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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press The Case for Bashing Tony Blair

The Case for Bashing Tony Blair

Tuesday, 01 July 2014 03:57

It seems that Matthew D'Ancona is upset that people are criticizing former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is apparently making vast sums in a second career in the financial industry and on the speaking circuit. There are several points worth noting.

First, as is the case with Bill Clinton, his generational counterpart in the United States, the public certainly has good cause to be upset that Blair set the economy on a path of bubble driven growth, even if the bubble blew on the watch of his successor. The public also has the right to be furious that Blair, like President Bush in the United States, misled his country into war in Iraq.

Both of these factors should be enough to tarnish Blair's public standing well past his lifetime, but the immediate topic is the fortune that he is amassing in his career as a former Prime Minister. There are two issues here. First, it is difficult to avoid the perception that Blair, like Clinton and now former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, are cashing in on the connections that they have made in their political careers. It seems more plausible that Blair and Geithner are attractive as employees in the financial industry because of who they know, as opposed to their business acumen. Also, the lavish speaking fees these people earn can be at least as much to curry favor as opposed to an immense desire to hear their wisdom.

But let's give Blair and Co. the benefit of the doubt and assume that there are no quid pro quos for the hundreds of millions being thrown their way. There is still a separate issue. Suppose that Tony Blair had spent his political career sounding more like Elizabeth Warren than Bill Clinton. Would the big bucks still be flowing in his direction?

My guess is that the answer is no. Blair, like Clinton and Geithner, is eligible to get incredibly wealthy in his second career because he has pursued policies that were hugely favorable to the financial industry. This is a serious problem.

If we give our political leaders credit for a tiny bit of foresight, they would recognize that they stand to become enormously wealthy if they pursue policies favorable to the financial sector and other big business interests. On the other hand, if they pursue more balanced policies they will just enjoy the retirement of a very well paid professional. D'Ancona wants us to believe that this fact could not possibly affect the policies they pursue while in office, and he is angry at those who might think otherwise.

Comments (13)Add Comment
written by Kat, July 01, 2014 5:28
Oh, does Dealbook have a London based reporter now?
Obama's future windfall
written by Octavius Incentivus, July 01, 2014 5:58
This is a great post laying out the incentive structure for national leaders, but what's missing is a discussion of Obama and the tens of millions he stands to make from quid pro quo speaking fees as long as he stays in the good graces of the financial industry and the 1 percent. If liberals want to change the calculus and pressure Obama to represent ordinary Americans, they should know that he and his materialistic wife can only count on this largess since they also have a wider base of popularity. George W. Bush or Dick Cheney don't get anywhere near these payoffs for speaking since they're despised. The easiest thing liberals can do to change the incentive structure is stop cheering for Obama and his family at basketball games and the like, and boo them like reviled scum until they stop serving Davos Man. For instance, how about booing Obama in public appearances until he scraps the Trans Pacific Partnership? No one wants to shell out big bucks for a speaker hated by all sides. This is a fight progressives will first have to fight against other progressives. A good place to start would be the dozen or so school districts that have named schools after Obama, and loudly telling them that they represent everything wrong with the Democratic party.
Free At Last
written by Last Mover, July 01, 2014 6:51

Yes, it's true. I have decided to leave politics for the usual reasons, the main one to finally escape the impossible conflict of pleasing all constituents with curry favor.

I can't take the pressure of the endless compromises that block the path to getting things done. Now I can strike out on my own and finally do the right thing, free from the corrupting influence of special interests trying to steer government giveaways to themselves at devasting cost to others.

My first objective will be to apply the skills in lying I gained in government to the private sector.

I plan to be a free market specialist after getting hired by the highest bidder from a group of economic predators who run the country.

Thank god I will be free at last and your taxes to pay my salary will no longer influence me as I get the government out of your life and securely into mine.
Legalized version of Bribery
written by JayR, July 01, 2014 7:14
Keith Alexander, formerly of NSA, is charging about 600K per month for "consulting". It is just a form of make some big businesses happy now and receive very massive money later. A delayed bribery scheme that is very difficult to legally prosecute.
Jobs! Jobs! Jobs!
written by Tourville, July 01, 2014 7:16

Jobs! Jobs! Jobs! .. Oh Wait ! he's singing NAFTA! TPP! TPP!

It's Clinton_Bush_Obama Corporatism Off Shoring u.s.Job s
Perhaps we need to have NPV calculations for political actions.
written by John Wright, July 01, 2014 7:55
The financial industry should provide a public service by calculating NPV (net present value) for political actions.

For example, NAFTA + financial deregulation may have had a NPV of around 200Million for the Clinton family.

And some votes, perhaps Russ Feingold's voting against the Iraq war and the Patriot Act, may have actually had a negative present value (future cost) for him, as these votes actually may have cost him supporters and caused him to lose his Senate seat.

This bribery in arrears in politics has always been with us, as wasn't that the point of the bible's "Parable of the Unjust Steward"?

Luke 16:1-13
"There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’

“Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg. I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.’"

The steward then proceeded to write down the debts of the master's creditors to provide for his future well-being.

While I'm not religious, this part of the bible seems to be a fair representation of much of American political practice in the USA's crony capitalist system.
Sorry, substitute "master's debtors" for "master's creditors" in my earlier post.
written by John Wright, July 01, 2014 8:18
I wrote creditor rather than debtor.
Something Known Since Grover Cleveland
written by sherparick, July 01, 2014 8:49
I am afraid this has been an incentive in American politics since the age of Andrew Jackson (I have a lot of admiration for both Henry Clay and Daniel Webster, but both became rich primarily by supporting policies that usually served the interests of the rentier class at the time (think of the fight over the Bank of the United States). It also shows why FDR, a man who was already vastly rich and very familiar with Wall Street, was initiate and pursue policies that Wall Street hated, because he did not give a damn what those clowns thought.
Incentivus Maximus
written by L. Ol, July 01, 2014 8:57
Octavius, the PollyAnna. You should read War and Peace someday. You might learn something.

Obama Ian"t the droids you are looking for, PollyAnna.
written by AlanInAZ, July 01, 2014 9:06
Virtually every part of our government is filled with revolving door disease. This includes the NIH,FDA,EPA,DOD as well as the WHO.
Blair the hypocrit.
written by Ralph Musgrave, July 01, 2014 2:49

Blair came to power with crocodile tears flowing down his cheeks on account of his self-procalimed concern for the poor. He constantly referred to his concern for "the many not the few". Now we see how genuine that concern was.
The real issue
written by wallflower, July 03, 2014 7:37
I am not concerned that Blair is cynically getting rich but that he might actually be an idealist and would use his new found fortune to institutionalize his idiotic politics (same goes for Clinton, e.g., the DLC).
very perceptive
written by DV, July 08, 2014 5:34
Typically perceptive blog post from Dean Baker. It occurs to me that reputations of economists may be subject to a similar effect. The Bliars of this profession, such as Larry Summers, who toady to the rich and powerful get much in pay back. The Elizabeth Warrens of the same profession, such as Baker and Weisbrot, rely mainly on the power of reason to persuade, though the reach of this power on the public is slow and uncertain.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.