October 20, 2008
Spreading the wealth-1: Introducing Comrade Bush
By now, practically everyone must be sick of hearing about Joe the Plumber. But bear with me for a minute as he provides me with a peg on which to hang a point I wish to make. I thought his interaction with Obama was quite interesting and was planning to comment on it even before Joe became John McCain's BFF.
What I found most amusing is how the right wing has seized upon Obama's comment to Joe about the need to 'spread the wealth around' and has thrown one of their by now patented manufactured outrage hissy fits, screaming "There, I told you! Obama is a socialist!" and warning that if he is elected president he is immediately going to take all our money and give it to winos and panhandlers and make us wear grey tunics and work on collective farms.
There is a priceless irony at play here in making the charge of socialism against Obama, coming as it does just after the Bush administration has effectively nationalized Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and AIG and is planning to use at least part of its $700 billion to obtain part ownership in many banks.
To appreciate the irony we have to realize that it has been almost a permanent feature of US government policy to demand of foreign governments that they privatize their public sector and open their markets to US goods and services by reducing or eliminating tariffs and barriers. The US government routinely uses its power in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to force foreign governments to adopt something called Structural Adjustment Programs if they want to receive any aid even to tide over emergencies.
This package of measures, in addition to the privatization and open markets demands, also usually require the reduction or elimination of any subsidies of food, energy, transport, and the like that keep the prices of these commodities low so that regular people could afford them. Governments have been known to fall as a result of the unrest and even riots that resulted from the hardships imposed on their people because of acquiescing to these demands.
It is precisely because Cuba refused to go along with these demands that it has been punished by the US by the blocking of aid, trade embargoes, and the like.
People in the US may not have heard about structural adjustment programs but they are almost household words to any person in developing countries. I heard about them long ago because the newspapers in Sri Lanka would regularly report the parliamentary debates about what the latest demand by the World Bank and the IMF was for any aid, and how the government would deal with it. We all knew that adopting it would lead to financial hardship for ordinary people, at least in the short run.
But now, by adopting policies of acquiring ownership of major institutions to deal with their own financial crisis, the Bush administration has to endure the taunts foreign leaders and analysts who are pointing out all the times that Bush and previous presidents have accused those governments of becoming tyrannical when they did things very similar to what Bush is now doing, and nationalized vital sectors of their own economies.
Many countries are savoring the pleasure of the US now having to eat its own words. As this McClatchy news report says:
They don't call him President Bush in Venezuela anymore.
Now he's known as "Comrade."
With the Bush administration's Treasury Department resorting to government bailout after government bailout to keep the U.S. economy afloat, leftist governments and their political allies in Latin America are having a field day, gloating one day and taunting Bush the next for adopting the types of interventionist government policies that he's long condemned.
"We were just talking about that this morning on the floor," said Congressman Edwin Castro, who heads the leftist Sandinista congressional bloc in Nicaragua. "We think the Bush administration should follow the same policies that they and the International Monetary Fund have always told us to follow when we have economic problems - a structural adjustment that requires cutting government spending and reducing the role of government.
"One of our economists was telling us that Bush has just implemented communism for the rich," Castro said.
No one in Latin America has been making more hay of Bush's turnabout than Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, a self-proclaimed socialist who is the U.S.'s biggest headache in the region.
"If the Venezuelan government, for example, approves a law to protect consumers, they say, 'Take notice, Chavez is a tyrant!'" Chavez said in one of his recent weekly television shows.
"Or they say, 'Chavez is regulating prices. He is violating the laws of the marketplace.' How many times have they criticized me for nationalizing the phone company? They say, 'The state shouldn't get involved in that.' But now they don't criticize Bush for having nationalize . . . the biggest banks in the world. Comrade Bush, how are you?"
The audience laughed and Chavez continued.
"Comrade Bush is heading toward socialism."
. . .
Mark Weisbrodt, director of the leftist Washington-based Center for Economic and Policy Research, advises numerous Latin American governments.
He called the recent Bush administration policies ironic.
"The biggest nationalization in the world was of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The biggest nationalization of an insurer was AIG. People are saying that Bush is privatizing risk and socializing losses," Weisbrodt said.
John Ross, who has begun providing advice to the Chavez government, along with his boss, former London Mayor "Red" Ken Livingstone, criticized the U.S. president and his conservative political allies.
"They have abandoned every policy that they've advocated that other governments should follow over the past 20 years," Ross said by telephone from London. "And they've adopted the measures that they've condemned other governments for taking.
"This is not the end of capitalism. But it is the end of Reaganism and Thatcherism," he added.
This kind of hypocritical policy making is not completely unprecedented. After all, Richard Nixon, another avowed free-marketeer imposed wage and price controls (another policy strongly frowned upon by the US when done by other countries) for nearly three years when he was president.
Next: Meeting a hierarchy of needs.
POST SCRIPT: Careless McCain staffers
John McCain has a close call.
(Thanks to onegoodmove.)