The Agenda

A Useful Corrective from Professor Willem Buiter

Buiter delivers some real talk to the American public:

According to my back-of-the-envelope calculations there is about a 10 percent of GDP gap between the medium and longer-term spending plans of the Obama administration and the taxes the Congress is willing and able to impose.  The reality that you cannot run a West-European welfare state (with decent quality health care, decent pre-school, primary and secondary school education for all), rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure, invest in the environment and fulfill your post-imperial global strategic ambitions while raising 33 percent of GDP in taxes, has not yet dawned on the Obama administration or on the American people at large.

Unlike some of my friends and colleagues, I don’t think of President Obama as an unusually bad president. Rather, he reflects, as Buiter goes on to argue, the qualities you need to win office. 

Clearly, the qualities one needs to get elected to high office in western democracies are not qualities that are likely to be helpful once you have achieved high office and are expected to govern and lead. To survive the selection process to become president you have to be able to stitch together a coalition of special interests that can provide sufficient financial and sweat equity resources to win this grueling race to the top.  Once you get there, you should shed the unfortunate baggage you accumulated on your way up and govern in the interest of all the people.  Few can do that.  Apparently Obama is not one of them.

Many liberals are deeply disturbed by conservative protesters. The trouble is that this is what an engaged public looks like. The more decision-making is centralized in the hands of elected officials, the more anger will be directed towards elected officials. 

Reihan Salam is president of the Manhattan Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.

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