Bush Treasury Sec. Paulson: “The Crisis We Can’t Afford to Ignore.”

June 22, 2014

Former Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has a significant piece in the NYTimes this morning, calling fellow Republicans to wake up on climate.

Worth reading in its entirety at the link – although to a certain degree it feels a little like listening to Fox News talking heads fuming about the Iraq “mistake” – ten years too late.

Thanks guys. You’re really on it.

Can we do something now?

New York Times:

Some members of my political party worry that pricing carbon is a “big government” intervention. In fact, it will reduce the role of government, which, on our present course, increasingly will be called on to help communities and regions affected by climate-related disasters like floods, drought-related crop failures and extreme weather like tornadoes, hurricanes and other violent storms. We’ll all be paying those costs. Not once, but many times over.

This is already happening, with taxpayer dollars rebuilding homes damaged by Hurricane Sandy and the deadly Oklahoma tornadoes. This is a proper role of government. But our failure to act on the underlying problem is deeply misguided, financially and logically.

In a future with more severe storms, deeper droughts, longer fire seasons and rising seas that imperil coastal cities, public funding to pay for adaptations and disaster relief will add significantly to our fiscal deficit and threaten our long-term economic security. So it is perverse that those who want limited government and rail against bailouts would put the economy at risk by ignoring climate change.

This is short-termism. There is a tendency, particularly in government and politics, to avoid focusing on difficult problems until they balloon into crisis. We would be fools to wait for that to happen to our climate.

When you run a company, you want to hand it off in better shape than you found it. In the same way, just as we shouldn’t leave our children or grandchildren with mountains of national debt and unsustainable entitlement programs, we shouldn’t leave them with the economic and environmental costs of climate change. Republicans must not shrink from this issue. Risk management is a conservative principle, as is preserving our natural environment for future generations. We are, after all, the party of Teddy Roosevelt.

28 Responses to “Bush Treasury Sec. Paulson: “The Crisis We Can’t Afford to Ignore.””

  1. omnologos Says:

    It’s like listening to the Pope saying we ought fight HIV. To which the reaction is of course, you first!

  2. […] Former Bush Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has a significant piece in the NYTimes this morning, calling fellow Republicans to wake up on climate. Worth reading in its entirety at the link – altho…  […]

  3. MorinMoss Says:

    I don’ think Teddy Roosevelt would recognize the modern Republican party, even if you focus only on their idea of conservation.

    Every so often, I wander over to ConservAmerica, formerly Republicans for Enviro Protection to see what progress they’re making.

    Hardly anyone who’s elected or remotely electable by the current GOP wants to be associated with ConservAmerica.

    Check out their June 13th poll and results


    The current frontrunner by a huge margin is Jon Huntsman, who stands a better chance of becoming Premier of China than the 2016 GOP nominee.

    • Elected officials eventually represent their voters’ priorities. As the chorus of high profile, non-elected, non-Libertarian Republicans grows louder there will be a carbon tax after the 2014 mid-term – or worst case after the 2016 election if Obama loathing remains the Republican Party’s North Star. (Yes, that’s optimistic.)

      • rayduray Says:

        Re: “Elected officials eventually represent their voters’ priorities. “

        I find this statement astonishingly naive. Charles, I may have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night.

        Let’s start with the Clinton Administration. In 1992 Bill Clinton and Al Gore both pushed for NAFTA which resulted in the loss of millions of living wages jobs in the U.S. Did Clinton’s union backers favor NAFTA? Of course not. This treaty was created for the benefit of a handful of multinational corporate interests who happened to be the key funders of the Clinton campaign and his amazing acquisition of wealth after leaving office.

        How about Obama and health care. Stripping away all the nonsense PR flashed at the public by Wall Street and the insurance industry, the fact is that a vast majority of Americans approve of and appreciate Medicare. Obama could have easily written a proposal saying “Medicare benefits shall be extended to all, irregardless of age”. This would have been overwhelming popular. But it was killed in the cradle by Obama. Who is going to be greatly personally enriched by the insurance industry and Wall Street once he leaves office.

        And, of course, the corruption is only more egregious among Republicans.

