Saturday, December 06, 2008

Change I Can Believe In: Economist Jared Bernstein

Many liberal activists are disillusioned by President-Elect Obama's transition. Managing the American government is complicated business and Obama has opted for experience. Experience translates into insiders from the Clinton Administration. Conceptually, this has not surprised me and I expected it.

It's only natural Obama would staff his nascent administration with people from the Clinton era. The Carter Administration was over thirty years ago. And Obama certainly can't staff his White House with people who worked in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations during the 1960s. That said, I've found certain appointments jarring. Specifically, I disapprove of Hillary Clinton's nomination to be Secretary of State. Also, even though we both went to Sarah Lawrence College, I have mixed feelings about Obama tapping Rahm Emanuel to be his Chief of Staff.

My disenchantment with certain appointments aside, I ultimately believe that Obama's administration will move America in a more sensible direction while retaining broad popular support over time. Obama has spoken repeatedly about the necessity of nurturing a "working majority" and compromise with some appointments are part of that process.

Yeserday however liberals claimed an important victory with Jared Bernstein's appointment as the chief economic adviser to Vice-President Elect Joe Biden. Bernstein has worked as a longtime economist with the liberal think tank the Economic Policy Institue. I find it especially ironic that Bernstein will advise Joe Biden who as the Senator from Delaware was an advocate for the banking and financial services industry with respect to bankruptcy legislation.

As longtime readers of the Intrepid Liberal Journal may recall, I had the good fortune of interviewing Bernstein twice. The first time was in 2006 by email after the publication of his book, All Together Now: Common Sense For A Fair Economy. In April I conducted a podcast interview with Bernstein following the publication of his acclaimed book, Crunch: Why Do I Feel So Squeezed? (And Other Economic Mysteries).

Bernstein was ahead of the curve in diagnosing what ails the economy while conservative chuckle heads chortled that the Bush-Cheney Administration were not getting sufficient credit for our "prosperity." While other economists take pride in their intellectual detachment, Bernstein is a man who understands that the lives of every day people are impacted by those in power. Indeed, when reading Bernstein's books or reviewing the two interviews I had with him, one constant theme comes across: the super wealthy in America have benefitted at the expense of the middle class because of superior access to the levers of power. Hence, in Jared Bernstein, wage earners and small business entrepreneurs finally have an advocate with a seat at the table.

By itself Bernstein's appointment is not an elixir or cureall. Bernstein is but one voice in a Washington cultural nexis that has celebrated hyper-individualism and corporatist values as being "mainstream" and "centrist." As our job losses mount and the cost of economic recovery escalates, Bernstein will have to struggle against the forces of the status quo and corporate elites who will mount a vigorous defense against any encroachment.

Yet even people like Robert Rubin and Larry Summer's have moved closer to the policy positions of liberals such as Bernstein and former Clinton Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich. Joe Biden would have never agreed to serve as Barack Obama's running mate if he wasn't guaranteed an opportunity for heavy input in Obama's decision making process. And Bernstein will be in a position to influence how Joe Biden shapes the economic debate in the new administration. That is fantastic news.

The upshot is that Bernstein's appointment represents a real victory during these perilous times as job losses continue to mount. It's why I and others liked me worked so hard over the years to achieve a majority in congress and take the White House. Jared Bernstein represents change I can believe in.

Please refer to the flash media player below to listen to the podcast interview I had with Bernstein on April 6th. Our conversation lasted approximately forty-eight minutes and among the topics we discussed at the time were the housing and credit crisis, needed regulatory reform, health-care, globalization, Social Security, America’s investment deficit and free trade.

This interview can also be accessed for free by searching for “Intrepid Liberal Journal” at the Itunes store.

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