Two Presidents

With Bush being the lamest of lame ducks, WaPo columnist Eugene Robinson is getting concerned:

Bush could and should do it — he is still president, and preventing economic collapse is part of the job description. But he won’t. It’s ironic that after being so aggressive and proactive in other areas, the Decider is so indecisive and passive about the economy. He has limited his role to signing off on whatever Paulson says is necessary — most recently, $20 billion in cash and $306 billion in guarantees for Citigroup, a move that Bush apparently approved during his flight home from Peru.

In part, Bush’s inaction stems from ideology. If the free market is always right, it ought to correct itself and get back on course. All the government really needs to do is take care of a few emergencies such as Bear Stearns, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, IndyMac, AIG, Wachovia, Citigroup . . . and, of course, whatever comes next. Not the auto companies, however: In Bushworld, the firms that created the toxic mortgage-backed securities that threaten to bring down the global financial system are somehow morally superior to the companies that created the Mustang, the Malibu and the minivan.

I don’t think ideology explains it all, though. Even if he wanted to make a real run at righting the economy, at this point Bush has neither the energy nor the credibility to make it happen.

With Obama legally without authority, Robinson sees very little recourse except to hope that Paulson can keep juggling.

Update: McClatchy also had an article addressing the point:

Paul Light, a government professor at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service, said the rapidly deteriorating economy is forcing Obama to become the nation’s Booster-in-Chief before he becomes president.

“The markets are saying that George Bush is irrelevant to the economic future of the country, and they want to hear from Obama,” Light said. “Obama doesn’t have much choice but to reassure the markets as best he can. The ball is in his court whether he likes it or not.”

Like 1947, Only Tougher

The National Intelligence Council sees the entire international system, in both the economic and security realms, being revamped between now and 2025. Worth a read, just in case you thought the stakes involved in Obama’s presidency were low.

It’ll Never Happen

The Chinese buying one or two of the Detroit 3, that is. Congress will never allow it, for fear of the national-security ramifications. It’ll let the carmakers go belly-up first.

Climate Change: “Partner … Ally”

Obama had a message for the country’s governors on Tuesday:

The Union Label

Kevin Drum thinks the GOP will fight any liberalization of union-organizing regs:

You can certainly make the case that a serious obsession with Roe is a minority position even within the conservative movement. … Union busting, conversely, strikes me as being so deeply embedded in conservative DNA that it’s virtually impossible to imagine an American conservative movement that didn’t have anti-unionism as one of its core planks. In the last 30 years conservatives have made virtually no progress on their pro-life agenda, but they’ve made steady progress on the anti-union front ever since the end of World War II — via legislation, executive orders, new agency rules, NLRB appointments, and judicial nominations at both the state and federal level. This is no coincidence. The prospect of unionization rouses panic among Main Street conservatives more than any other single issue — more than taxes, more than deregulation — and whether James Dobson likes it or not, the GOP is a business party first and a social conservative party second.

Detroit Bailout

Some sort of bailout of the Big 3 carmarkers appears inevitable, most likely in the opening days of the Obama administration, for reasons Jonathan Cohn lays out at TNR. With even Obama himself telling 60 Minutes that the package needs to be conditioned on an industry restructuring, talk is turning to what Congress and the new president should demand. There are many skeptics, such as Matt Yglesias, but the bottom line is this is going to happen. Two million unemployed is not a number Congress can ignore. Less obviously, Detroit still has a hand in making a good number of the military’s ground vehicles and I don’t see Congress being happy with the idea of outsourcing that job to Toyota, Honda or Subaru.

G-20, Assessed

The Economist offers its first cut on the weekend G-20 summit:

Whatever the tactical reasons, the success of this weekend’s gathering has permanently changed the machinery of international economic co-operation. The centre of global economic summitry has shifted from the G7 (the rich countries’ club) to a broader group. A follow-up meeting has been scheduled for April 30th 2009. Even in areas that primarily affect them alone, such as the regulation of the most sophisticated financial instruments, rich countries will no longer set the agenda on their own.

Read the whole thing. Meanwhile, Tom Barnett is not impressed:

Simply put, the agenda right now is too vast and there are two many competing great powers for any one solution to apply. So expect a boom market for new rules over the next few years, but no one great pact. Viewed in this light, you take the meager results of the recent summit in stride.

G-20 Summit Results

Bush or no, there’s consensus among the leaders of the world’s most important powers on the causes of the meltdown:

3. During a period of strong global growth, growing capital flows, and prolonged stability earlier this decade, market participants sought higher yields without an adequate appreciation of the risks and failed to exercise proper due diligence. At the same time, weak underwriting standards, unsound risk management practices, increasingly complex and opaque financial products, and consequent excessive leverage combined to create vulnerabilities in the system. Policy-makers, regulators and supervisors, in some advanced countries, did not adequately appreciate and address the risks building up in financial markets, keep pace with financial innovation, or take into account the systemic ramifications of domestic regulatory actions.

4. Major underlying factors to the current situation were, among others, inconsistent and insufficiently coordinated macroeconomic policies, inadequate structural reforms, which led to unsustainable global macroeconomic outcomes. These developments, together, contributed to excesses and ultimately resulted in severe market disruption.

The summit communique can be found at the NYT. There’s also agreement on the need for cross-border regulation:

Supervisors should collaborate to establish supervisory colleges for all major cross-border financial institutions, as part of efforts to strengthen the surveillance of cross-border firms. Major global banks should meet regularly with their supervisory college for comprehensive discussions of the firm’s activities and assessment of the risks it faces.

The Washington Post offers a good summary of the outcome. Sarkozy is happy.

The Libertarian Core

Ezra Klein:

Libertarianism, for all its pretensions, isn’t an economics department dressed up as an ideology. Rather, it’s a belief — anti-statism — that gets dressed up as an economics department. Fundamentally, it’s about battling government, not supporting markets.

In some versions, yes. In others, not so much.

Josh Whedon Was There First

All due respect to Niall Ferguson and Tom Barnett, but they’re hardly the only guys to posit a convergence between China and the US. Firefly major domo Josh Whedon has too — and he clearly doesn’t like the idea.