The view from 2007: a reminder

With all of today’s news about sequesters, debt ceilings, stock market record highs, unemployment stagnation, and all of the rest, it is interesting to look back what some people were writing in 2007 about “the future of the economy”.

Vanity Fair

(image from Vanity Fair)

I found an article called “The Economic Consequences of Mr. Bush”, published in Vanity Fair in December of 2007. To put this in context, remember that in October 2007, the Dow Jones had been at an all-time high, unemployment was around 5%, and although the credit crisis had been visible for several months it was only in December that George Bush announced a plan for how the government, the Fed, and central banks might be able to do something to help. That was the very month that this article appeared in Vanity Fair.

Thanks to the internet, you can go back and read the whole article for yourself right now. But just to give you a taste, here are some selections that caught my eye:

“When we look back someday at the catastrophe that was the Bush administration, we will think of many things: the tragedy of the Iraq war, the shame of Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib, the erosion of civil liberties. The damage done to the American economy does not make front-page headlines every day, but the repercussions will be felt beyond the lifetime of anyone reading this page.

“I can hear an irritated counterthrust already. The president has not driven the United States into a recession during his almost seven years in office. Unemployment stands at a respectable 4.6 percent. Well, fine. But the other side of the ledger groans with distress: a tax code that has become hideously biased in favor of the rich; a national debt that will probably have grown 70 percent by the time this president leaves Washington; a swelling cascade of mortgage defaults; a record near-$850 billion trade deficit; oil prices that are higher than they have ever been; and a dollar so weak that for an American to buy a cup of coffee in London or Paris—or even the Yukon—becomes a venture in high finance.


“The Clinton years were not an economic Nirvana; as chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers during part of this time, I’m all too aware of mistakes and lost opportunities… We should have invested more in infrastructure, tightened regulation of the securities markets, and taken additional steps to promote energy conservation. We fell short because of politics and lack of money—and also, frankly, because special interests sometimes shaped the agenda more than they should have. But these boom years were the first time since Jimmy Carter that the deficit was under control. And they were the first time since the 1970s that incomes at the bottom grew faster than those at the top—a benchmark worth celebrating.


” Remember the presidential debates in 2000 between Al Gore and George Bush, and how the two men argued over how to spend America’s anticipated $2.2 trillion budget surplus? The country could well have afforded to ramp up domestic investment in key areas… But the Bush administration had its own ideas. The first major economic initiative pursued by the president was a massive tax cut for the rich, enacted in June of 2001. Those with incomes over a million got a tax cut of $18,000—more than 30 times larger than the cut received by the average American. The inequities were compounded by a second tax cut, in 2003, this one skewed even more heavily toward the rich. Together these tax cuts, when fully implemented and if made permanent, mean that in 2012 the average reduction for an American in the bottom 20 percent will be a scant $45, while those with incomes of more than $1 million will see their tax bills reduced by an average of $162,000.


Inequality is now widening in America, and at a rate not seen in three-quarters of a century. A young male in his 30s today has an income, adjusted for inflation, that is 12 percent less than what his father was making 30 years ago. Some 5.3 million more Americans are living in poverty now than were living in poverty when Bush became president. America’s class structure may not have arrived there yet, but it’s heading in the direction of Brazil’s and Mexico’s.”



Last night, while talking about the new record high that the Dow Jones has reached, Rachel Maddow displayed (for the second or third time) one of her favorite recent graphs: what Americans think wealth inequality should be, what they think it is, and what it actually is.  The graph is from a study that was conducted in 2011.  It’s nice to know that Vanity Fair saw it all coming in 2007

Wealth Inequality: Ideal, Perceived, Actual