I won’t even try denying it. When compared to the brainy insider types, people like Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geithner, who are running Barack Obama’s economic policy — and let us all stand with our mouths appropriately agape in awe and wonder at the very mention of their names — those of us supporting disreputable (and socialistic!) things like growing the stimulus package and nationalizing failing banks are a fairly motley bunch. Who can blame Obama for wanting to keep us at arm’s length?
I mean, some of us are even of that lowest of all breeds — quick, lock up the children and the womenfolk — the bloggers. And Obama made it crystal clear in his recent interview with The New York Times that he has little use for such reprobates:
Mr. Obama rode to the White House partly on his savvy use of new technology, and he has a staff-written blog on his presidential Web site. Even so, he said he did not find blogs to be reliable, citing the economy as one example.
“Part of the reason we don’t spend a lot of time looking at blogs,” he said, “is because if you haven’t looked at it very carefully, then you may be under the impression that somehow there’s a clean answer one way or another — well, you just nationalize all the banks, or you just leave them alone and they’ll be fine.”
I actually have no problem with the substance of Obama’s comments about blogs (although I could have lived without the dismissive tone). Blogging serves many valuable purposes: directly establishing national economic policy probably shouldn’t be one of them. Even a blog lover like me wouldn’t suggest the president click onto a random Daily Kos diary, then, impressed by what he reads, completely rewrite US economic policy in response (although if the choice is between that and having him continue to listen to Geithner, well . . .).
But as Paul Krugman — blogger and Nobel Prize winner — has pointed out, bloggers are far from the only people urging Obama to be more audacious in working to save what’s left of our economy:
A real fix for the troubles of the banking system might help make up for the inadequate size of the stimulus plan, so it was good to hear that Mr. Obama spends at least an hour each day with his economic advisors, “talking through how we are approaching the financial markets.” But he went on to dismiss calls for decisive action as coming from “blogs” (actually, they’re coming from many other places, including at least one president of a Federal Reserve bank), and suggested that critics want to “nationalize all the banks” (something nobody is proposing).
As I read it, this dismissal — together with the continuing failure to announce any broad plans for bank restructuring — means that the White House has decided to muddle through on the financial front, relying on economic recovery to rescue the banks rather than the other way around. And with the stimulus plan too small to deliver an economic recovery … well, you get the picture.
For all I know, Geithner may be right and Krugman wrong. When it comes to economics, a fair degree of skepticism and uncertainty is always in order. What bothers me, speaking as a non-expert, however, is how one-dimensional the advice Obama’s receiving seems to be. It’s all insider conventional wisdom, all of the time. What happened to the brave talk of the president surrounding himself with divergent viewpoints?
I suspect Paul Krugman isn’t at the head of Obama’s hit parade when it comes to economists. Krugman’s preference for Hillary Clinton during the primaries was hardly hidden, and he’s been consistently on the president’s (honorable) butt ever since. But the truth is that Krugman not only carries considerable authority on economic issues, he also speaks powerfully to many of the folks who form the base of Obama’s political support — people he’ll need in the fights ahead.
So, here’s my suggestion, Mr. President: swallow hard and, if for no other reason than as a goodwill gesture to your supporters, put your money where your political mouth is by reaching out to “the other side.” Give Krugman one hour of your time to make his case. Let him tell you personally why he (and so many others) believe a more aggressive approach is needed if we are really to address this economic nightmare.
You may well decide to ignore him and stay the course.
But what do you have to lose by listening?