Nurturing businessmen, not business
Harrop Froma They say bad things come in threes. That includes economic milestones that most Americans would prefer not to pass. One is the prospect of $100-a-barrel oil. Another is an exchange rate of 1.50 U.S. dollars to one euro, a serious los...
They say bad things come in threes. That includes economic milestones that most Americans would prefer not to pass. One is the prospect of $100-a-barrel oil. Another is an exchange rate of 1.50 U.S. dollars to one euro, a serious loss of face to the once cheaper European currency. The third is gold bolting over $850 an ounce, a sign of plunging confidence in the American economy. Analysts predict all three things.
Can we blame the Bush administration for this bad news, as we liberals so often do? Not entirely, but to a large extent, yes. Bush has been great at taking care of businessmen, but not of business. There's a difference, you know.
Take oil. It's not Bush's fault that fast-growing China and India have fired up the global demand for oil, thus boosting its price. But his administration spurned proposals that could have cushioned Americans against the inevitable upward march of energy prices. It fought efforts to demand greater fuel-economy standards in vehicles. And it ignored calls for higher gas taxes, which would have spurred consumers to buy more energy-efficient cars.
The taxes could have also helped pay for the Bush administration's spending spree and offset some of the lost revenue from the rich man's tax cuts. More spending and not enough revenues turned budget surpluses into deficits, which added to America's promised benefits to future retirees, is spooking financial markets.
The recent jump in oil prices has yet to be fully reflected at the gas pump. That's on its way. The price tag for heating a house with oil, meanwhile, is expected to rise an average $319 this winter. And if the weather gets very cold and one lives in a high-energy-cost place like the New York suburbs, the tab will rise by a lot more.
"You'll see a Westchester homeowner paying $10,000 to heat his McMansion," Peter Beutel, head of Cameron Hanover, an energy risk manager, told The New York Post.
Europeans are less worried. After decades of paying high energy taxes, they have already adjusted their lifestyles to be more fuel efficient. Europe is also somewhat shielded against an energy-price shock by the fact that oil is priced in dollars, and, as noted, the dollar is falling against their currency.
Ah, the once-mighty American dollar. While a weakening dollar is good for American factories wanting to sell their wares abroad, it's not great for most other sectors of the economy. A falling dollar raises the prices for oil and other imports. In short, it's inflationary. Gold is the classic hedge against inflation, hence its soaring price.
One reason for the dollar's fall is the Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's apparent resolve to bail out the Wall Street fat cats who made bad bets on risky mortgages. He does this by cutting interest rates, which is not without its consequences. Lower returns make U.S. bonds less attractive to investors, who then take their money elsewhere for better deals. The result is a dollar headed south.
Remember, the Chinese hold $1.43 billion in foreign exchange reserves. After a senior Chinese politician merely suggested that his country put some of that money into stronger currencies, like the euro, the dollar plunged. So around it goes.
A little discipline from the Bush administration would have been nice: some regulation of the mortgage business, new energy taxes, raising the revenues to pay America's bills, letting the fat cats sink. Had it done these things, the economic challenges would be less onerous than they are.
Oh yes, General Motors just reported its largest quarterly loss ever. Perhaps bad news comes in lots of more than three.