Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Obama's Economic Group: The good, the bad, and Bob Rubin

Obama had an "economic meeting" today and like his other "meetings" and "policy groups", I find them interesting because they help us piece together who his brain trust will be on these issues once he takes office(Putting buzzwords in quotes cause I have no what these things actually entail). Without further ado:
ABC News has learned that two former administration officials for President George W. Bush will appear with Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, at an economic meeting today, having signed up to be Obama economic advisers.

Bush administration veterans former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill and former Securities and Exchange Commissioner William Donaldson will join former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, and more traditionally Democratic economic advisers such as former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, billionaire liberal Warren Buffett, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, and SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger.

Donaldson's tenure at the SEC was notable for his attempts to work with the Democratic Commissioners, for angering the US Chamber of Commerce and Republican legislators, and for abandoning an effort for shareholder proxy access.

O'Neill, the former CEO of Alcoa, had a stormy tenure as Bush's Treasury Secretary, and revealed his frustrations with the Bush administration -- especially over the war in Iraq, economic policy, and the President's leadership style -- in a book written with Ron Suskind, The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill.
First we have the good: Warren Buffet, John Sweeney and Anna Burger as the liberal side of the equation. I really like Burger especially, and all three should be good injecting progressive policy into the debate. Also, after 8 years of being cast far far away, it's nice to see organized labor back at the table with the man who should be our next president.

On to the bad, Paul O'Neill and William Donaldson.

Now this is interesting for several reasons. I read Paul O'Neill's book, and loved it. His criticism of the Iraq war, and his account of Bush's activities from a traditional conservative's point of view were fascinating, and one of the first great looks inside the insanity of this administration. But he and Donaldson are very much economic conservatives. Which, for all their maverickness on other issues, it just doesn't make sense to include them in the process, especially when you think of all the smart progressive economists left sitting on the sidelines.

And then, there's the Bob Rubin.

Via Sirota, here's Robert Rubin in a sentance:
Bob Rubin - the architect of NAFTA, the leader of the Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party, and the head of Citigroup - a bank at the center of the credit market debacle.
It's also worth quotinging what happened the last time he advised a democratic candidate for president:
He (Jagdish Bhagwati) was rambling on about Kerry, and the Kerry campaign and said that at some point in the general election, after Bob Rubin had signed on as an advisor, he saw Kerry giving a speech in which he blasted “Benedict Arnold” companies for pursuing off-shore tax havens. According to Bhagwati, he picked up the phone and called Kerry and said “If you ever say that again I’m off the campaign.”

Needless to say, the Benedict Arnold line had been getting enthusiastic reception and tested off the charts. It never made another appearance. Another example of the Bob Rubin effect on the Democratic party.
So that's Bob Rubin, a corporate shill who gives really crappy campaign advice.

This policy group might as well be David Broader's dream: 3 conservatives, 3 liberals! Perfect economic plan ensues! No need to point that one of these groups has been completely dominant for the past 25 years and just might be responsible for the economic situation we're in right now. No, can't have that. Let's invite the foxes back in, I'm sure there's a hen hiding around here somewhere that they missed during the last three administrations.

In the comments of Sirota's post, Peter for WI says it best about Rubin and the problem with the "splitting the difference" approach to economic policy:
He's still a corporatist, and Obama's economic advisors have tended towards that school, even if they are Democratic corporatists that are socially liberal; and Chicago school types.

In the comments here, newdemrex said:

We need a balanced approach to the economy and Rubin provides that.

We don't need a balanced approach. Economic policy is not about splitting the difference between corporatists and working people. It's about doing what is best for the economy for all. Corporatists inherently wants what is best for corporations and Wall Street. This is almost exclusively, especially in the realm of structuring the fundamentals of an economy, to the detriment of working people.

Exactly. As is the case with so many issues, there are few "middle of the road" solutions to these problems. It's great to see Burger, Sweeney and Buffett in the room, but honestly shouldn't we be able to expect better from a democratic candidate? Granted, we don't know what went down in the meeting, and this all could have all been front to allow Sweeney, Burger and Buffett to kick the crap out of Bob Rubin while Obama berated him about what a loser he was. But since his actual economic team is run by Austin Goolsbee and Jason Furman (Bob Rubin's protege) ... I'm not holding my breath.

And since we don't know, all we can do now is hope that the meeting went better than it did when John Kerry held one of these things back in 2004:
In April 2004, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney grew concerned that John Kerry was getting too much of his economic advice from the Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party. Kerry had just completed his primary sweep. In the general election, he would need the unions. Sweeney proposed a private meeting to discuss living standards as a campaign issue, and the candidate invited the labor leader to his Beacon Hill home. Sweeney arrived at the Kerry manse, bringing his policy director, Chris Owens, and Jeff Faux of the Economic Policy Institute. There, seated in the elegant living room, were Robert Rubin and two longtime lieutenants: investment banker and former Rubin deputy Roger Altman, and fellow Clinton alum Gene Sperling -- Kerry's key economic advisers.

In a three-hour conversation, the group discussed the deficit, taxes, trade, health care, unions, and living standards. The labor people urged the candidate to go after Wal-Mart's low wages. Rubin countered that a lot of people like Wal-Mart's low prices. Kerry eventually announced that the meeting needed to wrap up, because "Bob has to get back to Washington." Rubin responded that, no, he could stay as long as Kerry wanted. Sweeney and his colleagues were ushered out the door; Rubin, Altman, and Sperling remained. "Wall Street was in the room before we arrived," says Faux, "and they were there after we left."
Ugh. Well, that's a positive from 2008, our nominee is not, and has never been John Kerry. Now if only we could get rid of the losing losers who helped him lose...

1 comment:

  1. Did any of you catch the "off mike/ on mike" conversation that Obama had with Prime Minister Gordon Brown? It underscores the way in which he plans to govern:
    "The truth is that we've got a bunch of smart people, I think, who know 10 times more than we do about the specifics of the topic," Obama said in a conversation picked up by a reporter's boom microphone. "And so if what you're trying to do is micromanage and solve everything, then you end up being a dilettante. But you have to have enough knowledge to make good judgments about the choices that are presented to you." (from WA POST story)
    His choices will only be as diverse and visionary as the people he surrounds himself with. And, as you point out, those choices represent more of the same failed policies of the past.