Obama’s Chicago Boys
Barack Obama waited just three days after Hillary Clinton pulled out of the race to declare, on CNBC, “Look. I am a pro-growth, free-market guy. I love the market.”
Demonstrating that this is no mere spring fling, he has appointed 37-year-old Jason Furman to head his economic policy team. Furman is one of Wal-Mart’s most prominent defenders, anointing the company a “progressive success story.” On the campaign trail, Obama blasted
Obama’s love of markets and his desire for “change” are not inherently incompatible. “The market has gotten out of balance,” he says, and it most certainly has. Many trace this profound imbalance back to the ideas of Milton Friedman, who launched a counter-revolution against the New Deal from his perch at the
He chose as his chief economic adviser Austan Goolsbee, a
Another of Obama’s
Now is the time to worry about Obama’s Chicago Boys and their commitment to fending off serious attempts at regulation. It was in the two and a half months between winning the 1992 election and being sworn into office that Bill Clinton did a U-turn on the economy. He had campaigned promising to revise NAFTA, adding labor and environmental provisions and to invest in social programs. But two weeks before his inauguration, he met with then Goldman Sachs chief Robert Rubin, who convinced him of the urgency of embracing austerity and more liberalization. Rubin told PBS, “President Clinton actually made the decision before he stepped into the Oval Office, during the transition, on what was a dramatic change in economic policy.”
Furman, a leading disciple of Rubin, was chosen to head the Brookings Institution’s Hamilton Project, the think tank Rubin helped found to argue for reforming, rather than abandoning, the free trade agenda. Add to that Goolsbee’s February meeting with Canadian consulate officials, who left with the distinct impression that they had been instructed not to take Obama’s anti-NAFTA campaigning seriously, and there is every reason for concern about a replay of 1993.
The irony is that there is absolutely no reason for this backsliding. The movement launched by Friedman, introduced by Ronald Reagan and entrenched under
When Friedman died in 2006, such bold critiques of his legacy were largely absent. The adoring memorials spoke only of grand achievement, with one of the more prominent appreciations appearing in the New York Times—written by Austan Goolsbee. Yet now, just two years later, Friedman’s name is seen as a liability even at his own alma mater. So why has Obama chosen this moment, when all illusions of a consensus have dropped away, to go
The news is not all bad. Furman claims he will be drawing on the expertise of two Keynesian economists: Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute and James Galbraith, son of Friedman’s nemesis John Kenneth Galbraith. Our “current economic crisis,” Obama recently said, did not come from nowhere. It is “the logical conclusion of a tired and misguided philosophy that has dominated
True enough. But before Obama can purge
This column was first published in The Nation.