        To rephrase your statement in a way that reflects reality it should read: “Elected officials eventually represent the interests of the rich funders of the political system, treating the public (via the tax system/Treasury) as a mere chattel good to be sold to the highest bidder.”

        You need more proof? Read “Lemons Aloft” by Charlie Pierce. http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/The_Turkey_On_The_Ground

        • Obama couldn’t even get Medicare’s eligibility age lowered to 55 after Lieberman flipped. How many voters have you met that even know what an F-35 is? Although politicians are controlled by campaign contributions and often personally enriched, if the majority of voters decide that a price on carbon is their priority, there will be a price on carbon.

          • jimbills Says:


            On voting, if moneyed interests want a certain policy, they’ll use the media to push for that policy – thus affecting public opinion. How many Foxheads have you talked to that think they’re actually saying something original and meaningful, and not something they were just told the previous evening on television?

            We’re a nation of programmed robots. I’m very skeptical that we’ll ever have a carbon tax, largely because energy prices are only going up and the vast majority of Americans are already struggling with their bills. So, in that way, I agree that a matter of a carbon tax will largely be decided by the will of the public. But that will is also easily and all too often manipulated by the same interests directly funding elected officials.

          • “How many Foxheads have you talked to that think they’re actually saying something original..?” Zero, and I know many Foxified people.

            “We’re a nation of programmed robots.” There are a growing number of progressive robot programmers and high dollar political donors. Not all rich people are obsessed with being richer.

            A straight carbon tax is indeed unlikely given anti-government ideology and household cash flow challenges. The “fee and dividend” approach is gaining more widespread support.

            We’re down but not out – unless we give up.

  4. The Republicans will wear the agenda of climate denier and bigoted obstructionist until it destroys them. This is exactly what needs to happen.

  5. I share your emotion Christopher. Hopefully, they’ll come around before they go down.

  6. jimbills Says:

    “Worth reading in its entirety at the link – although to a certain degree it feels a little like listening to Fox News talking heads fuming about the Iraq “mistake” – ten years too late.”

    Fox News bears direct responsibility for the Iraq War. All the major networks pushed it, but none so hard and passionately as Fox. By the same comparison, Wall Street (with a lead representative in Paulson) bears direct responsibility for global warming in the forms of financing deforestation, the fossil carbon industry, industrial growth, overconsumption, and exploding debt (taking resources from tomorrow to use today).

    Paulson: “For too many years, we failed to rein in the excesses building up in the nation’s financial markets. When the credit bubble burst in 2008, the damage was devastating. Millions suffered. Many still do.”

    No, you didn’t just fail to rein in excesses – you actively worked to help create and protect them, and since getting bailed out you’ve continued those excesses.

    It’s hard not to shake with anger at these guys.

    About the best we can hope from such people is a carbon tax, which Paulson is pushing. At least that’s something. But it’d be an easy bet that they’d figure out a way to directly benefit themselves financially while doing so. Help create a problem, make money off the problem – their modus operandi.

    • andrewfez Says:

      …and we never deleveraged our mortgage debt after the 2008 crisis:


      …all we did was shuffle the cards around. In fact where I live, they’ve temporarily reinflated the housing bubble. The inflection point is upon us and the only way to take the thing higher is to slowly leak the predatory loans back into the system. I’d say there is a mild to moderate chance that will happen. Right now Blackstone, JPMorgan, &c. are the So Cal housing market: they’ve been buying up everything around here to rent out or structure into derivatives. Congress is now disassembling their recent weak attempt at regulating the banks, as the Wall St. money continues to flow into campaign donations. The big players are very interested in repeating 2008 as it was one of the greatest wealth transfers (to them) in history. Middle class is the anomaly. Feudalism is the steady state. And they’ve found a game that releases large amount of potential energy to their benefit in order to get back down to baseline.

      30 or 40 years of bad policy, where increases in productivity have translated only to wealth creation for shareholders and corporate officers with none of that for the middle class, have caused the upward forcing in housing fundamentals to dry up (housing is a function of wage inflation, and there has been none of that for decades). Housing continued to rise as people took on more and more debt to subsidize their loss of purchasing power, stolen from them from the 1%, but as we’ve seen there is a limit to debt.

