09 March 2010

The Obama Economic Team

I am not an expert on economic matters, but even I was overly concerned during the last decade at an economy dependent on the sale and purchase of bad debt and a housing market whose value was over-inflated. Before the election of 2004 I was warning that when those two bubbles burst, America would be in for a world of hurt. But the few of us who warned of such things back then weren't listened to, and, despite underlying warning signs, George W. Bush was elected (barely) to a second term.

That said, I sincerely believe that President Obama's economic team of Timothy Geithner, as Treasury Secretary, and Larry Summers, as Chairman of the National Economic Council, were the right guys to tackle the mess left behind following the Bush team's exit from the White House. The grown-ups were back at the table, and while they had a huge hand in creating the mess (the Clinton economic policy is just as much to blame as the Bush economic policy for the "Great Recession"), their inside knowledge of the wreck (the 2008 crash's "black box," if you will) would prove beneficial in navigating the way back to solvency.


...now that the patient is off life support and out of the intensive care unit, it's time to shake things up a bit. The patient is still in serious condition, and even the slightest wrong move could throw her back into recession, thus ending the presidency of Barack Obama after one term, all because the Reagan, Clinton and Bush teams pushed an irresponsible economic policy for the better part of three decades.

The President should thank Geithner and Summers for their service, and then respectfully ask them to leave their posts. Their counsel during the 2008 campaign, and during the first half of the first term, have been invaluable. But their economic philosophies proved to be unmitigated failures - beyond any reasonable doubt - with the economic collapse of September, 2008. It's time to promote Paul Volcker, former Fed Chairman and current chairman of the Economic Advisory Board, to Treasury Secretary, and Christina Romer, Chairperson of the Council of Economic Advisers, to Summer's position. Mr. Obama should also find a key advisory post for Nobel Prize economist Paul Krugman.

When the economy is in such dire straits, when unemployment is stubbornly stuck between 9.5% and 10%, when many economists predict a "lost decade" under the current economic team...well...it's time to rethink strategy and shake things up in a massive way. And for the sake of the American people, let alone his presidency, it is time President Obama took that initiative.

Who knows? Perhaps Mr. Obama is destined to be a one-term president. Perhaps it is his lot to make the tough choices everyone else is loathe to make, the tough choices that HAVE to be made in order to extract us from under the economic wreckage of the last four presidencies, and then let the 2012 election play itself out.

I hope not. When it comes right down to it, Americans admire presidents who make the tough choices, even if they don't agree with those choices at the outset. Moreover, the thought of handing the presidency back to the incompetents of the opposition party could be more than voters can bare; because in their heart of hearts they understand that returning the Republicans to the helm would only lead us down the road to absolute financial ruin.

I highly recommend John Cassidy's excellent essay in the current New Yorker. It is a rare look inside the mind of Tim Geithner, and his thinking behind his reign at the Treasury Department.