To gauge the level of hatred entertained by liberals for the Bush Administration, take a look at the bestseller lists. Rubbing shoulders in the top tiers we find Michael Moore, Al Franken, Paul Krugman and Molly Ivins all pouring sarcastic rebukes on Bush II and, categorically or by implication, suggesting that in favoring the very rich and looting the economy in their interest, Bush stands in despicable contrast to his immediate predecessor in the Oval Office. So just get a Democrat, any Democrat, back in the White House and the skies will begin to clear again.
But suppose a less forgiving retrospect of the Clinton years discloses that he did nothing to alter the rules of the neoliberal game that began in the Reagan/Thatcher era, with the push to boost after-tax corporate profits, shift ever more bargaining power to business, erode social protections for workers, make the rich richer, the middle tier at best stand still and the poor get poorer.
We now have just such an unsparing scrutiny of Clintonomics, in the form of Robert Pollin’s Contours of Descent: U.S. Economic Fractures and the Landscape of Global Austerity. Pollin is unambiguous. “It was under Clinton,” he points out, “that the distribution of wealth in the U.S. became more skewed than it had been at any time in the previous forty years–with, for example, the ratio of wages for the average worker to the pay of the average CEO rising astronomically from 113 to 1 in 1991 under Bush-1 to 449 to 1 when Clinton left office in 2001.” In the world, exclusive of China, between 1980 and 1998 and considering the difference between the richest and poorest 10 percent of humanity, inequality grew by 19 percent; by 77 percent, if you take the richest and poorest 1 percent. Welcome to neoliberalism.
The basic picture? “Under the full eight years of Clinton’s presidency, even with the bubble ratcheting up both business investment and consumption by the rich…average real wages remained at a level 10 percent below that of the Nixon/Ford peak period, even though productivity in the economy was 50 percent higher under Clinton than [under] Nixon and Ford. The poverty rate through Clinton’s term was only slightly better than the dismal performance attained during the Reagan/Bush years.” We had a bubble boom, pushed along by consumer spending by the rich.
To be sure, in accord with the captious laws of class-based mechanics, the bubbling tide did raise boats, albeit unevenly. The yachts of the rich lofted magnificently on the flood. Meaner skiffs rose an inch or two. In those years businesses needed more workers, and for a brief moment the labor shortage gave them some leverage to get more pay.
At the end of eight years, when the bubble tide had ebbed, what did workers have by way of a permanent legacy? Clinton, Pollin bleakly concludes, “accomplished almost nothing in the way of labor laws or the broader policy environment to improve the bargaining situation for workers…. Moreover, conditions under Clinton worsened among those officially counted as poor.”