      No one wants to give up mocha lattes, foodie restaurants, vacations to Italy, iphones, &c. And thus we flirt with living on the edge of disaster, having let off just enough steam to fool ourselves into thinking everything is ok.

      The only good I see out there is that median incomes for the middle class in socialist democracies have continued to rise as those of their counterparts in American have stagnated. Canadians now have a higher median income than Americans do.

  7. Wall Street has a very short attention span, whether it’s climate issues, mortgages, or anything else. Short term gains are the goal, to hell with the future.

    I’d be as worried about high frequency trading as debt. JP Morgan is pulling all kinds of crap in the commodities markets as well.

  8. rayduray Says:

    This Paulson op/ed just sprang forth yesterday. It’s going to take some time to digest, but the point I’m taking away is that anyone taking Paulson at his word is a damn fool and likely to be a designated sucker. \

    Here’s a comparable. About 2 weeks ago there was a kind of breathless announcement from Starbucks’s CEO Howard Schultz and ASU Online, an affiliated entity to Arizona State University. The gushy announcment was that Starbucks would be subsidizing its “partners”, actually, its employees who were interested in taking online classes.

    It all sounded too good to be true to me. No corporation is generous with its employees until they become part of the tiny executive elite. But the media swooned at the goodness of it all.

    So fast forward to today and we find out that not only is Starbucks not doing what it claimed it would, helping to pay for college for employees, it actually was working an angle to reduce its exposure to previous more generous benefits with real campuses around the Seattle area. In other words, the PR announcement of a couple weeks ago was Orwellian doublething writ large.

    Don’t trust the corporations, would seem to be the take away message from this episode.

    So here’s the straight-up reported story


    But it gets better.


  9. rayduray Says:

    And for another twist


    … that ends with a link to this piece


    [h/t: one of my local correspondents helped with the research on this item. ]

    • rayduray Says:

      To be sure, I’ll be watching for developments on how Henry Paulson surreptitiously intends to profit from his show of faux concern for the environment.

      • omnologos Says:

        I find myself agreeing with Ray in this thread. Surely a sign of incoming old age.

        Jokes aside, this is the same Paulson who, faced between burdening future generations with debt and letting the banking system sort itself out…burdened future generations with debt.

        So he is the last person who can teach me how to take care of future generations, thank you very much.

        • MorinMoss Says:

          There were a lot of terrible decisions made but the phrase “letting the banking system sort itself out” glibly overlooks the catastrophic outcomes that would have taken place without intervention.

          Between that and the other problems the world faces, I think there’s a high probability it would have led to armed conflict.

        • rayduray Says:


          You are correct. I penned that first item just after finishing Paulson’s stirring call to action and I was moved by how sensible it all sounded.

          Then I started to recall the Paulson backstory, and I got completely incensed by the denouement of the “Starbucks buys the kids a college education” lie. I got incensed once again at how the corporate CEOs in this nation are continuously dropping their schiesse on our heads and telling us it is perfume.

          Yes, I was taken in by Paulson for a moment. I’ll admit it was good copy and it elicited the Pavlovian response from me that Paulson and his team of charlatans like pollster Frank Luntz sought. I came to realize that not only can Republicans offer “dog whistle” hidden messages in their speeches to the bored-again crowd, they can do it to the progressives as well.

          Overnight I started to recall just how odious Paulson is. His struggle to overthrown Jon Corzine at Goldman Sachs. His role in the run-up to the collapse of Lehman. His completely arrogant 3 page bill setting himself up as a God on the administration of TARP. His utter arrogance to “fix” the banks and destroy the underwater home-ownwers about to be foreclosed upon. His sons arrogant manipulations in Portland, OR attempting to steal from the public treasury to enrich the Paulson’s soccer interests. The list is longer, but getting away from Paulson op/ed itself, I came to my senses about what an utter scoundrel Henry Paulson really is. Can a tiger change his stripes? No, but momentarily he can camouflage them. And that’s what I feel this predator did to me.

          Clear enough?

          • omnologos Says:

            So next question is …why did the nyt provide acres of space to such a person?

