Welfare Cheats

Daniel Ruen

WHAT DO THE following have in common: Ralph Nader's Public Citizen, the conservative Heritage Foundation, Friends of the Earth, the Cato Institute, millionaire Republican presidential hopeful Steve Forbes, and Vermont's Bernie Sanders, the only socialist in Congress? All are opposed to the $120-billion-plus rescue program cobbled together by the International Monetary Fund and Bill Clinton's White House for Asia's downward-careening economies.

The Clinton plan amounts to nothing more than a bailout of the big international banks, whose greed led them to make huge and imprudent loans to exploitative businesses in countries where authoritarian governments keep unions feeble and wages low--or to corrupt countries like Japan, whose go-go industrialists and virtually unregulated banks sought to make big bucks from the peonage of their neighbors.

Rep. Sanders nailed it when he said recently that "what we have here is socialism for the rich. You're increasingly going to see a fierce debate with President Clinton and Newt Gingrich on one side, and an estranged left-right coalition on the other, saying, 'Don't put taxpayer money at risk.' The major banks have made huge sums of money in Asia, and now their loans are turning sour. Well, that's what free enterprise is about--sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose."

Clinton is asking Congress to approve some $18 billion in new U.S. contributions to the IMF, which is nearly broke after its failed efforts to stanch the bleeding of the Thai, South Korean, and Indonesian economies. Just coincidentally, six large American banks have $19.2 billion in outstanding loans in those countries plus the Philippines, according to the Congressional Research Service. Abolishing public assistance to millions of defenseless children and disabled people is okay because that shreds the social safety net demonized as "welfare." But paying off the bad judgment calls of overpaid economic mandarins at J.P. Morgan, Citicorp, Bankers Trust, Chase Manhattan, the Bank of New York, and Bank-America is somehow not considered corporate welfare.

Also just coincidentally, the man Clinton put in charge of the nation's economy is Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, the former head of the Wall Street firm of Goldman Sachs. The firm profited handsomely from the $50-billion-plus bailout of Mexico Rubin engineered in Clinton's first term. Now Rubin is the point man for the Asian bailout, and Goldman Sachs is raking in another fortune as the South Korean government's bailout consultant.

Meanwhile the IMF has demanded that South Korea and Indonesia open their economies to Wall Street's mergers-and-acquisitions specialists, who are thus able to snap up huge chunks of those economies' juiciest assets. For example, General Electric just bought out at a bargain its Indonesian partner, a member of the family of corrupt dictator Suharto. Another one of GE's properties is NBC, which--again coincidentally--has carried very little in-depth critical reporting on the Asian bailout.

American capitalism has long held that, in developing nations, democracy is the antithesis of economic "efficiency." But even significant segments of the Right are now saying that the Asian meltdown proves the contrary. As conservative columnist William Safire wrote this week, "The dictatorial model, driven by mutual back-scratching of elites rather than a profit motive open to all, rewarded despotism and nepotism at the expense of efficiency and transparency. Now eyes are opening all over the world to the realization that the gravy train does not run on time."

This is a lesson yet to be learned by Bill Clinton, who last week gave the Medal of Freedom to, of all people, David Rockefeller--friend to Chile's Pinochet and the Shah of Iran--for his contributions to human rights. Let's hope that a congressional left-right coalition says a resounding No to another bailout of tyrannical regimes and the Wall Street crowd that helped finance their brutality.

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