Thursday, May 10, 2012

Behind the scenes

The New Republic's Noam Scheiber has a new book out which examines the Obama administration's response to the Great Recession. Peter Suderman's review of it has two sections in particular that stand out:
Obama also wanted his inner circle to credit his own abilities: The president, Scheiber writes, “craved intellectual affirmation” and often badgered his lieutenants into acknowledging when his own ideas were perceived to have succeeded. Obama “had a habit of prompting his aides to acknowledge his wisdom and foresight,” Scheiber writes. The president would sometimes wonder aloud, “Whose idea was that?” when he deserved credit.
Arrogance or insecurity?
...When the stimulus package is being put together, Rahm Emanuel’s brother, Ezekiel, who worked as a White House health care adviser, sees an early list of spending options and expresses dismay that it lacks a wow factor; he laments that there’s nothing as exciting as, say, a bullet train between New York and Washington, D.C. None of the economists on the team thinks such trains make effective stimulus, but when the bill passes, it includes $8 billion in funding for high-speed rail. 
Obama, meanwhile, is reported to have pushed Christina Romer to check and recheck numbers on potential jobs from clean energy, despite being repeatedly informed that public subsidies for the sector would produce minimal employment gains. The numbers side with Romer: According to Department of Energy data, $38.6 billion in federally guaranteed green energy loans have produced just 3,545 permanent jobs.
Government is not a system in which rationality and dispassionate analysis carries the day. This is how the sausage gets made. 

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