According to legend, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 was started when Mrs. O’Leary’s cow knocked over a latern in her barn setting it on fire. While Mrs. O’Leary certainly didn’t set the fire on purpose, she is probably not the person we would consult on fire control. In the same vein, it is reasonable to ask why anyone would consult Bill Clinton about the country’s current economic problems.
While the economy performed well during the second half of the Clinton administration, it was building up the imbalances that laid the basis for the current crisis. The late 90s growth was driven by a stock bubble which led a consumption boom. When the bubble burst, the economy went into a prolonged downturn. It did not not create any jobs from March of 2001 to September of 2003. The jobs lost in the downturn were not gained back until the beginning of 2005, at the time the longest period without job growth since the Great Depression.
Furthermore, when the economy finally did begin creating jobs it was driven by the housing bubble. While the bubble itself cannot be blamed on the Clinton administration, it is responsible for the imbalances that laid its basis. Robert Rubin, Clinton’s treasury secretary, consciously pursued a high dollar policy. He used the U.S. control over the IMF to bring it about.
A high dollar makes U.S. goods less competitive in world markets. If the dollar rises by 20 percent it has roughly the same impact as putting a 20 percent tariff on all our exports and giving a 20 percent subsidy on all our imports. This sort of increase in the value of the dollar has way more impact on trade flow than any trade agreement possibly could.
Rubin’s high dollar policy meant that the U.S. would run a large trade deficit. If the country has a trade deficit, then it absolutely must have negative national savings. (This is an accounting identity, it has to be true.) Negative national savings means that we must have either large government budget deficits or very low private savings, as was the case at the peak of the housing bubble, when the savings rate hit zero.
It is likely that President Clinton does not understand this basic economics. He recently lectured the public on how to create manufacturing jobs through trade, apparently not realizing the country was losing manufacturing jobs due to the soaring trade deficit during the last three years of his administration. This means that he may not know that he is giving bad advice, but that still doesn’t mean that there is any reason for the media to want to seek it out.