Path Home Shows 2009 Show Archive December 2009 Show 0952 Interview with Bill Greider

Interview with Bill Greider

In our push for a more sustainable way of life, it seems that many people are looking not to the green of the environment but to the green in their wallets. We visit with New York Times reporter Bill Greider about smarter spending in a sustainable world.
Interview with Bill Greider

Bill Greider

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William Greider

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Show 0952: Interview with Bill Greider

Air date: December 27, 2009



Rob:  Well in our push for a more sustainable way of life, it seems that many people are looking not to the green of the environment, but to the green in their pocketbooks.  In recent months both presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, have enacted massive economic stimulus measures in an effort to sustain our economy.  Yet despite such efforts, many experts believe that enacting such legislation is simply a temporary treatment for the symptoms of a more fundamental problem.  We begin today with a visit I had with acclaimed author and NEW YORK TIMES reporter, Bill Greider, on his thoughts on our nation’s economic woes, and what he feels may be our best and only solution.

Bill Greider:  You know and can tell, I’m a dissenting voice in the big debates, and I don’t claim to have any influence in those debates.  But, as a reporter over a lot of years, I have followed things like the so-called financial modernization, or the so-called free trade system.  And just to put it very crudely, the people have had it right.  They figured out a good while back, just out of their own experience, that this isn’t working the way the elites, the governing elites, say it’s working.  And I know that, because I can see it happening around me.  In finance, the deregulation process, essentially appealed, repealed the federal law against usury and said the limits are off, charge the interest rates, whatever the market will bear, and that will work better than these laws which cap interest rates at certain levels.  Now look around our society.  We’ve got people paying twenty/thirty percent on their credit card.  You have subprime mortgages.  You have predatory lending.  I mean, this is an affliction that could have been prevented.  Trade, the free trade said, this is going to be good for everybody; the country will get stronger and stronger; we’ll do exports and so forth.  Now we are deeply in debt, profoundly in debt, and dependent on China, Japan, other Asian countries, on Europe, all of whom lend us the money to pay for our trade deficit every year.  And that wealth builds up in those countries as new industrial structure.

Rob:  You say this is not a democrat or republican issue, or not a rich and a poor issue, but as long as the money that’s in Washington D C, in politics, will there ever be true reform as long as our government officials are dependent upon big money donors?

Greider:  No.  The short answer is no.  But, this is my hope; it’s what my book is about.  If Americans at large, and I mean all types, realize the seriousness of the situation we’re in as a country, and I’m not just talking about the financial crisis and the recession, I’m talking about more broadly, everything from concentrated power to globalization and what it’s done to our economic strength; inequality.  We’ve got a long list of adversities facing us.  If people will step up and say, okay, standing back and ignoring this or just scorning it is not enough anymore.  And I think that’s in Americans.  I actually believe people, not everybody, but people, when they feel deeply enough, the crisis of where our country is, they will do that, and that’s the answer to money.  I mean, then, if you’ve got a legislature you can influence, you take, there are ways to take the money out of politics, or at least to balance the playing field a bit.

Rob:  Now, you said the good times could well end, but I would have to argue that the good times, maybe the corporate elite have had some good times; but the middle class, it was really all an illusion, it was built on debt.

Greider:  Yeah, well, see people, people felt this squeeze, and for many years it was illegitimate to say it.  I mean, people, you know if you had a group in your living room, and people are grousing about what keeps them up at night, you heard that story, right?  But it was considered even unpatriotic to stand up in public and you say, you know what, these ain’t the good times; or for somebody in politics to get up and say that; they were putting themselves at risk, right?  So now I think, because the catastrophe is now visible to all, and most people will not argue with the reality, that invites us to say, ok we’re going to get out of this, we will.  But, we don’t want to get out of this just to recreate the same problem we had going in, and that means talking to those people at the top of corporations, and changing the rules, and I mean the social obligations that those corporations have.  And, they should start, obviously, with the financial system.  The financial system is fighting right now to restore the old order that collapsed.

Rob:  I want to talk a little bit about regulation.  I had a government official, from the European Union, say the difference between the E U and the U S is that they try to regulate on the front end, where the U S likes to litigate on the back end.  Is that what we’re trying to do, kind of shutting the barn door after the horse has gotten out?

Greider:  Regulatory process ought to examine a new product or new production system or a new sort of way of doing finance before it’s authorized.  And to ask the question, what are all the costs of this?  We know somebody will be able to make a profit and sell stuff and whatever, but what happens collaterally?  What damage to the environment, damage to the community etcetera?  And then, you try to prevent that; you change the way the operation works.  You know, this is just common sense.  Right?  In the United States, the principle we operate on is, so and so wants to make this, and he’s got some weird chemicals in it.  Let’s let him do it for 10 or 20 years; he says it won’t make anybody sick.  And we’ll find out.  I mean this literally.  This is the way our system works.  I have a friend, who’s a scholarly type, and he boiled it down to this, our system operates on growth before justice.  That is, whatever will give us economic growth and more sales, more profits, etc… more jobs.  We’re going to go ahead and do it, and it’s going to do some collateral damage; we’ll worry about that later; we’ll clean up afterwards.  And that’s, you think about it, and you look around the country... that’s the condition we’re in now.  We’re asking ourselves, or our state governments, or whoever, there’s a mess here, clean it up.  It could have been prevented if we had been a little more prudential about it.  But we weren’t, so now we’ve got to spend 2 or 3 times the money to clean it up.