Thursday, January 29, 2009

International, International, International

The most fundamental aspect of the current crisis is its international nature. Essentially, huge seas of capital are sloshing around the world and creating great instability in the process. Trust in financial markets is hurt by the general instability and the particular abuses.

Carefully designed international regulations could increase transparency and accountability without squelching capital movement dramatically. The problem is that, when one country imposes such controls, capital can move to another country with great speed. International coordination is clearly desirable. Unfortunately, there is not enough trust for that either.

Robert Samuelson identifies the three layers of the crisis (consumer, finance, and international trade) that must be solved simultaneously. The current US government responses focus on the first two problems. On the third, there is little intelligent government response. In fact, we are likely to see increased protectionism, such as through the "Buy America" steel provision in the recent stimulus package.

The Obama interest in infrastructure development is a good first step towards addressing the need to be internationally competitive but we will not have addressed the challenges, and opportunities, of our economic moment until we look more seriously at international financial and economic structures.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Clear and Principled

Obama to Al-Arabiya:

And my job is to communicate to the American people that the Muslim world is filled with extraordinary people who simply want to live their lives and see their children live better lives. My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy. We sometimes make mistakes. We have not been perfect. But if you look at the track record, as you say, America was not born as a colonial power, and that the same respect and partnership that America had with the Muslim world as recently as 20 or 30 years ago, there's no reason why we can't restore that. And that I think is going to be an important task.

I have to say that I am excited and hopeful about Obama's pending visit to, and speech in, a Muslim capital.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Dear Dr. Krugman

I may not be a Nobel Laureate but I think that I can explain Obama's speech to Paul Krugman.

Krugman writes:
Thus, in his speech Mr. Obama attributed the economic crisis in part to “our collective failure to make hard choices and prepare the nation for a new age” — but I have no idea what he meant. This is, first and foremost, a crisis brought on by a runaway financial industry. And if we failed to rein in that industry, it wasn’t because Americans “collectively” refused to make hard choices; the American public had no idea what was going on, and the people who did know what was going on mostly thought deregulation was a great idea.

Obama's perspective entails:
1) holding the purchasers of subprime mortgages to account for their decision-making
2) at the same time, implying that such debacles of overleveraging are bound to happen in an unequal society, i.e. the poor are likely to overspend to try to keep up, at least, with the middle class
3) supporting the poor in their ambitions by developing new opportunities for them make economic contributions
4) recognizing that such 'opportunity development' is especially crucial when economic structures change (viz. globalization, the decline of American industry, the growth of the information economy)

It's a complex view that makes room for both individual responsibility and acknowledgment of social tendencies. Or, like others, I have simply divined in Obama's spacious words the perspective that I, myself, hold.

Prediction: Cuban Regime Will Fall Within Two Years

The Cuban regime has relied upon the sense of defiance of American imperialism to support its claims to political leadership. The American system can no longer look so convincingly monolithic to average Cubans. Won't the appeal of grasping the power that American voters have, to buck the establishment (whether it be the Clintons or the former WASP elite, be quite appealing to the Cuban people?

Are Castro's admittedly thoughtful words a strong enough brew to hold the Cuban system together, especially in the event of his apparently pending passing?


Nobody can doubt the sincerity of Obama's words when he says he will make his country into a model of freedom, respect for human rights in the world and for the independence of other nations. . .

[But,] despite all the tests he has been put through, Obama has not faced the most important of all.

What will he do when the immense power he has grasped soon proves to be totally useless in overcoming the intractable, opposing contradictions of the (capitalist) system?

The final question may be interesting but I doubt that it will be sufficient to stir the Cuban people to defiance of the United States.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Hegel, Democrats, Republicans, Obama(, and the Financial Crisis)

Hegel wrote of a the distinction between the business/manufacturing class (somewhat arcanely referred to as the 'reflective class') and the 'universal' class, constituted of civil servants and others whose professional work demands a broad social perspective.

It is not too difficult to argue, I think, that the Democrats are led by the 'universal class' and the Republicans have tended to be led by Hegel's 'reflective class,' which I will refer to as the 'creative class.'

The crisis in Republican leadership is a result of the fact that the new leading creators tend to have an increasingly universal perspective. This is due to the increasing importance of human capital, which puts the onus upon industry leaders to be more aware of the social investments necessary for their continued prosperity. The future course of the Republican party is unclear so long as Democrats are able to seize the ground where 'universal' meets 'creative.' Obama does this intuitively.

Also: The government purchase of large parts of the economy is a recognition of the increasing importance of addressing universal concerns (i.e. social stability) in the face of pulsating flows of international capital. This is a further manifestation of the same phenomenon as that described above.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

How We Will Really Get to Know Obama

John F. Harris and Jim VandeHei present a series of excellent questions about Obama:

The stirring rhetoric witnessed on the campaign trail and in Tuesday’s inaugural address is laced with spacious language — flexible enough to support conflicting conclusions about what he really believes.
Only decisions, not words, can clarify what Obama stands for. Those are coming soon enough.

Until then, here are the questions still left hanging as the Obama administration begins:




[and more about surveillance, unions, Darfur, and the Left . . .]