The 2012 presidential primary season is already upon us and the Grand Old Party is, not surprisingly, engaged in a grand old opportunity to rewrite history about the causes and consequences of the Great Recession. So it’s time, once again, to set the record straight.
The Great Recession was so great not just because of very sharp unemployment increases but also due to an unprecedented decline in wealth—as the Federal Reserve detailed in a report released last week. That wealth destruction is key to understanding the Great Recession since massive house price drops led to a foreclosure crisis that then fueled massive layoffs. Much of the unprecedented wealth destruction in 2007 and 2008 can be traced back to failed economic policies under President George W. Bush, when opportunities to put the economy and the labor market on the right track were ignored.
This crisis did not fall from the sky. We saw it coming. My colleague Scott Lilly and I pointed out in 2004 that the economic trends that ailed the economy and led to the sharp rise in household debt were unsustainable. American workers lived through the weakest labor market since the Great Depression after the previous recession ended in November 2001. Yet prices for key household items such as health care, energy, transportation, food, and housing rose, often at runaway speed. American families only managed to pay their bills by borrowing on their credit cards, for large consumer items and on their homes. The massive debt boom was a reflection of the economic squeeze American families were in during the 2000s.
The sad part is that the Great Recession could have been prevented. The George W. Bush administration had several opportunities to seriously address the unfolding crisis.
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