The World War II battle of Anzio was a classic example of the perils of being too cautious. Allied forces landed far behind enemy lines, catching their opponents by surprise. Instead of following up on this advantage, however, the American commander hunkered down in his beachhead — and soon found himself penned in by German forces on the surrounding hills, suffering heavy casualties.Obama's campaign of "change you can believe in" is looking weaker all the time. He is far sounder than George Bush, but he is showing himself to lack the courage and imagination that is required by a great leader. It is sad to think that he styled himself on Lincoln. He is more like Lincoln's nemesis, George B. McClellan, the general who could build an army but failed miserably in leading the army.
The parallel with current economic policy runs as follows: early this year, President Obama came into office with a strong mandate and proclaimed the need to take bold action on the economy. His actual actions, however, were cautious rather than bold. They were enough to pull the economy back from the brink, but not enough to bring unemployment down.
Thus the stimulus bill fell far short of what many economists — including some in the administration itself — considered appropriate. According to The New Yorker, Christina Romer, the chairwoman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, estimated that a package of more than $1.2 trillion was justified.
Meanwhile, the administration balked at proposals to put large amounts of additional capital into banks, which would probably have required temporary nationalization of the weakest institutions. Instead, it turned to a strategy of benign neglect — basically, hoping that the banks could earn their way back to financial health.
Administration officials would presumably argue that they were constrained by political realities, that a bolder policy couldn’t have passed Congress. But they never tested that assumption, and they also never gave any public indication that they were doing less than they wanted. The official line was that policy was just right, making it hard to explain now why more is needed.
And more is needed. Yes, the economy grew fairly fast in the third quarter — but not fast enough to make significant progress on jobs. And there’s little reason to expect things to look better going forward. The stimulus has already had its maximum effect on growth. Even Timothy Geithner, the Treasury secretary, admits that banks remain reluctant to lend. Many economists predict that the economy’s growth, such as it is, will fade out over the course of next year.
The problem is that it’s not clear what Mr. Obama can do about this prospect. Conventional wisdom in Washington seems to have congealed around the view that budget deficits preclude any further fiscal stimulus — a view that’s all wrong on the economics, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Meanwhile, the Democratic base, so energized last year, has lost much of its passion, at least partly because the administration’s soft-touch approach to Wall Street has seemed to many like a betrayal of their ideals.
The president, then, having failed to exploit his early opportunities, is pinned down in his too-small beachhead.
Friday, November 6, 2009
Krugman Skewers Obama
This is funny. Paul Krugman in his NY Times op-ed points out that Obama is like the American general who stormed Anzio beach. He was far too cautious and as a result is now pinned down and under heavy fire. A marvelous opportunity was squandered because Obama was too timid. Here is the key bit: