Paul Krugman is wondering which candidate is best placed to handle the 3 a.m. call informing him that major hedge fund has failed. He’s pretty sure it isn’t McCain.
We’ve known for a long time, of course, that Mr. McCain doesn’t know much about economics — he’s said so himself, although he’s also denied having said it. That wouldn’t matter too much if he had good taste in advisers — but he doesn’t.
Remember, his chief mentor on economics is Phil Gramm, the arch-deregulator, who took special care in his Senate days to prevent oversight of financial derivatives — the very instruments that sank Lehman and A.I.G., and brought the credit markets to the edge of collapse. Mr. Gramm hasn’t had an official role in the McCain campaign since he pronounced America a “nation of whiners,” but he’s still considered a likely choice as Treasury secretary.
And last year, when the McCain campaign announced that the candidate had assembled “an impressive collection of economists, professors, and prominent conservative policy leaders” to advise him on economic policy, who was prominently featured? Kevin Hassett, the co-author of “Dow 36,000.” Enough said.
Now, to a large extent the poor quality of Mr. McCain’s advisers reflects the tattered intellectual state of his party. Has there ever been a more pathetic economic proposal than the suggestion of House Republicans that we try to solve the financial crisis by eliminating capital gains taxes? (Troubled financial institutions, by definition, don’t have capital gains to tax.)
But even President Bush has, in the twilight of his administration, turned to relatively sensible people to make economic decisions: I’m not a fan of Mr. Paulson, but he’s a vast improvement over his predecessor. At this point, one has the suspicion that a McCain administration would have us longing for Bush-era competence…
And while we’re on the subject of McCain’s economic gurus, here’s Bob Herbert on Phil Gramm:
Where is Mr. Gramm now? Would you believe that he’s the vice chairman of UBS Securities, the investment banking arm of the Swiss bank UBS? Of course you would. A New York Times article last spring noted that the “elite private bankers” of UBS “built a lucrative business in recent years by discreetly tending the fortunes of American millionaires and billionaires.”
Toadying to the rich while sabotaging the interests of working people was always Mr. Gramm’s specialty. He was considered a likely choice to be treasury secretary in a McCain administration until he made his impolitic “mental recession” comment. He also said the U.S. was a “nation of whiners.”
The tone-deaf remarks in the midst of severe economic hard times undermined Senator McCain’s convoluted efforts to reinvent himself as some kind of populist. But they were wholly in keeping with the economic worldview of conservative Republicans.
The inescapable disconnect between rhetoric and reality is often stark. Senator McCain has been ranting recently about the excessive pay and “bloated golden parachutes” of failed corporate executives. And yet one of his closest advisers on economic matters is Carly Fiorina, who was forced out as chief executive of Hewlett-Packard. Her golden parachute was an estimated $42 million.