Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Coming Stimulus Package

Yes, we do have a President (elect)! (See “A Whiff of Leadership?” posted November 22, 2008 at . An economic stimulus package is in the works. The underlying philosophy…the risks of not doing something big are bigger than the risks associated with inflation and an economic cleanup when the economy shifts into first gear rather than reverse.

We have seen this attitude taken by the Federal Reserve. The Fed, as we have been writing about in this blog, has not wanted to be short in supplying liquidity to the financial markets. Federal Reserve assets have more than doubled in the past ten weeks. Chairman Ben Bernanke has been given the name Helicopter Ben during this barrage of funds. But, the argument goes, the risk is too great to not put money into the financial system until the financial markets begin to function again.

Liquidity is apparently not going to get the economy humming again…spending of the private sector is going into the tank. Lending in the financial markets is not going to kick-start consumer spending or investment spending…state and local government expenditure is also in decline…so the belief is that the federal government must step into the gap and stimulate incomes and employment.

The talk seems to indicate that the Obama economic stimulus package is going to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $700 billion…of similar size to the bailout package of a couple of months ago. The idea…like that of the bailout package…is that the stimulus package must be a large number.

One thing that is crucial in all of this is that the Obama administration must give off the impression that it is operating under control…that it is disciplined. This is a hard thing to do when the philosophy of the stimulus package is the one described above. However, the administration must appear to be very intentional, on top of the situation, and ready to do what is necessary in response to new information. That is, the Obama administration must rebuild confidence in the federal government. Establishing confidence at the top is necessary because it will help to rebuild the confidence of the whole system as I discuss in “Discipline or the Lack Thereof” posted November 20, 2009, at

President-elect Obama seems to be aware of this need to set the tone for the future. I think people, and markets, will respond very well to this because they are so hungry for leadership at this time…and are very, very anxious. So, we see two things going on right now…first, the appointment of top quality people to important positions…and, second, the intentional effort to create programs and get the discussion in Congress and the economy going so that action can be taken as soon as possible. The important emphasis right now is that the effort is intentional, not passive or just reactive.

Just a final note about the apparent appointment of Larry Summers to head the National Economic Council: this may be an inspired choice. No one questions the intelligence and ability of Summers. Being in the White House, acting as the coordinator of the economic policies of the President, monitoring the President’s economic agenda, and serving as close advisor to the President may not only fit his personality best but may be the real place his talents can fill the needs of the nation. It also superbly complements the other appointments that the President-elect has made to build his economic team.

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