From New Economic Perspectives, Auerback writes, more in sadness than anger at the entirely avoidable crisis the US faces.
Worse than Hoover
By Marshall Auerback
It’s actually a bit over the top and unfair to compare Barack Obama with Herbert Hoover – unfair that is, to the memory of Herbert Hoover. The received image of the latter is the dour, technocrat who looked on with indifference while the country went to pieces. This is actually an exaggeration. As Kevin Baker convincingly argued in his Harper’s Magazine piece, “Barack Hoover Obama”, President Hoover did try to organize national, voluntary efforts to hire the unemployed, provide charity, and sought to create a private banking pool. When these efforts collapsed or fell short, he started a dozen Home Loan Discount Banks to help individuals refinance their mortgages and save their homes. Indeed, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which became famous for its exploits under FDR and Jesse Jones, was actually created by Hoover. Often tarred with the liquidationist philosophy of his Treasury Secretary, the establishment of the RFC was, as Baker suggested, “a direct rebuttal to Andrew Mellon’s prescription of creative destruction. Rather than liquidating banks, railroads, and agricultural cooperatives, the RFC would lend them money to stay afloat.”
He cites Obama’s obsession with compromise are the cause of this blindness;
There appears little question, then, that the President values compromise, indeed appears to enshrine it as the apex of all great Presidencies (ironically citing Lincoln’s compromise on slavery as a perfect illustration of this ideal). But the problem with Walsh’s supposition is that the President’s accommodation with his political enemies, his apparent infatuation with a “third way”, suggests that he is being forced to compromise on a particular set of ideals and principles which he has hitherto embraced dearly….
In essence, the debt ceiling dispute is not forcing a compromise on this President, but is instead is viewed by him as a golden opportunity to do what he’s always wanted to do. That also explains why he won’t ask for a clean vote on the debt ceiling, why he has ignored the coin seignorage option, and why he has persistently avoided the gambit of challenging its constitutionality via the 14th amendment, even though his Democrat predecessor has already suggested that this is precisely what he would do: Bill Clinton asserted last week that he would use the constitutional option to raise the debt ceiling and dare Congress to stop him (http://www.nationalmemo.com/article/exclusive-former-president-bill-clinton-says-he-would-use-constitutional-option-raise-debt).It also explains why President Obama remains infatuated by bigger and bigger “grand bargains”, which seem to take us further away from averting the immediate economic catastrophe potentially at hand, which is to say national default. The Administration, then, is not going for a bipartisan compromise, but going for broke on something which the President apparent holds sacrosanct. In reality, true compromise would start with the notion of a clean vote on the debt ceiling or, at the very least, a minimal series of spending cuts that would avert the immediate risk of a default, whilst creating less deflationary pressures.Have you actually seen the President ever get angrier than he was at his press conference announcing the collapse of the negotiations on the debt ceiling extension? Not even on health care “reform” can we ever recall seeing Obama this engaged, and manifesting something close to real emotion as he has here. That does suggest something beyond mere political calculation; it hints at core beliefs.
Unlike President Hoover, who inherited the foundations of a huge credit bubble from the 1920s and found himself overwhelmed by it, this President is worse. He is, through his actions, creating the conditions for a second Great Depression because of his misconceived belief that too much government spending “crowds out” private investment, and takes dollars out of the economy when it borrows. And therefore, goes the perverse logic, when the government stops borrowing to spend, the economy will have those dollars to replace the lost federal spending.And so after the initial fall, Obama believes, it will all come back that much stronger.Except, that as my friend Warren Mosler insists, he is dead wrong, and therefore we are all dead ducks.As Warren notes, have you ever heard anybody say ‘I wish they’d pay off those Tsy bonds so I could get my money back and go buy something.’?Of course not! Notes Warren:“Treasury borrowing gives dollars people have already decided to save a place to go. Dollars that came from deficit spending- dollars spent but not taxed. If they were spent and taxed, they’d be gone, not saved.Treasury bonds provide a resting place for voluntary savings. They are bought voluntarily. They don’t ‘take’ anything away from anyone.For example, imaging two people, each with $1 million. One pays a $1 million tax. The other doesn’t get taxed and decides to buy $1 million in Treasury bonds. Pretty obvious who’s better off, and who’s still solvent and consuming.”
Someone please explain this basic economic tenet to the President so that he can effect a genuine compromise, not a destructive “grand bargain” which will suck trillions of demand out of a still fragile economy. The predictable result is of his current stance is that, even as he claims to recognize the interlocking nature of the problems facing us and vows to “solve the problem” once and for all via a “grand bargain”, Obama is in fact tearing apart most of the foundations which were tentatively initiated under Hoover, but which came to full fruition under FDR. If he continues down this ruinous path, $150 billion/month in spending will be cut. Such economic thinking isn’t worthy of Mellon, let alone Herbert Hoover.
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