Just As I Thought

How to stimulate the economy

An amusing and pointed column this morning from Michael Kinsley in the Washington Post, talking about the awarding of Iraqi reconstruction contracts to Bush cronies without a bidding process:

President Bush, who was oh-so sneery about the idea of “nation-building” during the 2000 campaign, is now nation-building with a vengeance. He plans to spend something like $60 billion over the next three years rebuilding Iraq.

But this is nation-building, Republican-style, with huge contracts awarded in secret to politically connected companies. They now say that the “emergency” oil-field contract to Halliburton, formerly run by Vice President Cheney — and, gosh, who would have predicted that Iraq’s oil fields might need to be repaired after a war? — is only worth $600 million, not the $7 billion originally reported. I suppose we should be grateful for that.

In fact, in an odd twist, we’re supposed to be grateful for all these big crony contracts because they’re going to good old American companies and not to the filthy French or the nasty Germans or Russians who were so terribly helpful — not! — in the recent festivities. The feeling seems to be: Hey, we paid for the destruction. If it weren’t for us, there wouldn’t be all these roads and bridges that need rebuilding. So if someone’s going to make money rebuilding them, it ought to be us.

What am I to Halliburton? What is Halliburton to me? Misdirected national emotion is turning into a theme of the Bush II years. We’re filled with righteous anger at Osama bin Laden, so we go and pummel Saddam Hussein. We’re filled with gratitude toward the soldiers who fought this war and with self-satisfaction as the citizens who will pay for it, so we give a teary hug and a big wet kiss on the mouth to a company practically all of us have nothing to do with.

It’s like getting one of those cards announcing that instead of a Christmas present, someone has made a contribution in your name to some charity you aren’t interested in. “Dear American Taxpayer: We are pleased to inform you that in gratitude for all the billions you’re going to be pouring into Iraq, the U.S. government has made a sweetheart deal on your behalf with a company you’ve never heard of.” Eighty billion dollars — the size of just the first expense report the Bush administration has submitted to Congress — works out to about $1,000 that needs to be kicked in by each household in the United States. Of course we’re putting it all on the credit card, to be paid for in the future, with interest. But it’s still real money. If we made a contribution that big to our local public broadcasting outlet, we’d qualify for a CD recording by six, nine or even 12 tenors. From the Bush administration, we don’t even get a tote bag. But at least we have the satisfaction of knowing that we share a $10 trillion economy with some smiling companies that are doing well out of the war.

And, lest we forget, the doctrine of free trade holds — based on near-mathematical proof, not just pious wishful thinking — that a nation benefits by buying foreign goods, not just by selling its own goods to foreigners. As the folks footing the bill, we should want the reconstruction of Iraq to be as inexpensive as possible. If a firm from Uzbekistan can patch a pipeline for less than a firm from Texas, giving the work to that firm in Texas is just paying too much. Even if the Uzbek firm is able to underbid the Texas one only because it is getting an Uzbek government subsidy, that just means a bit of the burden is being shifted from American taxpayers to the taxpayers of Uzbekistan.

Thanks so much for that Halliburton contract, George. And all the lovely deals for Bechtel and other well-connected companies. You shouldn’t have.
Hmm. So, we go in to another country, wreak havoc and cause destruction, then we have a perfect excuse to rebuild it and line the pockets of large corporations. That sounds like a perfect way to stimulate the economy! Bush is a genius!!

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