Friday, August 24, 2012

Niall Ferguson's "Newsweek" Cover

Much comment has already been distributed by the media about Niall Ferguson's cover article in this week's "Newsweek" entitled "Hit the Road Barack", subtitled "Why we need a new President".

The attention is deserved.  Ferguson is an Oxford educated Brit who is a notable History Professor at Harvard.  He is a prolific and informative writer of various historical periods, and his writing manages to be both provocative and accessibly literate.  If there is a celebrity in  historical writing these days he is the one, and it's not because he's a ego poseur.  He is really knowledgeable and smart, at least from this perspective.

The focus of the article is primarily on Obama's failure to live up to virtually any promise that he made in 2008, but more precisely Obama's hands-off management style in which he promotes big ideas and himself and then delegates important legislation to political hacks  - as in the pork filled and overly regulated health care bill to Nancy Pelosi and the financial reform bill to Dodd and Frank, a deeply flawed impossibly complex bill that is packed with anti-business rule proposals that are only tangentially related to banking and finance.  Both bills have some redeeming charactistics for sure, but their complexity and costs for businesses to execute are excessive and at times punitive.  As a rule, any time bureaucracy is increased - more rules, more reports, more regulators, more studies - costs tend to go up, not down.

The article is relatively short but still manages to have some fascinating comments - here's one - "The total number of private sector jobs is still 4.3 million below its 2008 peak.  Meanwhile, since 2008, a staggering 3.6 million Americans have been added to Social Security's disability insurance program.  This is one of many ways that unemployment is being concealed."  There are many more quotes from the article of equal import.

As to Romney, Ferguson seems accepting but somewhat lukewarm and spends little time on him.  His critique of Paul Ryan, however, is exceptionally positive.  He doesn't agree with all that Ryan proposes but he does see him as someone who realizes and takes seriously the situation that we are in and who does have some viable thoughts and suggestions, some of which would not help their team at this point in the election cycle and therefore stay in the background.  His critique of Ryan is so antithetical to almost all mainstream media observations that it will no doubt be castigated widely.  I have initially seen Ryan as a heartless techno twit and this makes makes me think.  Living in this New York area one gets to see countless abuses of the well meaning unemployment and healthcare programs, both by scheming individuals but much more by businesses that exploit these generally undefended and destitute individuals.  Is Ryan the one to take the heat for taking this on?  Maybe he is a hoax, but given the amount that he works and studies our situations, sleeps in his office, just maybe he may at least move us into a real dialogue that is not focused on Barack and Michelle Obama.

Ferguson does not hide the fact that he was an advisor to John McCain on foreign policy in 2008, but he also acknowledges that he had great hopes for Obama at first, saying it was a "time for great rejoicing".  He now sees Obama as a distant and completely failed President. 

Here, I am conflicted about our November election choice.  Obama seems to have no understanding about economics, business, or how this economy really works in a practical sense.  Business involves by its nature risk taking, and Obama uses any mistake as an opportunity for populist rhetoric.  Obama also seems to lack any intuitive insight into foreign policy, making one wish for even Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush or almost Ronald Reagan in this major Presidential responsibility.  Obama's domestic intentions are in many cases laudable, but too often delegated while he raises funds, speaks smoothly, receives applause and shows off an occasional three pointer.

Romney remains remote and robotic, with an amazing ability to make awkward, some might say stupid, off the cuff comments.  One would probably need to go back to Kennedy to find anyone with less knowledge about foreign policy  His track record of success in many areas is far better in practice than it is in his ability to tell the truth about what he believes, if anything really.  Ryan has suddenly become as much of a key player in this election as any V.P. candidate in memory.

Too much has been written here.  Find that Newsweek in the library or on a newstand and give it a quick read.  Who knows who will agree with what Ferguson writes, but it's worth the time.

Postscript -10.50 pm, same day - a look at Google Blog Search shows that Ferguson's article has led to a hissy fit by the liberal media that is unrelenting.  This reaction is so overwhelming in its attack on him that it in fact justifies the publication of the article.  He hit a nerve.  Ferguson is no right wing tea party radical holed up in an Idaho cabin, but from the comments written one might get that opinion.  The dialogue created may be one sided at this point, but what's wrong with some disagreement. 


Anonymous JR said...

Thanks, John, for this level headed critique.

12:57 PM  
Blogger John Borden said...

Thanks for your comment, accepting a political commentary on FB is often not welcome. Also thanks for your comment a month ago on my misguided GPS drive with my younger daughter. I am so glad that you noticed the nuance there, if there was any.

2:22 PM  

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