Saturday, February 7, 2009

It's the Theatre of the Absurd: Still Another Presidential Economic Advisory Group

President Obama announced yesterday another new team of outside economic advisers, headed by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. Volcker on Thursday leaked to the press that Larry Summers was blocking his access to the president.

This group will be known as the White House Economic Recovery Advisory Board. In setting up this board the White House said, "The board will bring a diverse set of perspectives and voices from different parts of the country and different sectors of the economy to bear in the formulation and evaluation of economic policy."

You don't really get the "diverse perspectives" sense from this group. It's more like people Obama can't diss, but does really not want to waste time listening to. The strategy here seems to be let them talk to each other. In addition to Volcker, the list includes:

Union chiefs: Richard Trumpka of the AFL-CIO and Anna Burger of the Service Employees International Union.

Obama's big money backer: Penny Pritzker, chairman of Pritzker Realty Group

And just plain old elite insiders: GE Chairman Jeffrey Immelt, Caterpillar Chairman Jim Owens, Former SEC Chairman William Donaldson, TIAA-CREF President Roger Ferguson, Yale University Chief Investment Officer David Swenson, President of Oracle Corp. Charles Phillips and University of California, Berkeley Professor Laura Tyson.

The neutralizing behind the formation of this group becomes obvious when you realize that Harvard University Professor Martin Feldstein is a part of the group. Feldstein was a McCain advisor and specializes in making noise. Now it will be Volcker that will have to listen to him, rather than Obama reading Op-Eds in WSJ from him.

This, for example, is what Feldstein wrote yesterday in WSJ:

President Obama has started to play the "catastrophe" card to sell his economic stimulus plan, using yesterday's terrible January jobs report to predict doom unless Congress acts. No doubt he'll get his way, but the tragedy of this first great effort of the Obama Presidency is what a lost opportunity it is.

Here's what Volcker leaked to Bloomberg's Thursday:

Paul Volcker has grown increasingly frustrated over delays in setting up the economic advisory group President Barack Obama picked the former Federal Reserve chairman to lead, people familiar with the matter said.
This group will thus sit around and "make plans." Get the picture? This is a reality show version of a Eugène Ionesco play. Don't take this group too seriously. Obama isn't.

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