The Seven Deadly Deficits: What the Bush Years Really Cost Us
And how President Obama can get the economy back on track.
When President George W. Bush assumed office, most of those disgruntled about the stolen election contented themselves with this thought: Given our system of checks and balances, given the gridlock in Washington, how much damage could be done? Now we know: far more than the worst pessimists could have imagined. From the war in Iraq to the collapse of the credit markets, the financial losses are difficult to fathom. And behind those losses lie even greater missed opportunities.
Put it all together — the money squandered on the war, the money wasted on a housing pyramid scheme that impoverished the nation and enriched a few, and the money lost because of the recession — and the gap between what we could have produced and what we did produce will easily exceed $1.5 trillion. Think what that kind of money could have done to provide health care for the uninsured, to improve our education system, to build green technology … The list is endless.
And the true cost of our missed opportunities is likely even greater. Consider the war: First there are the funds directly allocated to it by the government (an estimated $12 billion a month even according to the misleading accounting of the Bush administration). Much larger, as the Kennedy School’s Linda Bilmes and I documented in The Three Trillion Dollar War, are the indirect costs: the salaries not earned by those wounded or killed, the economic activity displaced (from, say, spending on American hospitals to spending on Nepalese security contractors). Such social and macroeconomic factors may account for more than $2 trillion of the war’s overall cost.
There is a silver lining in these clouds. If we can pull ourselves out of the malaise, if we can think more carefully and less ideologically about how to make our economy stronger and our society better, perhaps we can make progress in addressing some of our long-festering problems. As a road map for where to begin, consider the seven major shortfalls the Bush administration leaves behind.