The Stimulus worked

I meant to post this before Thanksgiving, but it's still worth doing.  The NY Times ran a nice story summing up opinions from private-sector economists (i.e., people paid to be accurate about their opinions rather than just make an ideological point) who largely agree that the stimulus has been quite effective and that our economic situation would be a good bit worse had we not passed this.  Most estimate that unemployment would have been about 2% higher (that's huge!) and that GDP growth would've been 2% lower.  Those figures are nothing to sneeze at.  The problem is that Obama gets no credit for averting economic catastrophe when the economy is still in such poor shape.  "It could've been a lot worse" just isn't much of a rallying cry.  It is, however, an important thing to know.  And it is, of course, worth noting that the modern Republican party has basically taken it as dogma that the stimulus was a bad thing.  Wouldn't want evidence to get in the way of ideology.

 

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What to do about Afghanistan?

Short answer: I don't know.  What to do in Afghanistan strikes me as an extraordinary difficult foreign policy decision and I've yet to read or hear something that thoroughly convinced me one way or the other.  Perhaps that's because being open-minded means accepting that there are no good answers to Afghanistan and there is huge uncertainty about whatever path we choose.  I felt like my studied ambivalence on the issue was validated by Fred Kaplan's latest column in Slate where he confessing to not having a strong opinion about what to do despite writing a column titled, "War Stories."  Kaplan's column nicely lays out the various pro, cons, and uncertainties about the various approaches.  Kaplan's admitted uncertainty and ambivlance is, of course, hugely refreshing in a columnist, and I think in this policy area quite appropriate. The problem for Obama is that, as Kaplan sums it up:

My guess is that President Obama held so many meetings with his national-security advisers on this topic—nine, plus a 10th on Sunday night
to get their orders and talking points straight—because he wanted to
break through his own ambivalences; because he needed to come up with a
reason (not just a rationalization) for doing whatever it is that he's
decided to do, some assurance that it really does make sense, that it
has a chance of working, so he can defend it to Congress, the nation,
and the world with conviction. Let's hope he found something. A
columnist can be ambivalent; a president can't be.

Though my strongest impulse is to question the wisdom of a troop escalation (especially after listening to this amazing edition of Bill Moyer's Journal which featured archival tapes of LBJ discussing whether to escalate in Vietnam), I find it hard to second-guess too strongly any decision Obama makes in this area.  Nobody can argue he isn't giving the matter thorough consideration.

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