Sunday, February 12, 2012

Robert Scheer on Democratic Party economic neoliberalism

Robert Scheer had a good column after President Obama's State of the Union address this year on the neoliberal assumptions that appeared in the speech: Obama's Faux Populism Sounds Like Bill Clinton 01/26/2012. Speaking of Obama's State of the Union address (SOTU) in which he used his current more progessive emphasis, Scheer writes:

... if Obama meant what he said in Tuesday’s State of the Union address about holding the financial industry responsible for its scams, why did he appoint the old Clinton crowd that had legalized those scams to the top economic posts in his administration? ...

Why hasn't he pushed for a restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act, which Clinton’s deregulation reversed? Does the president really believe that the Dodd-Frank slap-on-the-wrist sellout represents “new rules to hold Wall Street accountable, so a crisis like this never happens again”? ...

When Obama declared Tuesday evening “no American company should be able to avoid paying its fair share of taxes by moving jobs and profits overseas,” wasn’t he aware that Jeffrey Immelt, the man he appointed to head his jobs council, is the most egregious offender? Immelt, the CEO of GE, heads a company with most of its workers employed in foreign countries, a corporation that makes 82 percent of its profit abroad and has paid no U.S. taxes in the past three years.
He notes that the neoliberal prescription of education as the key to a better economy is wearing very thin. He says, "this economic crisis is the result not of high school dropouts as Obama suggested, but rather the corruption of the best and brightest graduates of our elite academies."

This is one of the more appealing aspects of the neoliberal ideology, at least the left-leaning version of it that Obama has espoused. It emphasizes the importance of education, which is critical to social mobility for working people. But it is usually defended as Obama defends it, as a useful boost to private business more than as a vital part of the rights of working people and an essential element of democracy.

The so-called "free trade" agreements have also been a part of the neoliberal pitch. It has proved to be very much to the benefit of the 1%, and less clearly beneficial to American workers. And, of course, deregulation of corporations:

That is the real legacy of the Clinton years, and it is no surprise that GOP presidential contender Newt Gingrich has been campaigning on his rightful share of it. The international trade agreements that exported good U.S. jobs, the radical financial deregulation that unleashed Wall Street greed, and the free market zealotry of then-Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, who was reappointed by Clinton, were all part of a deal Clinton made with Gingrich, House speaker at that time.

As Gingrich put it in the first Republican debate in South Carolina: "As speaker ... working with President Bill Clinton, we passed a very Reagan-like program, less regulation, lower taxes." Even the 15 percent tax break that Mitt Romney exploited for his carryover private equity income was a result of the unholy Clinton-Gingrich alliance. Both principals of that alliance were pimps for the financial industry, and that includes Freddie Mac, the for-profit stock-traded housing agency that Clinton coddled while it stoked the Ponzi scheme in housing and that rewarded the former speaker with $1.6 million to $1.8 million in consulting fees.
I wouldn't express it as Scheer did, seemingly equating Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich.

But however we evaluate Clinton's intentions and his term in office, the neoliberal track that his economic policies took have proved to be devastating in their ultimate results. Republicans are more ruthless about using the current depression to devastate working people's lives even more. But there has been far too much agreement between the two parties on the policies Scheer discusses in that column.

And that needs to change.

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