Ladies and gentlemen, the envelopes, please: It's time to hand out the Rukeyser Economic Awards for 1990.
These are the 15th annual such awards, but this cockamamie year was truly one for the books - the comic books.Let's start with the amiable horseshoe tosser in the White House:
MISS OF THE YEAR - George Bush's historic miscalculation that if he welshed on his one memorable campaign promise - "no new taxes" - it would help him politically and induce Congress to cooperate in genuinely reducing spending.
MYTH OF THE YEAR - The "bipartisan" notion that you had to increase taxes in order to reduce the deficit. Already it's clear to anyone more than three feet from Dick Darman that the 1991 deficit will in fact be larger than it otherwise would have been - for two (highly predictable) reasons: The tax increases are slowing the economy, cutting revenues and increasing welfare costs, and they have encouraged Congress to spend even more recklessly than before.
WORST OIL ADDITIVE OF THE YEAR - Twenty-five bucks a barrel (now down to about $10, over the pre-invasion price), in the initial market hysteria about the Persian Gulf crisis.
MOST INFLUENTIAL ECONOMIST OF THE YEAR - Saddam Hussein. The U.S. economy wasn't exactly booming before he moved into Kuwait. But growth was nevertheless continuing, deep in the eighth year of a record peacetime expansion; exports were thriving, and the much-feared trade deficit had actually reached its lowest level in five years. The Dow Jones industrial average soared to an all-time high in July, and bonds were on the move, too. The combination of nearly tripling oil prices and intense world instability reversed all that. Curse that Saddam Hussein.
BEST FINANCIAL ADVICE OF THE YEAR (and, arguably, for New Year's Eve) - Get liquid. After a decade of skyrocketing debt, whooped on by Washington both by horrible example and by an anti-savings tax code, smart Americans are getting back to fundamentals, paying down loans and strengthening personal balance sheets.
JUNKYARD OF THE YEAR - The nation's prisons, currently holding an increasing number of those who peddled junk to unwary investors while displaying contempt for the little guys of the world. Now they have a chance to show a different stripe.
PREMATURE CANONIZATION OF THE YEAR - Mikhail Gorbachev, overpraised by a Washington establishment that apparently failed to notice that the old Communist was never the economic reformer he pretended to be, that his military budget kept rising and that he was vehemently opposed to (and by) the authentic democrats in his society.
BETTER LATE THAN NEVER AWARD - To the Federal Reserve Board, which after maintaining too-tight money for far too long, finally acknowledged at the tail end of 1990 that maybe it had been a smidgeon too cautious, and began belatedly lowering interest rates to head off an even worse recession.
LOSS OF THE YEAR - Margaret Thatcher. A world overstocked with politicians notable chiefly for keeping their wet fingers in the wind will sorely miss this staunchly principled, freedom-loving Prime Minister.
GAIN OF THE YEAR - Public revulsion against politics-as-usual is unmistakably surging in America. The movement for term limitations on legislators is growing apace.