Monday, July 30, 2012

Obama and Business: What He Doesn't Get

Boy,  that Obama fella just can't catch a break, can he?  The wingers think he is a Muslim socialist.  His ex-friends on the left think he has gone whoring after the false god of Eisenhower Republican.  Meanwhile the zillionaire bankers are outraged--outraged--that he won't  kiss their shiny pink backsides show them the respect they believe deserve.

This can't all be true, can it? Specifically, he can't be both a friend and an enemy of "the business community," yes? Rhetorical question, of course. My answer is yes, it can indeed be true. But we do need some clarification on just what his attitude entails.

Start with the easy part: Wall Street. Of all the formidable skills in Larry Summers' portfolio, I'm beginning to think that one of the least understood is his power of hypnosis. If not Summers, then somebody* must have cornered Obama in the elevator on the way to the Oval Office and instructed him: "until I snap my fingers and say 'peaseblossom!' you will do everything--everything!--the bankers want you to do!" I can't think of any other reason why a president would work so hard to protect the essence (I almost said "integrity") of the banking system, at whatever cost to the economy as a whole. I am not at all sure why this might be so; it's not that he's ever actually been a banker, and I doubt that he is really hoping to be one when his incumbency ends (yeh, and good luck with that one if you do want it, Barry baby). But I would observe that he does seem to have picked up a kind of awe in the presence of the seemingly brilliant--same thing that made Jsck Kennedy go all mushy in the presence of Robert McNamara.

Does this mean he understands the banking system? You anticipate me here. Of course the point is precisely that he does not understand it. If he understood it half as well as, say, Barry Ritholtz, or Yves Smith, or Andrew Redleaf (just the the names on the surface of my cortex), he'd know just how riddled with fraudulent pretension it is. He'd know that yes, of course, we need a banking system, but that what we have here is a metastasized monster that clearly sucks more wealth out of the community than it provides.

Which brings me to another hobbyhorse of mine.  That is: Wall Street isn't really business, it's finance.    And what the Obama crowd has done is to ringfence finance while letting business go pretty much its own way.  And this latter part--the non-finance part, the business part--is something that Obama seems just not to understand very well.

Consider his resume.  In some ways, it's an amazingly rich and diverse panoply of experience, and it provides much that enhances his capacity to do his job.  But as the old snarl goes, "have you ever met a payroll?"  --I think the answer has to be "no."  He just doesn't seem to have much of a feel for what business do, and how they do it.

I don't want to glamorize here.  There are plenty of businessmen who are crooks and god knows there are more than enough who are just incompetent.  But there are an awful lot (including, ironically, many of the crooks and scoundrels) who are just trying to get through the day.  I don't think Obama is actively hostile to them; I do think he is just not quite clear why  they are there.

Fn.: anticipating your objection--no, I don't think the other guy does, either.
*A reader objects: it's Geitner.  Point taken; if anybody shows even more supine servility before the bankers, it is our Secretary of Treasury.  But remember DeLong's  rule: the Cossacks work for the Czar, and Geitner has been in office for near-four-years now because his President wants him there.


Jimbo said...

I agree, in part. I think he missed a major - if remote - opportunity to restructure the banks when he had the Dems in both Houses. However, that was his naive post-partisan phase and the Goopers and Blue Dogs railroaded him much to the dismay of left liberals. Yet he saved Detroit and thousands of small and big business suppliers. The fact is that both Big Finance and Big Business hate the Democrats because, in the words of the song, they want something for nothing. Along with small businesses, they resent paying taxes that they see as going entirely into useless ends like police, firemen, schools, infrastructure. The plebes should pay for those, MIRIT? So, we have a recovering naif vs. a really rich parasite.

I know where I'm going...

marcel said...

the Cossacks work for the Czar, and Geitner has been in office for near-four-years now because his President wants him there.

Yes, but... as I think another Californian observed, if Geithner had stepped down anytime in the last year and a half, the post of Treas. secretary would in all likelihood have remained empty because Senate Republicans would have filibustered any nominee (except maybe Joe the Plumber).

marcel said...

I forgot to identify that other Californian: kevin drum

bjdubbs said...

Agreed that Obama doesn't really get small business, but why is that? Some thoughts: a) Obama always thinks BIG. Small business is Willy Loman (see DFMF, where his maternal grandfather gers the Death of a Salesman treatment). b) Obama arrived in the US in around 1979 after living overseas during his formative years, and he missed the 1960s and 1970s. He still thinks US Steel and GM are running the US economy. c) Small business doesn't fit into any of his Rezko- and Obamacare-style "public-private partnerships," which is the signature Obama policy proposal.