This is not, then, pure neocon ideology at work, says Stiglitz: “Ideology of convenience is a better description.” It is an ideology illustrated even more clearly in another fact that Stiglitz can’t believe – that Bush put through tax cuts while going to war. In Stiglitz and Bilmes’s reading, this was downright underhand. Raising taxes, and resorting to the rhetoric of shared sacrifice used in the world wars, for example, would have made Americans more aware of exactly what the war was costing them, and would have provoked opposition sooner. The solution was to borrow the money, at interest of couple of hundred billion dollars a year, which, by 2017, will add up to another trillion dollars or so. This government will be gone in nine months; subsequent administrations, and generations, will have to pay it off.
At the same time, Stiglitz and Bilmes argue, the Federal Reserve colluded in this obfuscation, because it “kept interest rates lower than they otherwise might have been, and looked the other way as lending standards were lowered, thereby encouraging households to borrow more – and spend more.” Alan Greenspan, by this account, encouraged people to take on variable-rate mortgages, even as household savings rates went negative for the first time since the Depression. Individuals were taking on unprecedented debt at the same time as a long housing bubble made them feel wealthy (and less concerned with derring-do abroad) – a scenario echoed on this side of the Atlantic.