Thursday, February 16, 2012

Hard Cases Make for Bad Law

It's fashionable to say, and I've probably said, that Obama faced the most difficult situation of any President since Roosevelt. In one critical way he faced a more difficult situation. The Great Depression started on Hoover's watch, and he had more than two years to try to deal with it by the time FDR took office. His utter failure meant that American expectations were near zero when FDR started. Obama, by contrast, was elected just as the catastrophe showed itself, and the economy was still in the throes of its first collapse when he took office.

Most Americans failed to grasp that what was occurring was not a standard issue recession - and to an extent that was true of many top economists as well. That the Great Recession (or Little Depression) never became another Great Depression was due in large part to the early interventions of both the Bush and Obama Administrations.

These interventions were huge - but almost certainly not big enough - and extremely controversial, but retrospective analysis overwhelmingly supports them.

There are plenty of potential gripes to make about Obama - that he had trouble managing his staff, that he couldn't manage to articulate a strong narrative to the country, and that many of his choices were unwise.

Which brings me back to that famous scene in Master and Commander where Russell Crowe finds a couple of weevils in a biscuit and explains to his physician friend that an officer in the Royal Navy's main job is always finding "the lesser of weevils."