Fred Thompson calls the Bush economy "the greatest story never told," lauding four years of growth, low unemployment, low inflation, high profits and rising productivity. All the Republican presidential candidates pledge to follow in the president's course. Rudi Giuliani compares Democratic reforms to socialism, while vowing fealty to the conservative mantra of lower taxes, less domestic spending, free trade and deregulation.
Think about this for a second. Americans are being terrorized by inadequate levees in New Orleans, by collapsing bridges in Minneapolis, by an aged water valve in Manhattan.
Schools are aged and overcrowded; roads are gridlocked; airports overwhelmed; mass transit outmoded. Our parks are in disrepair. Millions of children go without health care or pre-school. The costs of college are soaring, even as they are being privatized, with parents and kids forced to take out staggering levels of loans. Yet conservative candidates for president and for governor call for cutting government spending. Not military spending – which now is higher than the rest of the world combined – but domestic spending which presidents have sought to limit since Reagan took office in 1980.
We witness a record inequality not seen since the Gilded Age which ended in the Great Depression. Virtually all of the rewards of this economy have been reaped by the wealthiest 10 percent. The remaining 90 percent have been losing ground, struggling to meet rising health care and energy costs with stagnant or declining incomes. A CEO now makes some 500 times more than an average worker. These are the extremes of wealth and income that Republican reformers like Teddy Roosevelt thought posed a direct threat to democracy itself. Yet conservative candidates for president vow to make things worse, mounting the ramparts to oppose any tax cuts on the wealthy, even while pushing for repealing the tax on the wealthiest estates and lowering even more taxes on the unearned income enjoyed by the affluent.
We've witnessed the worst corporate crime wave in modern history — CEOs plundering their companies, cooking the books, cashing in options, even as employees lose their life savings, as they did at Enron. Old limits on credit creation have been trampled, allowing Wall Street to create the bubble that is now bursting. For 25 years, conservatives have deregulated everything from telephones to global banking. And yet to a person, conservative candidates call for deregulation and rail against the "undue burdens on companies."
We've witnessed wholesale looting of public funds, no-bid contracts to Halliburton and others, billions in cash and equipment lost in the deserts of Iraq with no records, the worst forms of crony capitalism squandering scarce public resources. And yet to a person, conservative candidates call for more privatization, outsourcing intelligence assessment, not just contracting but the monitoring of contracts.
Our corporate trade policies have shuttered our manufacturing base, while piling up the worst trade deficits and global debt in history. We now have a $250 billion annual deficit with China. We have a deficit in high tech goods with China, while our leading export to that country is waste paper. We're now borrowing or selling off assets at a rate nearing $2.5 billion a day.
Companies have used this globalization to drive down wages, and break promises on health care and pensions. And every conservative candidate, without exception, touts the benefits of corporate-defined "free trade."
Some suggest that doctrine blinds the right to reality. I suspect its more due to interest overcoming principle, class ruling nation. This economy is terrific for the few — including the few who provide funds for politicians. The nation may be in trouble, but the wealthy are secured behind gated communities with private beaches, parks, schools, pleasures. They can prosper even as Americans lose ground.
John Kenneth Galbraith warned about a society that featured private wealth and public squalor. America has been a beacon to the world as a democracy with the world's first broad middle class. We did that with a market economy that had rules to insure that the wealth was widely shared – broad access to college, powerful unions, regulated capital markets, national investment in modern infrastructure. Now even when it is at its "best," this economy isn't working well for most Americans. This year, we've had a pitched battle over Iraq and the future of our occupation of that country. Next year, we need a strong debate about our strategy in the global economy. We don't have to wait for the recession; most people think we're already in one.
Jesse Jackson is a longtime civil rights activist and president of the RainbowPUSH Coalition.