In this week’s Ontario election leaders' debate, Premier Dalton McGuinty shouted out an old, usually wrong, idea about economic leadership. McGuinty said, “One of the responsibilities of leadership is to find an opening and run through it.” Other governments have generally resisted this approach over the last three dangerous years.
McGuinty introduced this entrepreneurial vision when trying to explain why he’s committed Ontario to a multi-billion dollar renewable energy contract that reflects his point of view about the future and no existing market signals.
This style of governance is also captured in the phase: “Every crisis is an opportunity.”
Opportunistic leadership, however, has effectively been replaced by conservative leadership since the departure of George Bush. Obama, with Canada, saved GM and Chrysler because he couldn’t be sure what would happen to the economy if he didn’t. Obama, defying his court liberals, didn’t take over any Wall Street banks because he didn’t know what that might do to fragile financial markets and America’s competitive position internationally.
This determination to not gamble, to not unleash new forces and to just watch what happens has generated little interesting rhetoric and fewer headlines than the alternative. Consequently, the alternative—the high-strung adventurer—is already being missed by idealists and biographers on the right as well as the left. We are asked to imagine how much better we’d feel if Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton were making the decisions and bashing heads.
These presidents are remembered not so much for their individual accomplishments but as masterful politicians. They would not have submitted for long to a “balanced” approach. Nevertheless, the approach of the moment, with its crowded table of interests, fears, and unrealized opportunities, should be judged against actual economic conditions—not simply against a spectrum of political styles.
Every week, bits of data are headlined to suggest that the US economy is heading into another recession or that the value of money (as well as gold) may collapse. Nevertheless, by the end of this week, it is clear that the US is not going back into recession.
Inadequate economic growth does justify further stimulus and underlying public deficits justify reform of taxes and entitlements. However, that is nothing more than the normal business of moderate politics.
Mainstream leaders may have been negligent or sidelined over the last decade, but they should stay in the mainstream now that they’re back at work.
The center is not of a place of passionate intensity, but is seems to be holding. Yesterday, Germany voted to expand funding for measures to increase the Eurozone Rescue Fund despite widespread reluctance by Germans to bail out Northern European banks and Southern European citizens.
Tea Party politicians and economic model-builders are as up in arms in Europe as they are in America. Everyone is said to be angry and ready to throw out the “failed” schemes of the past. Nevertheless, in the crunch, the two most fortunate economic federations in the world continue to take one measured step after another to not find out what would happen if we threw the existing order out the window.