By Rex Frankel, 1/19/2009, the last day of George Bush’s term in office
When the stock market came crashing down just before the November 2008 presidential election, politicians scrambled to bail out failing corporate monoliths on the premise that helping them would help the average American. For a lot of the middle class who have or had their retirements invested in the stock market, on the surface this sounded like the politicians cared for them. But since the stock market index, or the Dow Jones, is simply an average of the prices of the stocks of the 30 biggest and richest corporations, ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dow_Jones_Average ) merely shoring up the Dow is trickle-down economics on a colossal scale. The benefits go to the rich and stay there. For much of the Bush years, we have been told that the economy is great, job growth is great!, etc. while housing costs zoomed, outsourcing of jobs to India zoomed, and gas prices tripled. All this “good news” was based on a false barometer of health--the ridiculous rise in the top 30 stocks. The absurdity of it all is that the economic health of the 30 richest American corporations has not trickled down to the rest of us. America was not better off at any time during the Bush years. The people who made money were those that shuffled assets around, buying and selling companies and properties with little regard for the people who worked there. Bush’s friends created fake energy shortages and Enron and Exxon earned billions. Even after bankruptcy no one knows where Enron’s fraudulently earned riches went. Dick Cheney’s former company Halliburton reaped billions in overcharges and no-competition contracts to run our war in Iraq. And after their crooked billings were uncovered, they simply relocated to Dubai.
Yes, the Bush insiders, the corporate managers and stock traders and money-movers made out like bandits. For the rest of us, the outcome of the Bush years is that control of things which we can’t live without are in fewer hands at the end of the Bush years than at the beginning.
This “look the other way—business can do what it wants” attitude in our government is not just a Republican disease. Under Bill Clinton’s presidency, the corporate merger mania continued unabated as it did through the 1980’s under Reagan and Bush #1. The difference between Republican and Democrat presidents is that job growth was stagnant under Republicans, while under Clinton we added an average of 3 million jobs per year. So even though mega-corporations gained ever more power under Clinton, American workers didn’t suffer like they did under Reagan and the Bushes. See http://rexfrankel.blogspot.com/2008/07/are-you-better-off-than-you-were-8.html
Oh, there’s nothing like a disaster to make us all lose our senses. After 9-11, we were asked to give up our civil rights, or we weren’t being good Americans. Then we were told not to question Bush’s invasion of Iraq, which possessed Weapons of Mass Pollution, AKA lots of oil. For the cynical, a disaster is an opportunity to get richer.
So the financial crash last year gave our leaders the opportunity to do real good for the average Americans or to again reward the rich campaign contributors. Guess what the Bush administration chose?
In the aftermath of the Bush years, key American industries are even more tightly controlled by a small group of people. When we debate whether the bailouts of our country’s key industries are really socialism for the rich, who privatize the profits but socialize the losses, it makes me wonder what capitalism really is. I believe that the infrastructure of this country should be owned by all of us. That means that the key industries—the necessities that we can’t live without-- should be owned and run by the government. Banks and oil companies and health care should be like public utilities, like our electric and water companies. They are vital to our existence--so vital that when bankers choose to engage in fraud, it affects all of us. When the oil companies use any excuse to raise prices, and we have no choice but to pay, that causes ripple effects on everything else. I am convinced that when gasoline hit $4.50 a gallon, it was the last straw. An economy that was already teetering finally gave out. Consumers couldn’t pay their mortgages and health care and car loans on top of the huge profits demanded by the oil industry.
That’s why any further bailouts of America’s big businesses MUST be accompanied by mandatory restructuring of their way of doing business. If socialism is good for our key businesses in the bad times, it’s good all the time.
A GUIDE TO WHO BOUGHT WHOM DURING THE BUSH YEARS:
BANKS: By the end of 2008, in the financial industry, we had 4 banks dominating every corner of the country: Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and J.P. Morgan Chase. When Washington Mutual failed, Chase was allowed to scoop them up. When Merrill Lynch and Countrywide Financial flopped, B of A gobbled them up. When Wachovia blew up, Wells Fargo picked up the bones. With hundreds of billions in our tax dollars to prop them up, we might as well nationalize the banking system completely—and finish the job. (for more, http://greedwatch.blogspot.com/2009/01/how-4-super-banks-got-so-big.html)
OIL: Once America had 7 big oil companies and several smaller ones. Now 4 oil companies are totally dominant and earned hundreds of billions in profits during the Bush years. When was the last time you saw gas stations compete with each other? In the 1970’s, when we still had competition, we had “gas wars”, where oil companies competed for customers by lowering their prices. Now the phrase “gas war” means something completely different: War on Iraq, war on consumers. (for more, http://greedwatch.blogspot.com/2009/01/how-5-big-oil-companies-got-so-big.html)
CARS: After getting fat selling SUVs for years, the car industry finally tanked after oil company greed convinced buyers that Hummers and monster gas hog trucks were not family cars. While they blamed workers, (again!), car company executives proposed to let 2 of the remaining 3 companies merge. Gee-that’s always worked before! Thanks to globalization and homogenization (or sameness), today we have worldwide only 9 car makers producing 100’s of virtually indistinguishable models under numerous brand names. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_badge_engineered_vehicles These 9 firms have gobbled up numerous car makers. This illusion of choice for consumers, of fake competition by corporate monopolies, is another phony symbol of economic well-being. More monopolization is not the solution—innovation and ending our addiction to oil is. (for more, http://greedwatch.blogspot.com/2009/01/monopolization-of-worlds-car-industry.html)
AEROSPACE AND DEFENSE: Among the companies that help defend America, seven of the top ten defense contractors in 1995 are owned by three now. (for more, http://greedwatch.blogspot.com/search/label/Aerospace%20and%20Defense%20Contractors)
FINALLY, TV AND THE MEDIA: In 1984, we had 50 media companies serving up most of our news and entertainment, as the famous book on media consolidation, the Media Monopoly, concluded. http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Media/CommunCartel_Bagdikian.html Now we have 5 companies controlling virtually everything we see or hear. Lest we forget, the taxpayers own the TV and radio airwaves. The big 5 media merely have a license to use the airwaves. Early in the Bush years, hardly anyone with a dissenting view could be found on the many TV and cable channels owned by the big 5. For more history of media monopolism:
A huge thank you is deserved by google.com, which has made it possible for millions of Americans for free to create websites and post videos on their YouTube site to spread the stories that the big-5 media has ignored. Advertisers have discovered that viewers and readers have deserted other media and get much of their news and entertainment through the internet, thereby they are giving their ad dollars to internet sites that are not controlled by the Big-5. Google and YouTube were key to breaking the Big-5 Media’s monopoly and have brought democracy back to the corporate dominated media landscape. And Google accomplished this entirely without a government bailout.
My hope for the Obama years is that enterprising Americans come up with more innovations that further break the monopoly strangleholds on other areas of American business.