Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Leadership and Experiments

In David Sanger's News Analysis in the NYT on Saturday, an anonymous person, described by Sanger as "a member of the Obama foreign policy team" was quoted as saying "there's going to be no time for experimentation."

Wrong, both on the substance and on the mindset.

In both foreign policy and the domestic economy, the country is facing new challenges. Iraq is not Afghanistan. Iran is not North Korea. This economic turndown is not like the recession of the 1980s or the Great Depression of the 1930s. Obama and his team can learn from the mistakes that were made in all those prior situations, but fighting the last war, literally and figuratively, is a profound mistake. Each of these challenges is new. The current repertoire is not adequate to the task. Anyone who thinks they know the solution ought to be barred from the meetings. This country needs to run a series of experiments, such as engaging with the enemies abroad, putting more pressure on Israel to give their politicians the courage to do what they should have been doing long ago, and trying a whole bunch of ideas to deal with the most intractable problems at home, education as well as the economy, carefully monitoring them, making mid-course corrections when needed, or abandoning them wholesale when they appear to be going awry.

The series of bailout initiatives are a case-in-point. If Paulson and Bernanke look they do not know what they are doing, it is because they do not know what they are doing. They have never been here before. All we can ask of them is that they make their best guess at the moment, run experiments, and see how they go. That's what they have been doing and the strongest argument for Geithner at Treasury is that he is a smart guy who does not seem flustered by having to change the strategy again and again until he gets it right. Similarly, Clinton at State is a good idea precisely because she has very little experience making foreign policy and has the potential to create a formidable team with the President. She's a risk worth taking, because the upside could be so high.

We forget that half of FDR's New Deal experiments were utter failures. So he kept coming up with new ones, tinkering at the margins or making big U-turns until itseemed to be working.

The danger is that the policymakers will succumb to the public pressure, exacerbated by the media, to pretend that they know the right path. Rather, what they should be doing, is helping us to adjust to the reality that they don't have the foggiest idea what will work, but that they will keep trying, and learning, and applying that learning until they get it right.

Larry Summers had it as reported in the in the Wall Street Journal that fixing the economy was as much an emotional issues as a policy issue.

As a consequence, policymakers have to help us adapt to the new realities: there are no quick fixes; some people will take losses, especially in the short run; and that the government will be running experiments, some of which will fail, but that the people in charge will keep trying until they get it right.

Playing the blame game will not do anyone any good. What is needed is a spirit of experimentation, the thrill of adventure, going out into uncharted waters, knowing that there will be bumps along the way. The policymakers need support, tolerance, and a long view. The best members of the Obama team will be those folks who are willing to take some risks, try out measures that have not been proven in the past, and be open to think of failed experiments as learning opportunities and not marginalization opportunities.

That, President-elect Obama, is the change we need.

3 comments:

P@ola - Farinata said...

BUON NATALE
.
Buon Natale, means Merry Christmas to you
Buon Natale, to everyone
Happy New Year and lots of fun
Buon Natale may all your wishes come true
Buon Natale in Italy means
A Merry Christmas to you
.
Far away across the sea
In sunny Italy
There's a quaint little town
Not a clock has been wound
For over a century
.
They don't know the time or year
And no one seems to care
And this is the reason
The Christmas season
Is celebrated all year
.


Warm Wishes Martin

Health and Wisdom for All

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