Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Obama, temperment, and economic policy

Some friends of mine have been complaining about Obama and his economic policies. While most are doing little more than complaining that they can't get a good bead on the guy, the others seem genuinely mistified at the difficulty in getting a handle on pragmatic economic policy.

Here's a long NYT article on Obama's economic policies and tendencies (the latter, IMO, more important than the former). Andrew Sullivan pulled out a good money quote already:

As anyone who has spent time with Obama knows, he likes experts, and his choice of advisers stems in part from his interest in empirical research. (James Heckman, a Nobel laureate who critiqued the campaign’s education plan at Goolsbee’s request, said, “I’ve never worked with a campaign that was more interested in what the research shows.”) By surrounding himself with economists, however, Obama was also making a decision with ideological consequences. Far more than many other policy advisers, economists believe in the power of markets. What tends to distinguish Democratic economists is that they set out to uncover imperfections of the market and then come up with incremental, market-based solutions to these imperfections. This helps explain the Obama campaign’s interest in behavioral economics, a relatively new field that has pointed out many ways in which people make irrational, short-term decisions. To deal with one example of such myopia, Obama would require companies to automatically set aside a portion of their workers’ salary in a 401(k) plan. Any worker could override the decision — and save nothing at all or save even more — but the default would be to save.

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