Obama to Intervene More in Economy
From autos to energy to banking, President-elect Barack Obama is promising to intervene in the economy in ways that Washington hasn't tried since the 1970s, favoring some industries and products while hobbling others.
Under his financial policies, banks seeking government assistance would be forced to lend and to halt foreclosures. Automobile companies would be pushed to change their product lines to more advanced, fuel-efficient vehicles. Billions of federal dollars would promote solar, wind and biomass energy, while dirty coal power could be priced out of business.
Mr. Obama, in a video for a climate-change summit Tuesday, pledged to pursue energy policies that would reduce greenhouse emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 and reduce them an additional 80% by 2050. Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, speaking to a Wall Street Journal conclave of business leaders Tuesday, said the economic crisis facing the country is 'an opportunity to do things you could not do before.'
'You never want a serious crisis to go to waste,' Mr. Emanuel said.
Obama advisers said difficult times necessitate extraordinary measures. 'We are in the midst of a massive reorganization right now in autos but also other areas as well -- finance, information technology. All of this flows into . . . the new green energy economy we are living in, albeit in an embryonic stage,' said former Rep. David Bonior, an Obama economic adviser and proponent of a more interventionist industrial policy in the 1980s. Asked if this was the industrial policy of the incoming Obama administration, he replied: 'The answer is yes.'
Critics and advocates alike see the re-emergence of government economic steering that was in vogue when Japan, South Korea and Germany embraced it three decades ago, then discredited after its key practitioners slipped into deep economic funks. With the upheavals in world capital markets, pure free-market policies are facing more criticism.
Mr. Obama is by no means an activist in the Japanese mold, said Douglas Holtz-Eakin, an economic adviser to John McCain's presidential campaign. But as a whole, policies crafted to address distinct problems in the auto, energy and banking sectors are merging into a broader policy that would pick some winners and losers, preserve entire industries and shape consumer choices.
'We're backing into industrial policy in an emergency to correct massive market failures,' said Jared Bernstein, an economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute who has worked with the president-elect's economic team.
The Bush administration's $700 billion Wall Street rescue plan could be thought of as a state intervention to preserve U.S. dominance in financial services, Mr. Bernstein said. And coming from a conservative Republican administration, the Wall Street rescue plan opened the gates to other economic interventions.
What is changing is the unabashed nature of the coming interventions, after decades of denial, said Fred Block, a sociologist at the University of California at Davis who studies public-private partnerships. Mr. Obama has said future assistance to the banking sector would be tied to a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures. Advisers are pushing for other conditions to ensure tax money going to the banks would be lent out, not put into the vaults to recapitalize the firms.
Mr. Obama has promised to throw a financial lifeline to the auto makers in Detroit, but has said firms taking the money would have to change their product lines to emphasize fuel efficiency. Some advisers have suggested a government representative be put on the boards of directors to ensure product transformation was taking place.
On Tuesday at a governors' conference, Mr. Obama reiterated his intent to cap emissions of greenhouse gases and allow companies to trade permits to emit pollutants like carbon dioxide. Those policies foresee $15 billion a year going to alternative energy sources and nuclear power, while pushing the price of coal up substantially, by forcing coal-fired utilities to purchase the right to burn it.
Left unsaid was the negative impact those policies could have on disfavored industries. In the closing days of the presidential campaign, political opponents of Mr. Obama brought to light a videotape of the Democrat making that downside clear, and circulated it widely in coal-mining swing states such as West Virginia and Ohio. In it, the candidate said that under his policies, 'If somebody wants to build a coal plant, they can -- it's just that it will bankrupt them, because they are going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that's being emitted.'
Even some Obama allies are queasy about Democratic rescue plans for Detroit. Some Democratic economists say the notion of putting a government-appointed member on the boards of the Big Three could be worse than useless, since it might give the illusion of authority without the actual voting strength to affect corporate decisions. And some arguments for an auto-industry rescue, such as saying the U.S. needs to maintain an auto sector for prestige or national security, smack foes and allies as government intervention to preserve the status quo.
'The reason the U.S. economy was so successful for so long was not because we did things so well. It was because we let people fail,' Mr. Holtz-Eakin said. 'This is dangerous at some very deep level.'
麦凯恩(John McCain)竞选阵营经济顾问道格拉斯•霍尔茨•埃金(Douglas Holtz-Eakin)表示，奥巴马绝对不是日本经济模式的拥护者。但总的来说，奥巴马应对汽车、能源和银行业等不同问题所制定的政策正形成他的整体政策立场，他的政策将令不同行业有得有失、保护整体工业产业并影响消费者的选择。
自由派智库经济政策研究所(Economic Policy Institute)的经济学家、参与奥巴马经济团队工作的伯恩斯坦(Jared Bernstein)表示，我们正在重拾紧急情况下的行业政策，纠正大规模市场问题。