Thursday, August 30, 2012

An Economist Article on Obama I Really Didn't Like

The Economist remains my favorite news magazine. However, sometimes their need to cater to their main audience of wealthy business owners overwhelms their common sense.

This article really rubbed me the wrong way (an earlier article on the origins of money that gave outsize attention to the 19th century economist Menger and none to Graeber and little to the multiple other accounts of the origins of money did as well). Its main thesis I find fair, Obama really does need to make a case for his vision of the next four years rather than just pointing out that it could have been worse. However, since this is a British magazine I feel they should at least acknowledge the comparative international picture, the US is doing better than every other comparable economy (China, while large, is still undergoing catch up growth so isn't directly comparable, even they have seen substantial slowdown). It is hard to think this doesn't have something to do with Obama's leadership, though I grant it is about as convincing to the American electorate as a whole as an endorsement from my pet cat would be.

I have a few major problems. First, I disagree that American standing in the Muslim world is as low as it was under George Bush. They asked us to bomb a Muslim nation for Chrissakes, I couldn't imagine the Arab League endorsing another military adventure by the United States under the Bush administration. There certainly remains a lot of room for improvement, but our influence is certainly stronger than it has been in a long time; although newer regimes will inevitably be more difficult to work with than the older, authoritarian regimes were.

I also object to Paul Ryan being called a fount of bold ideas. To quote Ezra Klein, "it's much more courageous to propose taxes on the rich and powerful than spending cuts on the poor and disabled." There is nothing bold about Paul Ryan's ideas, they amount to buck passing to the states or to private charities and families (and for private charities and families there is a lot of research on the third world that shows these institutions are vastly less efficient than state sponsored programs, it's not a bold, untried area, these are well known and understood features of third world stagnation, though those specializing in developed economies are rarely even superficially conversant with this literature) along with a bunch of hand waving regarding the details. Just because the man is personally compelling doesn't mean his ideas are.

I also just have to say I hate the term radical center. As has been repeated ad nauseum, health care reform is basically RomneyCare, it was a right wing idea that was meant to counter left wing health care reform proposals. Given this, what other policies exactly will remain in the radical center once Obama endorses them? Wouldn't they then become labeled left wing socialist policies, which has so far been the result of Obama endorsing much anything? I found the ending two paragraphs entirely bone-headed, since Bill Clinton the Democrats have entirely endorsed pro-business objectives and the idea that economic growth and making the market work for individuals is essential to our nation. What radical center is there left to embrace that they don't already? Just because they refuse to endorse empirically unsupported notions regarding taxation of high incomes or unregulated finance doesn't mean they are anti-business. And pointing out the fact that individual merit tends to be a second order consideration in the success of business relative to structural factors is simply being realistic, even if it offends business people who like to stroke each others egos.

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