Policy in the Interregnum

November 22nd, 2008

There are those who believe that President-elect Obama is breaking his promise to bring about change by selecting well-known people to run his administration.  Many of them have been around the Washington–New York circuit for years, and some served in high places during the Clinton administration.  This doesn’t bother me at all.  Who best to run a government, especially one facing such serious challenges, than those who have proven their ability in the past?  What worries me is the apparent confusion in dealing with our present financial crisis in the interregnum between the election and the inauguration.

Paul Krugman has written an insightful column in The New York Times that highlights the dangerous uncertainty we’re going through now:

Everyone’s talking about a new New Deal, for obvious reasons. In 2008, as in 1932, a long era of Republican political dominance came to an end in the face of an economic and financial crisis that, in voters’ minds, both discredited the G.O.P.’s free-market ideology and undermined its claims of competence. And for those on the progressive side of the political spectrum, these are hopeful times.

There is, however, another and more disturbing parallel between 2008 and 1932 — namely, the emergence of a power vacuum at the height of the crisis. The interregnum of 1932-1933, the long stretch between the election and the actual transfer of power, was disastrous for the U.S. economy, at least in part because the outgoing administration had no credibility, the incoming administration had no authority and the ideological chasm between the two sides was too great to allow concerted action. And the same thing is happening now. 

There are encouraging signs that President Bush and President-elect Obama both understand this problem and are working together unusually well, with a lot of interaction between outgoing and incoming officials.  We can all be thankful for that, I suppose, but this remains an uncommonly dangerous time.  Simply put, there couldn’t have been a worse time for an economic crisis.


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