Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A hands-on administration

Barack Obama, forty-fourth president of the United States, has been in office for a paltry three months, but he sure has a lot on his plate. I'm distressed at the sheer number of obstacles that Obama need overcome. These include a tanking economy, uncooperative allies (who offer conciliatory lip-service but little solid compromise), and of course, being president number forty-four (which is commensurate to being president number "double death").

Yet Obama has admirably jumped right into the fray, immediately tabling oodles of legislation and signing many an executive order into action. Having had months after his election victory to watch the country stumble in not-yet-inaugurated powerlessness, Obama planned furiously. And as soon as he was sworn in, he rushed out the starting gate to tackle a bevy of problems, leaving some pundits crying "too much too fast!"

Obama has quickly proved himself to be a resourceful, congenial, and hands-on president. His success at pushing through a $787 billion economic stimulus package where his predecessor failed is impressive. His administration also moved quickly to recoup monetary and public opinion losses over bonus payments made to AIG executives, a company that had been on the receiving end of the financial bailout. These stories of extraordinary government interference, including the recent ouster of General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner, make clear that Obama is determined to be the guiding hand that leads his country out of crisis... and that he's not afraid to push.

Nevertheless, while Obama oozes of learned charisma and trustworthiness - characteristics that the financial sector is heavily lacking at this point - his hands-on approach does raise some questions. Most importantly, is the government truly more competent and more qualified to fix corporate America than those executives who live and breathe in it?

It's one thing to legislate and regulate, it's quite another to start ripping out CEO's and blocking bonus payments. Interfering with the day-to-day operations of companies is more than just governing, it's commandeering. The American public, for its part, seems willing to accept this so long as it is successful.

Is Obama the genie we all hope he is? Only time will tell...


Michael said...

The banks and the Three Big Autos should be allowed to fail. They deserve it. Yeah the results won't be pretty, but I don't think it sends the right message that if you're a small business owner and you fuck up, you're bankrupt. If you own a large corporation, "you're too big to fail", so no matter what you do, you'll be rescued. Seriously, what the hell kind of logic is that?

People are always crying out these days of the "failures of unregulated capitalism", yet if you let unregulated capitalism run its course, banks that make poor investments (AIG included) and shitty auto companies run by over-paid CEOs and over-benefited workers (GM et al.) who make shitty SUVs nobody wants would both crash and burn. THAT's why unregulated capitalism works. Not because people don't make bad, selfish, greedy decisions (because as seen, they clearly do) but because it will always come back and bite them in the ass in the end. Which is the point: if you don't run your business well, you will fail.

Hell, people were warning as many as 6-8 years ago that the CDO bubble was going to burst. Of course, when people are making money hand-over-fist, they couldn't care less...

And now all the freeloaders who bought half-million houses on shitty incomes, the shitty lazy autoworkers who make shitty-ass cars, the dumbass greedy investment banks who fucked up bad and the CEOs and their disgustingly large bonuses (that, notably, are given independent of company performance) are all riding on the backs of hardworking, honest, tax-paying Americans.

Man if I was in the latter group, I would be saying a big FUCK YOU to the IRS right now and stockpiling on guns, ammo and canned beans right about now.

Andy said...

I'm inclined to agree with you that the Big Three ought to be allowed to go the way of the dodo. It seems unbelievable to have our economy hinging on the fate of such a dysfunctional lot. Isn't it time we had some industry of our own?

In any case, your appraisal of the current situation seems pretty solid, but I have to disagree with the conclusions. I think that most people cry about the "failures of unregulated capitalism" because they expect that if left to take its course, the market will take care of itself. Consumers will speak with their wallets to exert pressure on corporations, such that only the most diligent survive.

While that may be the end result of an economic crash-and-burn (weeding out the undesirables), I doubt that anyone thinks that recession and depression are "successes" of unregulated capitalism. As you said it, the "unregulated" system allows for greedy corporations and executives who drive our economy to the ground but care little because they continue to benefit.

The fact that we can have such insulated individuals, but that they have such a huge impact on the economy highlights the flaw in our system. The monetary system is so complex, yet the world is virtually enslaved by it, and it is far from ideal.

Surely that points to the need for some kind of intervention - whether or not it is the kind that Obama is proposing remains to be seen. In the end, people only want to avoid the hard times... and if bailing out the Big Three saves America from skyrocketing unemployment and economic depression, people will quickly forget that neither Ford, Chrysler, nor GM deserved it.