Thursday, August 21, 2008

What works

Not long ago, I opined here that policies (like deciding what's for dinner and determining why it's the right thing to eat) should be selected because they have a good chance to work, not because they reflect an ideologically rigorous program or fit a cherished label.

Now comes this preview of an article in the NY Times Magazine. Ahhhhh. This is why we need this guy. He says stuff like: “My core economic theory is pragmatism ... figuring out what works.”

And this: “Reagan’s central insight — that the liberal welfare state had grown complacent and overly bureaucratic, with Democratic policy makers more obsessed with slicing the economic pie than with growing that pie — contained a good deal of truth.”

And (via this link in the Times article) this: "I think that all of us here today would acknowledge that we've lost some of that sense of shared prosperity. Now, this loss has not happened by accident. It's because of decisions made in board rooms, on trading floors and in Washington. Under Republican and Democratic administrations, we've failed to guard against practices that all too often rewarded financial manipulation instead of productivity and sound business practice. We let the special interests put their thumbs on the economic scales. The result has been a distorted market that creates bubbles instead of steady, sustainable growth; a market that favors Wall Street over Main Street, but ends up hurting both. Nor is this trend new. The concentrations of economic power and the failures of our political system to protect the American economy and American consumers from its worst excesses have been a staple of our past: most famously in the 1920s, when such excesses ultimately plunged the country into the Great Depression. That is when government stepped in to create a series of regulatory structures, from FDIC to the Glass-Steagall Act, to serve as a corrective, to protect the American people and American business."

And (back to the original article) this: “I think I can tell a pretty simple story. Ronald Reagan ushered in an era that reasserted the marketplace and freedom. He made people aware of the cost involved of government regulation or at least a command-and-control-style regulation regime. Bill Clinton to some extent continued that pattern, although he may have smoothed out the edges of it. And George Bush took Ronald Reagan’s insight and ran it over a cliff. And so I think the simple way of telling the story is that when Bill Clinton said the era of big government is over, he wasn’t arguing for an era of no government. So what we need to bring about is the end of the era of unresponsive and inefficient government and short-term thinking in government, so that the government is laying the groundwork, the framework, the foundation for the market to operate effectively and for every single individual to be able to be connected with that market and to succeed in that market. And it’s now a global marketplace."

And near the end of the article Obama tells the author about the Bobby Kennedy speech I've quoted here before, says it's his most beautiful speech. And then he discusses sustainability -- working to make an economy that doesn't destroy our ability to live on this planet.

He's not an old-guard ideologue. He's a man with a moral compass who wants to find real solutions.