Can Barack Obama Do It?
Speaking at the Yale commencement nearly fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy said that what was at stake in making economic decisions was “not some grand warfare of rival ideologies …but the practical management of a modern economy” (1962). What was needed, he said, was “not labels and cliches but more basic discussion of the sophisticated and technical questions involved in keeping a great economic machinery moving ahead.” Much the same could be said of our current predicament—and much the same was indeed said by President Barack Obama in his Inaugural Address back in 2009. He told those listening that “the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply” and that “the question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.” He went on to say that the “state of the economy calls for action, bold and swift, and we will act—not only to create new jobs, but to lay a new foundation for growth.”1
The question on everyone’s lips, however, was Can Barack Obama do it? Even now one is tempted to answer with a slight variation on his campaign theme: Yes he can. But overcoming the legacies of those stale political arguments may prove harder to achieve, and creating the jobs and laying the foundation for growth may require not just bold action but also more lasting measures of reform than the initial enthusiasm of Inauguration Day might lead one to hope. Undoing the mistakes of the past, finding the appropriate fiscal and monetary policies to combat recession and ensure recovery, together with designing a regulatory framework within which systemic risk can be managed and minimized,