Friedman Redux

Twice in a week? Well, maybe I’ll just have to get over Friedman’s whole “suck on this” big-stick attitude.

Apparently, Maureen Dowd has the day off, so Friedman fills in today with more reflections on the economic crisis:

Yet I read that we’re actually holding up dozens of key appointments at the Treasury Department because we are worried whether someone paid Social Security taxes on a nanny hired 20 years ago at $5 an hour. That’s insane. It’s as if our financial house is burning down but we won’t let the Fire Department open the hydrant until it assures us that there isn’t too much chlorine in the water. Hello?

Meanwhile, the Republican Party behaves as if it would rather see the country fail than Barack Obama succeed. Rush Limbaugh, the de facto G.O.P. boss, said so explicitly, prompting John McCain to declare about President Obama to Politico: “I don’t want him to fail in his mission of restoring our economy.” The G.O.P. is actually debating whether it wants our president to fail. Rather than help the president make the hard calls, the G.O.P. has opted for cat calls. It would be as if on the morning after 9/11, Democrats said they wanted no part of any war against Al Qaeda — “George Bush, you’re on your own.”

As for President Obama, I like his coolness under fire, yet sometimes it feels as if he is deliberately keeping his distance from the banking crisis, while pressing ahead on other popular initiatives. I understand that he doesn’t want his presidency to be held hostage to the ups and downs of bank stocks, but a hostage he is. We all are.

And that’s not all. Friedman pauses to reflect on basic business economics and comes up with an explanation of how “you need to let markets clear”. That is, failing companies and homeowners alike need to “go bankrupt, unlock their dead capital and reapply it to thriving entities”. And indeed, this chicken-soup recipe for economic recovery works to a degree in smaller scale. Friedman recognizes the problem, though:

The problem with this crisis is that A.I.G., Citigroup and General Motors — and your neighbor’s subprime mortgage — are not You let the market clear them away, and we could all be wiped out with them.

Friedman’s second recommendation is that President Obama may well have to tell the American people, in a cool, straightforward manner, that “fairness is not on the menu anymore”. Some, of course, will be disgruntled, but others will perk up momentarily and glance aside at each other as if to ask, “Was it ever?” So this depends on what people mean by “fairness”.

Third, the problem facing the Oval Office, as Friedman sees it, is that the big-ticket decisions—e.g., nationalizing banks, raising the bailout stake—must be made with no reasonable foreknowledge about whether the solutions will work. We are, after all, dealing with unprecedented scale.

The funny thing, thinking back, is that Obama asked for this job.

Of course, if this doesn’t work, maybe Mr. Friedman will apply his two by four to some bankers’ skulls. I don’t know. We’re grasping at straws, so why not bring back the glowing pins, ducking stool, and the stake? Or we could just join certain conservative factions and hope the whole thing comes apart.

Or maybe it’s just a sign of the Apocalypse that I’m posting Friedman twice in a week, and by this time next year I won’t have to worry about it either way.

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