Bush: “Why Did the Financial Collapse Happen on My Watch?”

During Monday’s press conference, President Bush was asked whether he ever felt the burdens of the presidency.  He responded “no” and explained that one would have to be a whiner to feel burdened by the job.  He then offered an example.  “I didn’t sit around and whine about ‘Why did the financial collapse happen on my watch?'”

This statement reveals – to put it in crude terms – a sort of “shit happens” mentality toward the economy and may explain a lot about why we find ourselves in such a mess.  We see that there is no tendency in the man to look back and wonder whether his policies played a role – whether he could have done anything differently to prevent it.  It just happened.  Not my fault.  Jim Lehrer’s interview of Dick Cheney, broadcast on PBS’s Newshour on Thursday night, reinforces this attitude in the administration.  Cheney said that the administration did a good job with economic policy, citing the tax cuts and their response to the financial crisis, preventing it from becoming worse.  The financial crisis itself was something that just happened outside their control.

I’m not saying the global economic melt-down is a result of policies that Bush enacted.  On the contrary, I believe that it dates all the way back to the signing of GATT in 1947, setting up the enormous trade imbalances that doomed the global economy from the beginning.  Every president since shares some of the blame for supporting a trade regime that was nothing more than a thinly-veiled global welfare state, slickly packaged with high-minded names like “free trade” and “globalization.” 

However, Bush was the only man for the last eight years who could have done something about it.  By the time he took office in 2001, it was clear that the trade deficit was escalating exponentially out of control.  But it seems that month after month, year after year, as the trade figures grew worse, he maintained his “shit happens” mentality about the whole thing, never pondering whether it was sustainable, where it would all lead, and if he should do something about it.

There’s a lesson here for Mr. Obama.  Things don’t just happen.  You’re inheriting a world of institutions and agreements, all of which were well-intentioned but some which will ultimately prove to have been horrible ideas.  When they blow up on your watch, you can’t just sit back and say that “I didn’t create this mess and it’s just dumb luck that it came crashing down during my administration.”  Your job is to root them out and fix them before that happens.  Take a good look at the structure of the global economy, the stated goals of the World Trade Organization, our trade agreements and the results of decades of trade negotiations.  And take a good look at the results of trade policy for the first 171 years of our nations history.  Compare those results to the last few decades and decide for yourself whether it’s time to make a correction.

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11 Responses to Bush: “Why Did the Financial Collapse Happen on My Watch?”

  1. Clyde Bollinger says:

    Pete,
    Not to put too fine a point on it, but where would the President have gotten any support for doing things differently? Certainly not from industry, business, economists, legislators or diplomats. His own party would have rejected any suggstion of tariffs as ‘trade barriers’ and his efforts at controlling the borders has been resisted at every turn. The overwhelming arguement is that ‘free’ trade is good and everything else is bad. Open borders with the resulting cheap labor does more for the next quarters financial report than having them closed would.

    You are the sole voice in the wilderness and I’ve not been able to find anyone, other than myself, Jim and Linda A. who’ve read your book. I can’t even get my CPA son-in-law to read it. The sole conservative economist I know of, Walter Williams at George Mason U. has a section on his web page devoted to the trade issue and even he is opposed to limitations.

    To his credit, Obama has opened up the possibility of a dialog through his website and just maybe someone will at least listen to ideas. After all, he did campaign on the “CHANGE” theme.

    • Pete Murphy says:

      Clyde, I’m not sure you’re correct that Bush wouldn’t have had any support for imposing tariffs. Also, I believe that the President has the power to impose tariffs without the support of Congress. I’m not sure if you remember but, to his credit, Bush actually imposed tariffs on imported steel early in his first term in order to save the domestic steel industry from collapse. Steel makers loved him for it and it had the desired results. The steel industry survived. However, the tariffs on imported steel were hated by the domestic auto industry. They complained that the higher prices they were paying for steel were making them uncompetitive with imported cars. (What they should have done was ask for tariffs on imported cars as well.) That’s the problem with trying to apply tariffs so selectively. You help one industry but hurt another. That’s why I believe it’s critical that tariffs be indexed to population density and applied across the board to all products from the nation in question.

      You’re right. I’m a voice in the wilderness. All I can do is to do my best to spread the word and hope it catches on with someone who has some influence. I’ll probably go to my grave never knowing if I’ve made a difference. I will say this: although my readership has been small, the feedback I’ve gotten has been quite favorable and I really appreciate the support of folks like you. It keeps me going.

      I should check out Mr. Williams’ web page. I also know a professor at George Mason, but she’s not an economist.

      Regarding the Obama web site, they seem to be making an effort to get folks involved. I just hope that someone really looks at the feedback and gives it consideration instead of just being a sham to make people think they’re involved. I supported Obama in the election but, now that its his baby, I’ll be his toughest critic if he doesn’t follow through on his promises about trade. We’ll see.