            Also…who is Paulson going to convince? Unless the nyt is the newspaper of choice for republicans 😉

            Perhaps it’s just a PR exercise

          • rayduray Says:


            I believe you are onto the game. Yes, the NY Times has been notoriously a mouthpiece for the Establishment on a number of occasions. And in this instance, one has to assume that Paulson, as Establishment as it gets, is working an angle.

            [Aside: The old joke is that the Sunset Boulevard street hustlers have an expression, “if you ain’t workin’ an angle, you are the angle”.]

            Paulson is a Street hustler from the git go.

            What’s his angle? I don’t have it worked out. But the answer is coming. It took us about 2 weeks to completely demolish Starbucks’ Howard Schultz’s self dealing angle on the ASU tuition subsidy gimmick. But eventually we prevailed.

            Same thing will happen with Paulson (and probably Steyer, too.)

          • Very clear. Maybe the angle is a soon to be launched renewable energy investment fund with lavish federal government subsidies. Perhaps he wants to balance out his evil history by convincing “conservatives” to tilt the playing field towards a sustainable economy. Paulson has a long history of environmental awareness. He was, infamously from the perspective of the right, the Bush cabinet member who “believed in” global warming, and was once The Nature Conservancy board chairman.

          • jimbills Says:

            Charles – there is no ‘sustainable’ economy in terms anywhere acceptable to those today. The myth that we can tweak a few things here and there in global capitalism and suddenly we’re on a sustainable environmental path is accepted as undisputable truth by most, but our current economy rests on deep pillars that are all fundamentally unsustainable. Fossil carbon is just one of those pillars.

            Paulson himself MIGHT have good intentions. In fact, I think he’s likely trying to pull a Nobel – invent dynamite, and then create a peace prize to salvage a name.

            The Paulson Institute’s ‘About’ page reads:

            “The Paulson Institute is an independent, non-partisan center located at the University of Chicago. Our work is grounded in the principle that today’s most pressing economic and environmental challenges can be solved only if the United States and China work in complementary ways.

            With offices in the United States and China, and partners around the globe, we take a “think and do” approach. Our mission is to advance global environmental protection and sustainable economic growth in the United States and China, while fostering broader understanding between the two countries.”

            These are all fine things. I think Paulson might be able to make some impact with it. But in the meantime, the global economic machine will continue growing and spitting out nature as a waste product. Smooth relations between China and the U.S. will help grease this process.

            I know you want to hope for the best. I think hope all too often blinds us to reality, though, and that blindness leads us to false assumptions, which in turn prevent us from making correct course adjustments. No one is talking about we really need to do.

          • What do we really need to do?

          • jimbills Says:

            That would take a book, really. I think we need a complete re-examination and restructuring of economic growth, economic systems, income disparity, class justice, agricultural methods, population levels, technological advancement, education, national competition, interpersonal competition – to name a few things.

            We’re entirely screwed up on our basic priorities. We think the economy is the important thing, when people are the most important thing. Our health and happiness is the most important, and we’re headed in entirely wrong directions in those areas. Additionally, we’re undermining our future capabilities for health and happiness by over-producing for today. We’re stealing from the future so that we can keep our jobs, and we keep our jobs because of an economic system that places all but a handful in permanent servitude.

            Guys like Paulson are so blind that their main concern is keeping the system as they exist today in place. That’s the priority. They have environmental concerns only in that it keeps Walmart and global trade going.

            We have to understand that we choose either one of two things – the economy, or nature. We deceive ourselves in thinking that there are alternative choices. The economy is a machine that takes from nature and gives consumables and services to humans. We’ve increased the capabilities of our economy to levels which are far beyond replacement capacity and far beyond sustainability. If we choose the economy as our priority, that is what we’ll get. Paulson’s priority is the economy.

            The economy is our sacred cow. But that which can’t be sustained, won’t. We’re so fearful of alternatives, and so we mock those and caricature those who would dare consider alternatives. It’s so taboo we don’t really have any dialogue about it. But considering these paths are what we really need to do – not tweak and dress up an inherently rapacious beast.

          • Understood and agreed. However, an economy (GDP) is the sum total of transactions – which can be reoriented towards dematerialization – in theory.

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