by Paul Krugman, The New Tork Times, December 5, 2003
One thing you have to say about George W. Bush: he's got a great
sense of humor. At a recent fund-raiser, according to The Associated
Press, he described eliminating weapons of mass destruction from
Iraq and ensuring the solvency of Medicare as some of his administration's
came the punch line: "I came to this office to solve problems
and not pass them on to future presidents and future generations."
He must have had them rolling in the aisles.
the early months of the Bush administration, one often heard that
"the grown-ups are back in charge." But if being a grown-up
means planning for the future — in fact, if it means anything
beyond marital fidelity — then this is the least grown-up administration
in American history. It governs like there's no tomorrow.
in our national experience prepared us for the spectacle of a
government launching a war, increasing farm subsidies and establishing
an expensive new Medicare entitlement — and not only failing to
come up with a plan to pay for all this spending in the face of
budget deficits, but cutting taxes at the same time.
good economic news doesn't change the verdict. These aren't temporary
measures aimed at getting the economy back on its feet; they're
permanent drains on the budget. Serious estimates show a long-term
budget gap, even with a recovery, of at least 25 percent of federal
spending. That is, the federal government — including Medicare,
which Mr. Bush has given new responsibilities without new resources
— is nowhere near solvent.
there's international trade policy. Here's how the steel story
looks from Europe: the administration imposed an illegal tariff
for domestic political reasons, then changed its mind when threatened
with retaliatory tariffs focused on likely swing states. So the
U.S. has squandered its credibility: it is now seen as a nation
that honors promises only when it's politically convenient.
really makes me wonder whether this republic can be saved, however,
is the downward spiral in governance, the hijacking of public
policy by private interests.
new Medicare bill is a huge subsidy for drug and insurance companies,
coupled with a small benefit for retirees. In comparison, the
energy bill — which stalled last month, but will come back — has
a sort of purity: it barely even pretends to be anything other
than corporate welfare. Did you hear about the subsidy that will
help Shreveport get its first Hooters restaurant?
it's not just legislation: hardly a day goes by without an administrative
decision that just happens to confer huge benefits on favored
corporations, at the public's expense. For example, last month
the Internal Revenue Service dropped its efforts to crack down
on the synfuel tax break — a famously abused measure that was
supposed to encourage the production of alternative fuels, but
has ended up giving companies billions in tax credits for spraying
coal with a bit of diesel oil. The I.R.S. denies charges by Bill
Henck, one of its own lawyers, that it buckled under political
pressure. Coincidentally, according to The Wall Street Journal,
Mr. Henck has suddenly found himself among the tiny minority of
taxpayers facing an I.R.S. audit.
back, George Akerlof, the Nobel laureate in economics, described
what's happening to public policy as "a form of looting."
Some scoffed at the time, but now even publications like The Economist,
which has consistently made excuses for the administration, are
sounding the alarm.
be fair, the looting is a partly bipartisan affair. More than
a few Democrats threw their support behind the Medicare bill,
the energy bill or both. But the Bush administration and the Republican
leadership in Congress are leading the looting party. What are
prevailing theory among grown-up Republicans — yes, they still
exist — seems to be that Mr. Bush is simply doing whatever it
takes to win the next election. After that, he'll put the political
operatives in their place, bring in the policy experts and finally
get down to the business of running the country.
I think they're in denial. Everything we know suggests that Mr.
Bush's people have given as little thought to running America
after the election as they gave to running Iraq after the fall
of Baghdad. And they will have no idea what to do when things