  2. Same'o says:

    Ever think that we are so far from the right that we can’t conceive our problems let alone the answers. Life is so simple, yet you rich, greedy, selfish, ignorant, corrupt, and indignant are just bleeding the system until it no longer supports its principles, morality, love, and humanitarianism. We repeat our mistakes over and over, what about a human collective (globally) that promotes world unity for the good of habitation and a divine life, or are you all supporters of the “It wouldn’t work syndrome” because we are in essence a corrupt people. You don’t know until you try, try, try!

    • Pete Murphy says:

      I think that the United Nations, World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund and World Bank represent a move toward “a human collective” and, frankly, I’m not very impressed with the results. The more these organization “try, try, try” the worse things seem to get.

  3. Clyde Bollinger says:

    Same’o,
    Im a bit curious about who is included in the “you rich, greedy, selfish, ignorant, corrupt, and indignant” statement in your response and what system is being bled? In so far as going collective, we’re well on our way with the extreme socialistic approach being instituted daily. Glen Beck had the head of the US Communist party on his TV show recently and even he approved of the administration’s move to the left. Finally, who are “we” the corrupt people?

  4. Same'o says:

    Our greatest are example to the “try, try, try” cause. Are Jesus, Michaelangelo, or Beethoven, accused as failures. So why can’t we comprehend the just intelligence to comprise a moral dignified society. Too much a challenge or not enough of those dignified heroes to accomplish the task?

    My wish is to present an opposing view, for I know my heart feels there is need.

    How can you not see the corruption today and say “who are “we” the corrupt people”? Where is good and right? Globally? Where is Conscience?

    • Pete Murphy says:

      Same’o, just curious: what is it specifically that you’re opposing here? The primary mission of my book and this site is to advocate for a smaller population. Do you believe that your vision of a moral, dignified society can be attained with more population growth?

      • dave langlois says:

        are you for depopulation then?

      • Pete Murphy says:

        I am in favor of a population level at which all people can be gainfully employed and thus enjoy a high standard of living. Today, severe over-crowding in many countries has badly eroded their per capita consumption, resulting in high rates of unemployment. Reduced birth rates would gradually – over many generations – bring the population back to an economically sustainable level.

  5. Same'o says:

    My handle is Same’o, my name is irrelevant, however “Same’o – Same’o was the phrase used when you got tired of hearing the same old repertoire.
    Everyday I am confronted of headlines, social concerns, gossip, reactions to anxieties, and thoughts that plague our lives everyday. The reactions to those beguile me if not us all. As we have derived a way of life with “one day to market” economy so haven’t our answers to a socio-economy.

    In economics today we seem to excrement a certain quality of nurture in manufacture. We have taken the craft in trade and converted it into micro-manufacture.
    I am appalled, after admiring my effort, enjoying my craft of labor, and respecting my wit of ingenuity, to create in life productivity with appreciation, and then have to throw all that out so I may live amongst the product of that manufacture, debris.

    My purpose is not to write a book but to express my concern with how we determine a resolve to our problems today. I am not, guided by the virtues of today we call fame, fortune, greed, and “politically correct”. I am not destitute as our disingenuous politicians. What we lack today is a genuine understanding, love, and commitment to the conscious conscience of humanity and its fate.

    As everyone tries to find an answer, the results seem to only skim the surface of our dilemma. I look at life’s problem with analogical models. The simplest, is the truth. The future is near and its time we start looking for long term answers. Get off the bus and stay awhile, time is on our side if only we use it wisely.

    Yes we are getting populated, so don’t mice when they are not bounded by their boundaries. What does that mean, if we treat mankind as we treat mice then atrocities are inevitable. So we devise a technology which in itself resolves our burden then we are not to blame on ourselves. We saw this epidemic of economy coming thirty years ago, 60 years ago, 90 years ago. Nothing has changed! All this hype about change today and how it will improve our socio-economy.
    If we elevate from our problems from one plateau to another we have merely obscured our problems and delayed our outcome.

    I can tell you this, no one is committed to the collective. There just isn’t enough time, “the collective is not a conscious one”.

    I am compelled to say this, as you were yours. I sincerely hope the collective can compile enough wisdom to rethink our conscience.
    I thought god was a true aspiration.
    Thank-you

    • Pete Murphy says:

      Thanks for sharing, Same’o. To put succinctly, it has become much more of a dog-eat-dog world and, I believe, overpopulation is to blame. Overpopulation is a breeding ground for hatred and intolerance. It’s no coincidence that, everywhere you look, it has played a role in wars and atrocities. Germany and Japan, the two main antagonists of WWII are both badly overpopulated. Korea is even worse. On the continent of Africa, its most densely populated nation, Rwanda, was the scene of the worst genocide of the last 50 years. And in the Americas, El Salvador, the most densely populated nation on the mainland, was the scene of the worst civil strife and bloodshed. And Haiti, the most densely populated island nation of the Americas (aside from Puerto Rico) is a poster child for misery. Yet, economists insist that population growth remains an essential ingredient for prosperity.

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