Tuesday, December 2, 2008

More on the Obama Transition

In his New York Times column on Sunday ("Everybody's Business: Obama's Team Isn’t Exactly a Break With the Past"), Ben Stein was cautiously optimistic about President-elect Obama's economic picks overall, but had this to say about Obama's pick for Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner:

During the presidential campaign, I heard Mr. Obama talk many times about “change you can believe in.” But what does Mr. Geithner have to do with change?

He’s the pre-eminent careerist of old-time finance, and a basic part of the team that got us into this mess. He was pro-deregulation for most of his career. He went along with failing to rescue Lehman Brothers, a decision now generally considered a catastrophic mistake. He led the Federal Reserve Bank of New York while money-center banks made lethal mistakes of faulty risk management — and he did zero to stop it, as far as is known.

In what sense is he “change you can believe in”? How is he part of the solution, not part of the problem? I know he is a protégé of Robert E. Rubin. But isn’t Mr. Rubin himself the essence of the Washington-New York finance axis of power? He was a fine Treasury secretary while the tech boom made all things new, but Citigroup hasn’t exactly thrived during his tenure. Again, where is the change?

In his column in Monday's Financial Times ("Bernanke and the risk of deflation"), Clive Crook asks who, among Obama's economic picks, will actually be in charge:

He has put together a superbly talented team, but with so many strong-willed members one wonders who is in charge. Lawrence Summers at the National Economic Council? Timothy Geithner at the Treasury? This potentially unstable new duumvirate immediately aroused speculation about Mr Bernanke’s future influence and likely tenure at the Fed – an unhelpful development. If this were not complicated enough, next came the announcement of a new Economic Recovery Advisory Board, headed by none other than Paul Volcker.

Mr Obama has emphasised that he will be in command. He better had be. Yet it remains to be seen whether he can control this group of eminences and communicate his policy with sufficient authority. Unlike John McCain, Mr Obama never boasted of his ignorance of economics but the new president is no more master of these issues than his former rival. Boldness seldom comes out of committee, nor does forthright explanation. He is going to need a chief of economic policy – and it would be good if that person, and everybody else, knew who it was.


Jimmy Carter said...

The way things are going in America and beyond the new definition of

"change you can believe in"

may turn out to be 89 cents.

JK said...

Ben Stein is a funny guy. After he blamed bear market on a short selling cabal at Goldman Sachs, said subprime wasn't really that bad, and came out with that stupid documentary, I can't take him seriously anymore.

No doubt if Obama really brought "change" to washington, in other words a bunch of green academic theoreticians or idealouges, Stein would be still pulling his hair out saying "I told you he was too risky!" Now that he brought people who actually have credentials, its "Waahh! you lied to me about bringing change, Mr. Obama...not that I voted for you...but it still hurts."

Stein is just a partisan hack given to the very glib, predictable punditry disparaged a couple posts down. I wouldn't worry about pleasing him any more than Sean Hannity or Keith Olberman. He gives Doug Kass plenty to write about though.

DaveinHackensack said...

Agreed about Ben Stein's frequent glibness -- his ready adoption of the deregulation meme is one example. And you're right that he (and most everyone else) would have slammed Obama if Obama had picked inexperienced academics for top roles. I wouldn't overstate Stein's partisanship though: he hasn't been shy about bucking the GOP on taxes and other issues. On Geithner, too, Stein is bucking the conventional wisdom of many on the right, including the editors of IBD. Jim Rogers has a similar view of Geithner, but he also has a negative opinion of pretty much every current economic official.