Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Hope-based administration

In the midst of an overwritten, over-metaphored piece called "Is Obama skidding or crashing," Penn Jillette sums up exactly how I'm feeling about the Obama administration right now, except for the part about being twice Obama's weight:

President Obama is so damn smart. He just drips smart. He clearly understands stuff that we could never understand. He's trustworthy. ... If I weren't twice his weight, I'd fall back with my eyes closed into his caring arms in one of those cheesy '70s church trust exercises. He could talk me into anything.

Obama tells us that we can spend our way out of debt. He tells us that even though the government had control over the banks and did nothing to stop the bad that's going on, if we give them more control over more other bank-like things, then they can make sure bad stuff doesn't happen ever again. He says we can get out of all those big wars President Bush caused by sending more troops into Afghanistan. And I don't know. I really don't know.

RELATED: This blog post by my mom from right after the financial crisis exploded:

A typo I just made while trying to IM the line "this shows we don't really have a democracy." The topic was how impossible it is for almost anyone to understand the current financial crisis, how disembodied it is from the presidential candidates we've been so focused on, and how we are forced by the complexity of the system to rely on experts whose reliability we cannot judge.

That was about an IM conversation she and I had in September 2008. I don't think the situation has gotten significantly better since then.

I feel like giving up on reading the news, then checking back in a year or two to see how things went. In the meantime, trying to figure out what's going on seems hopeless.


Justin said...

Yeah. The more i read the less i understand -- or at least, that's the way it feels.

An interesting article from the Nov/Dec 2008 issue of Foreign Affairs is highly critical of the idea that increased troops will provide the additional security Afghanistan ultimately needs. It says, in short, that neither increased foreign troops nor foreign aid can lead to a self-sustainable Afghani government, as the cost would be astronomical compared to the most optimistic projection of government revenue. What is required is complex diplomacy and compromise, the prospect of that which is tenuous but the best hope. These are experts that sound reasonable and sincere -- but who's got the real credibility?

As far as the bailout, what do you think of Paul Krugman? He strikes me as the most reasonable voice out there, although I am no economist. In any event, no one seems to be saying that the inevitably stiffer financial regulations are a bad thing.

A moment of levity from the Economist:
BARACK OBAMA, Nicolas Sarkozy and Dmitry Medvedev are looking at an island on a lake. The American president walks there across the water and waits for the others. Mr Sarkozy follows. The Russian head of state steps out too, but within a couple of seconds is up to his neck in water. “Shall we tell him where the stepping stones are?” asks Mr Sarkozy. “What stepping stones?” replies Mr Obama.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

"Advertisements contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper."

"The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers."

-- both from Thomas Jefferson

John Althouse Cohen said...

As far as the bailout, what do you think of Paul Krugman? He strikes me as the most reasonable voice out there, although I am no economist.

I have mixed feelings about Krugman. He's certainly respected as an economist, but I don't trust his columns. He's been known to make egregious factual errors and not recant them. I hold this against conservative columnists like Bill Kristol and George Will, so I think I should apply the same standard to a liberal columnist.

I was very disappointed with his voluminous editorializing on the 2008 Democratic candidates' health-care plans. No matter how academically brilliant Krugman might be, those columns showed an extreme lack of perspective in trying to convince the left that Obama isn't on their side, based on a relatively minor issue (I hesitate to even call it an issue). In fact, Krugman was originally basically supportive of Obama's health-care plan and admitted that his reservations were minor, but then he turned sharply against it. There was no external change to warrant this shift -- I think he just disliked Obama and wanted to help Hillary Clinton.

He seemed inexplicably averse to Obama during the election, so I don't trust his more recent articles that are very negative about Obama's prospects of success in fixing the economy. So, for instance, when he said recently that Obama's financial policy "fills me with a sense of despair," I had to take it with a grain of salt.

As for economic stimulus, I would repeat what I said in this post about the limitations of economists in figuring out the answers (particularly the stuff after the first embedded video). I didn't mention Krugman, but it would apply to his position that Obama's economic stimulus should be much bigger than it is. Krugman himself says the New Deal wasn't the stimulus that got us out of the Great Depression -- WWII was. Well, we can't do that again. You said you're no economist, and yeah, I'm no economist either, but the problem is: I'm not convinced that "economists" really know very much about how to solve our problems. They don't have a single historical precedent where an economic stimulus program got a country out of a depression.

To be fair, though, a lot of what I'm saying would apply to most columnists: they're biased and don't always have strong evidence to support their strong positions. I still read Krugman, but I don't adulate him the way some on the left do.