If the 1980s were supposedly a time of speculative waste, they were just a warm-up for the 1990s. The Dow dropped 23 percent on one day in October 1987, but it gained back all of its losses within two years. How sober and boring compared with the frenzy over technology and Internet stocks in the 1990s.
If the 1980s featured "the ransacking of our great companies," the 1990s brought their pillaging and burning. Most of the "leveraged buyouts" of the 1980s, parodied as pointless greed at the time, made corporations more competitive. If there were excesses, none of it compared with the widespread cheating that infected the corporate world in the 1990s.
If the 1980s "left the poor behind," so did much of the 1990s. As Reich writes, "Earnings inequality among full-time adult workers was greater by the end of the first (term of the) Clinton administration than it had been at the start."
So, should Clinton be condemned for presiding over a new "Decade of Greed"? No.
A free-market economy is an enormous, roiling affair subject to governmental control -- and especially control by the president -- only at the margins. People get rich (even very rich), and there will always be opportunities for folly and novel forms of criminality. The greed and excess of the 1990s were byproducts of a rollicking economic boom, the same as in the booming 1980s.
Now, where does Reagan go to get his apology?
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