buddy capitalists

The myth is that our Republican White House hijackers represent and worship free market capitalism. The reality is that they embody and practice crony capitalism,

in which whom you know is more important than what you do and how you do it. That's the world Bush's key policymakers come out of: they've made their careers by circumventing the free market. Why expect them suddenly to embrace it?

The examples within the inner bunch, while not quite legion, may be without exception.
Almost none of the C.E.O.s on the Bush team headed competitive, entrepreneurial businesses. The majority of them, in fact, made their bones in protected or regulated industries, where success depends on personal lobbying and political maneuvering. Bush himself, of course, built a small fortune on family connections, finagling a spot on the board of Harken Energy, and securing a publicly financed stadium for the Texas Rangers. Dick Cheney, meanwhile, got the top job at Halliburton almost solely because of his political connections. His successor there, David Lesar, has said, "What Dick brought was obviously a wealth of contacts." Wealth of contacts, indeed: under Cheney, Halliburton expanded internationally, gained $1.5 billion in subsidies from the U.S. government, and added a billion dollars in government contracts.

What about Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill? Yes, he did a fine job of reviving the fortunes of the aluminum giant Alcoa. But he did so, in part, by helping to orchestrate an international price-fixing cartel. In 1994, in Brussels, after a fierce lobbying effort by O'Neill and his corporate peers, five countries and the European Union agreed to slash aluminum production to drive up aluminum prices. By the end of that year, prices had nearly doubled and political favoritism had rescued Alcoa from the whims of the free market.

Secretary of Commerce Donald Evans ran an oil-and-gas company. Mitch Daniels, the head of the Office of Management and Budget, was a vice-president at Eli Lilly. Army Secretary Thomas White was the head of energy trading at Enron. Air Force Secretary James Roche came from Northrup Grumman. And Navy Secretary Gordon England put in time at General Dynamics. All these companies depend for success on regulatory approval, government largesse, or cartel-like machinations. This is especially true of the energy industry—the Bush Administration's finishing school—in which the greatest determinant of a company's annual performance is a price more or less fixed in Vienna by a cabal of sheikhs.

So, while it's long been clear that the unelected one serves neither the lower nor the middle classes, it looks like his bounty may even be limited within the upper ranks to those who are part of the right interest groups, those who don't hesitate to sell themselves, and the entire country.

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Published on August 28, 2002 3:54 PM.

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