Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

There you go again, Paul Krugman

It’s self-defeating to be bitter before the fight is lost. Paul Krugman compounds that danger by being prolific.

Along with Robin Wells, Krugman wrote in The New York Review of Books a sympathetic review of three bitter books about Barack Obama, Wall Street, and the Republican Party.

Here’s Krugman's retrospective on how Obama made decisions during the crisis-filled early days of his presidency:

True, not all members of the team got it wrong. We now know in particular that Christina Romer, the Berkeley professor appointed to head Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, called from the beginning for a much larger economic stimulus than the administration ever proposed. But Romer was sidelined and it was Larry Summers—a person not shy about displaying his brilliance—who had Obama’s ear. In principle, that needn’t have made much difference; when wearing his academic hat, Summers espouses Keynesian economic views not noticeably different from Romer’s (or ours). But Summers, rather than passing on straight economic analysis, tried to show his political astuteness about what Congress would accept, and as a result underplayed the case for a bigger stimulus.”

Krugman doesn’t point out that not one advisor or school of economic opinion knew, in fact, how deep the recession was until well after the recovery package was passed into law. Nor does he say that Romer’s bigger package could have been enacted.

Instead, Krugman endorses the pop-psychological notion that Obama’s favored "all-star team” was assembled to give him the intellectual affirmation that he “craved.”

There’s something deeply unfair about all this.

Americans also “craved” an all-star team.

Obama’s task was to save a sinking economy. He wasn’t elected to fix morale in the Executive Branch or the White House—or spend his time finding out who’d screwed up.

According to Krugman and the books he reviewed, America was in a terrible mess because of stupid populist Republican decisions over the previous eight years.

So, what does the new president do? What was his fatal mistake? He listened to Larry Summers—a man who displayed his brilliance. In a crisis that absolutely required a divided Congress to quickly agree to explode the size of the federal deficit, Obama was swayed by political astuteness.


Too bad Obama didn’t know that the recession was three times deeper than the statisticians thought. Too bad he didn’t have the freedom to decide when to fight it. However, in an economic emergency or in a war, the nicest leaders must pick the option that’s doable and go with the most brilliant, plausible advise available.

Let the losers write the quickies.

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