As progressives, we can view President-Elect Obama's emerging economic team in one of two ways. Either he has disappointed us by picking a group of Clinton retreads--the very people who brought us the deregulation that produced the financial collapse; the fiscal conservatives who in the 1990s put budget balance ahead of rebuilding public institutions. Or we can conclude that he has very shrewdly named a team of technically competent centrists so that he can govern as a progressive in pragmatist's clothing--as he moves the political center to the left.My fears of course are of the former, especially with Tim Geithner as SecTreas. He's constrained of course by *not* having Hank Paulson's job right now, and still having to deal with Bush's plans. But to fix this problem both Geithner and the rest of Obama's economic team are going to have to completely change gears.
I just don't see that happening. As Kuttner says, these are the same people that worked to come up with the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, the legislation that massively deregulated the financial industry. Clinton signed it into law and it passed with broad bipartisan support in both houses of Congress.
To his credit, Geithner has been a voice for more regulation. But nobody's talking about repealing GLB, which should be among the first of the major consequences the financial sector should have to accept for taking trillions of taxpayer dollars in corporate welfare.
Still, Kuttner has more confidence than I do.
We'll see, indeed. Radical, earthshaking action will be needed to save our economy from depression over the next several months. Will Obama's team, as Obama has said, "do what will be necessary" to save the US economy?
In fairness, adults are not merely tools of their patrons. In recent months, Larry Summers has disagreed with Rubin on the scale of the needed stimulus. Tim Geithner is for far more regulation than Rubin. Jason Furman, though suggested by Rubin for his campaign post of economic policy director, actually spent more of his career working for Joseph Stiglitz than for Robert Rubin. Peter Orszag has done a fine job as director of the Congressional Budget Office, and is not averse to large scale public spending.
Obama is the president, and he will do what he deems necessary. In my writings during the campaign, I sometimes found myself second-guessing Obama's strategy--and he invariably turned out to be smarter than I was.
Obama is also famous for listening to a wide variety of views. Others among his senior staff, such as legislative director Phil Schiliro, are further to the left. But this economic team will have influence--in posing options, playing the role of gatekeeper, writing position papers, and serving as an echo chamber of each other's advice.
Obama is intelligent enough to reach his own conclusions, and they are likely to produce far more heartburn for conservative Republicans than for those who worked so hard to elect him. But it would be helpful if his senior economic team included even one person who was not a member of the same centrist club - a Joseph Stiglitz, a Jamie Galbraith, a Jared Bernstein or a Sheila Bair. We shall soon see whether the most interesting team of rivals in the Obama White House will be the president and his own economic advisers.
I'm still not so sure. Obama will have to pleasantly surprise me.