Wanted: A Financier in the White House

By Ferguson, Niall | Newsweek, December 5, 2011 | Go to article overview

Wanted: A Financier in the White House


Ferguson, Niall, Newsweek


Byline: Niall Ferguson

From the Tea Party to Occupy Wall Street, America is angry at elites. But Mitt Romney's business success makes him the best candidate by far.

This column is for Ted Forstmann: financier, fun lover, and philanthropist, who died on Nov. 20. But it's not just for him. It's to him.

Ted, I'm worried. I wish you were still around to help me get this right. The U.S. is going nuts with populism. That's always to be expected after a big financial crisis, I know. But this is dysfunctional.

On one side, there are conservative fundamentalists--the Tea Party--who think we can turn the clock back to before the New Deal, if not further. Some of them want to get rid not just of the Federal Reserve but of most of the federal government itself. I have more sympathy with these Teapopulists than with the other lot, the motley crew who want to Occupy Wall Street (call them the Occupopulists). But when it comes to practical politics, this Tea Party has more in common with the Mad Hatter's than Boston's.

To begin with, they've created a mood in the Republican Party that makes any kind of compromise on our fiscal crisis impossible. We just saw the ignominious failure of the supercommittee, which was supposed to come up with a plan to reduce the deficit. Predictably, each party blames the other side for this flop. Either way, the consequences are dire. First, the markets are spooked, just the way they were by the partisan dogfight over the debt ceiling earlier this year. Second, the country is now on course for more drastic spending cuts in 2013, which could not only slash our defense budget in an irresponsible way but also plunge the economy back into recession.

There's another problem. Just like the populists of a century ago, the Teapopulists are drawn compulsively to disastrous presidential wannabes. I never asked you what you thought of Mitt Romney, Ted. But I am sure you'd prefer him over the other contenders. Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich--the one thing these people have in common is that they would lose to Barack Obama next year even if the unemployment rate were twice what it is now. …

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