shape and sustain a long boom of economic growth that spreads prosperity far more widely. But that’s the fodder for another post.

Peter Leyden
Director of the New Politics Institute