Bob Cropf

Did Obama’s team incorrectly diagnose the economic crisis?

In Keynesianism, Obama, stimulus on May 4, 2009 at 1:34 PM

In the April/May issue of the liberal-leaning Washington Monthly, James K. Galbraith writes that the team behind Obama’s economic recovery plans all share the same background and creed (you can find the article online here.). The problem with that, according to Galbraith, is that this leads to severe limitations in their vision of the possibilities of the economy.

Geithner, Summers, Romer, Orszag, et al. all share the underlying belief that the economy will right itself. The chief difference between Obama’s economic team and conservatives, however, is that Obama’s advisers believe that the economy needs a little help from the government to get back whereas economic conservatives assert that such help would actually do more harm than good. Galbraith argues that this could lead to a weak approach to fixing the current mess:

“If recovery is not built into the genes of the system, then the forecast will be too optimistic, and the stimulus based on it will be too small.”

Interesting point: The article claims that the hopes for a quick recovery are based on the assumption that this recession will be no worse than the 1981-82 downturn, the worst in recent history. However, if this is not the case, then the models that have been used to predict a rapid turnaround would be wrong.

If we discard as “normal,” postwar economic experience, then there might not be a near-term recovery at all. A strong argument could be made that the situation we now find ourselves in is vastly different from the postwar economic regime that we are familiar with.

Galbraith argues that Geithner, Summers, et al. are primarily concerned with restoring the pre-crash economic order, which was built on the predominance of private banks. Galbraith quotes the Treasury Secretary, Geithner as telling CNBC:

“We have a financial system that is run by private shareholders, managed by private institutions, and we’d like to do our best to preserve that system.”

In the past, economic downturns were shallow enough to permit a bank-led recovery. However, this time things are radically different, according to Galbraith. Millions of families have lost a huge proportion of their wealth. As a dire consequence, for many Americans, Social Security and Medicare represent their chief source of wealth.On top of that, the nation’s largest banks are bankrupt or nearly so. Thus, any attempt to restore the pre-crisis regime is automatically doomed to failure.

The article goes on to say much more. Galbraith is a respected economist, who holds a prestigious chair in Government/Business Relations at LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin, so he is someone whose words count for something in Washington, DC.

I bring it to the class’ attention because while much of the mainstream media focuses on the conservative attacks on the Obama economic plan, there is also a liberal critique that has not received quite as much attention. Galbraith is a good example of the “loyal opposition” within the left.

RC

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  1. Hopefully the Obama team is consulting with Bernanke who has historically (or at least in the Bush years) Repudiate[d] Bush Administration Deficit-Spending Fiscal Policy (Circa May, 2007)

  2. A very nice write-up.

    Well, I think all the suggestions are being made keeping painless recovery in mind, and that might not cure the maladie. A real recovery needs some tough measures that unfortunately will be painful but in the long term would prove sustainable. We have example of Asian Crisis – not so long ago.

    I have been taking devils advocate approach to visualize what might lie ahead in this economic crisis (http://asiapulse.wordpress.com).

    Warm regards, Z

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