Friday, February 5, 2016

Diary

I think I've read most of what Hughes has to say on topics that I care about, but will continue reading and let you know if anything else strikes me. For the fishermen among you, Hughes was an avid angler and has a good chapter on that, "A Jerk on One End."

Somewhat reluctantly, I have been following the presidential campaigns here. Bernie Sanders is making his mark, and the Democratic debates have probably been of the highest quality in my lifetime. He has successfully backed Hillary Clinton into a corner, forcing her to sound like the liberal that she never was. In contrast, the Republican debates have been a humorous spectacle. If I had to guess, I'd say that Rubio will get the nomination. Trump's campaign is beginning to implode after he made up a story about Ted Cruz rigging the vote in Iowa. Sooner or later his bloated ego, lies and lack of political experience are going to catch up with him. In my opinion, none of the Republican candidates stand a chance. Whoever gets the Republican nomination will be obliterated in debates with the Democratic nominee simply because they are all either wacky, ignorant or both.

As a Vermonter, I am following Bernie's campaign with some interest. He has injected a much-needed populist fervor into the debate, and he has done well so far, but I don't think economic conditions are severe enough to encourage a sufficient number of people to vote for him. This is fundamentally a conservative country, and it took the Great Depression to make FDR a popular president. Hillary is a professional politician par excellence who, besides being able to parrot the most popular prevailing views at any time, has built up a formidable résumé over the years. Bernie will continue to do well among young, well-educated voters, but that won't be enough to get him the nomination. In any case, he has already made his point by forcing Hillary to adopt anti-Wall-Street language.

As for the Clintons, I'll never like them. I'll always think of Bill as white trash with a high IQ and Hillary as an ambitious know-it-all teacher's pet. They make it embarrassing to be a baby boomer. I remember becoming disillusioned with Bill Clinton when he displayed his pro-business agenda shortly after taking office in 1993. While there may have been some secondary benefits to society that came from their work, the Clintons have been the chief beneficiaries of their political careers. Why, for example, would they move to New York? It certainly wasn't for its cultural benefits or because of family ties. Clinton had friends on Wall Street, Robert Rubin, for instance, who helped fund Hillary's subsequent political career and the Clinton Foundation. It is no surprise that Senator Clinton became markedly pro-Israel and supported the Iraq War. She has learned from Bill how to go with the flow and extricate herself from accusations when tides change, though Bernie Sanders has been calling her out with some success.

One of the reasons why it is hard for me to care about politics is that politicians routinely take credit for things that have nothing to do with them. No matter what they say, presidents typically have very little effect on the economy, particularly while they are in office. As someone who has lived through several economic cycles, it grates on me to hear presidents describe their legacies. A large inflation cycle began in late 1972, and presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter were unable to stop it during their terms in office. However, Carter appointed Paul Volcker Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board in 1979, and that made all the difference. Volcker, who remained Chairman until 1987, raised interest rates radically, killing inflation and gradually setting off an economic boom. A change for the worse occurred when Ronald Reagan replaced Volcker with Alan Greenspan, who served under Reagan and Clinton and held the position until 2006, when Ben Bernanke took over. That didn't stop Reagan and Clinton from claiming credit for reviving the economy, though they had little to do with it. The fact is that Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, with the help of Alan Greenspan, set the stage for the Wall Street excesses of the 1980's, 1990's and early 2000's that culminated in the Great Recession. Within the media you are still more likely to hear about the economic foresight of Reagan and Clinton than the final economic collapse that they helped precipitate. History will judge them as economic lightweights and political opportunists.

In my opinion, the job of president of the United States has long been too difficult to be performed by mortals. I don't think "Hope and Change" Obama is going to fare much better than his predecessors in the history books, and while I agree with Bernie Sanders in his promotion of social democracy similar to that of the wealthy countries of Northern Europe, I don't think he is prepared for or has even thought about how a transition to a post-capitalist society ought to be managed.

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