Monday, September 26, 2011

Confidence Men

Brad de Long reviews Confidence Men;
Since the spring of 2009 I have became more and more alarmed by the economic policy choices made by the Obama administration. A new administration needs to (1) forecast what is most likely to happen, and (2) design and implement policies that will deal with what is likely to happen, The Obama administration did that. I think that some of its initial policies were wrong, but given the press of events I would give the administration moderately high marks for the policies it designed and implemented up through, say, April 2009.

Thereafter, however, things to me seemed to gradually fall apart. An administration has a third task it needs to carry out: (3) think hard about the risks--what if the administration has misjudged the situation? what if more things go wrong?--figure out what it needs to do to buy insurance against those risks, and do those things as well.
It needs to ask itself:
  • What if we are wrong in our estimation of the situation--what might the world then look like three years from now? 

  • What if more things go wrong in the next year or two--what might the world then look like three years from now?
  • In those possible scenarios, what will we wish then that we had done today to prepare the way for dealing with the situation?

Why Obama chose the policies he did, why Geithner and Orszag and company were so optimistic in 2009, why the Reconciliation process was not teed up for emergency expansionary fiscal policy action if it turned out to be necessary, why Fannie and Freddie were not teed up for emergency mortgage action if it turned out to be necessary, why the administration turned so decisively away from unemployment and toward long-term deficit reduction in early 2010, why Summers and Romer did not wipe the floor with Geithner and Orszag in the long twilight bureaucratic struggle when NEC collegiality broke down, and why Bernanke forgot about the employment and output part of the Federal Reserve's dual mandate - these are all questions that I would dearly love to know the answers to.

Two and a half years ago I would have given long odds that Ron Suskind's book would provide me with a lot of the answers to these questions.

It does not.

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