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VINE VOICEon 12 June 2007
The title is a little misleading, as Phillips anatomises the confluence of THREE merging influences on American policy. In the first section he chronicles the growth of US dependence on more and more imported oil, given the peaking of US production alongside the insatiable appetite of SUV Americans, and lays bare the petrol-head motives of the Cheney/Bush drive to Baghdad. The second section deals with the realignment and southernization of Republicanism as it sought the support of the moral-majority Christian groupings that have become such a powerful (if underestimated) force in US politics. The final section deals with the eye-watering levels of debt that have accompanied the `financialization' of the American economy, and the concomitant inequalities (where a CEO of a large manufacturing corporation in the 1960s might have earned 40 times the income of a median employee, the modern equivalent in the financial services sector may earn 500 times as much; with the top 1% of Americans now earning as much post-tax income as the bottom 35%!). As a result it is the Financial, Insurance and Real Estate (FIRE) sector that now pays the piper ($200m for lobbying in 1998 alone) and calls the tune, in terms of deregulation. This has resulted in a `massive realignment of preferences and priorities within the American system', with the Federal Reserve's sole task of protecting the banking and financial services sector supplanting any other kind of government intervention, even - as in the rescue of Citigroup - when this may work against the public interest. (In this context, Enron and Worldcom represent the inevitable sound of roosting chickens). In essence the American economy is being run by and for the money men. And where do these conjoining tributaries meet? In the form of the born-again Bush, with his dynastic roots firmly planted in the soil of financial services and oil.

As far as Phillips is concerned "If history teaches us anything, it's that this so-called cutting edge finance is an accident waiting to happen." Certainly the figures are quite staggering (consumer debt at 85.7% GDP; $2.7 trillion extra debt in twelve months ... and so on). Human greed and gullibility, combined with "three decades of determined federal regulatory dismantling ... avarice, legal nonchalance and innovation in new speculative instruments" are just the latest in a sequence of "high-wire acts and bubble-blowing kits so recurrent in the four century history of financial manias, panics and crashes."

Unlike many critics of Bush, Phillips comes from a Republican background of impeccable credentials, which makes his savage and wide-ranging indictment of the modern Republican Party all the more hard-hitting - he displays the contempt of an ex-smoker viewing a cigarette manufacturers' convention. There may be a bit more psephological and denominational detail than a UK reader might require, but the influence of these developments on British politics (Iraq, private equity buyouts, attitudes to Islam, etc., etc.) make it essential reading on this side of the Atlantic. Phillips also has an eye for a brilliantly entertaining and humorous turn of phrase, which undercuts the acerbity of his analysis.
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