Sunday, August 24, 2008

Obama's economic philosophy and personal morality: a bit troubling


David Leonhardt has an interesting, if wordy, overview of Barack Obama’s views of the economy in the Sunday Aug. 24 “New York Times Magazine” on p 24, link here. The online article is called simply “How Obama Reconciles Dueling Views on Economy”. How Clintonian! The print version is more outlandish. “A Free-Market-Loving, Big-Spending, Fiscally Conservative, Wealth Redistribtionist.” Early on, Leonhardt talks about Bill Clinton’s two sides, represented by Bob Reich, who wanted big infrastructure spending, and Robert Rubin, who wanted to reduce the deficit and calm the bond markets. Obama may well indeed follow the mantra of the “IOUSA” film warnings at “Roadside Attractions.”

Reaganism, after all, liked the idea that if you let the rich keep more, they will invest in more productive thinks and create more jobs. Sometimes they do, but a lot of these things tend to burst. (Remember H. Ross Perot's "Trickle down didn't trickle!" in 1992? We have come back in a full circle.) So Obama definitely wants a tax policy that helps middle class families preferentially, and makes their spending capacity more stable. One flaw is that Obama tends to target specific industries (like oil) for “undeserved” profits (objectively he seems off the mark), and tends to sneer at wealth earned passively from invested property. In fact, a number of observers are calling him "Robin Hood" specifically for singling out specific "enemies of the people" (oil companies, again), as in Peter Brown's Aug. 17 Wall Street Journal op-ed blog entry, "Obama Plays Robin Hood", here. That attitude does not bode well for seniors, who often have modest incomes from work but large potential sustenance incomes from assets (and who may need them for long term care, lest their adult kids wind up on the hook). Obama, by the way, has also proposed a variety of schemes to shore social security by taxing the "rich," possibly even on non-wage income, as a further tool of redistribution. The AARP et al need so make all of this clear to “liberal Democrats” who seem ready to expropriate wealth from those who have already lived once.

The other dichotomy comes with the issue of sustainability. Obama seems to be in a genuine quandary. Bill Clinton (and, I believe, Hillary) came to believe that technology really could deal with sustainability problems, but McCain sounds more confident of this than does Obama, who is tending to look at oil production peaks and global warming as moral issues that may well filter down to individual values.

I do think that if Obama winds, the movement to lift "don't ask don't tell" will gain real traction, and may fit in to his desire to invigorate national service. His moral vision could prove interesting.

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