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Obama talks up 'post-bubble' economy
President Barack Obama acknowledged Friday that the economic downturn is causing Americans “incredible pain and hardship” but kept up his attempts to paint a more optimistic picture of the current financial climate.
Obama said he’s “putting in the pillars economically to deal with the short-term emergency to stabilize the economy and to put in the foundation for long-term economic growth, and that’s an overarching package that I think the American people are hungry for.”
He said believes the capacity of American workers and companies to perform is undiminished and will help build a foundation for economic growth. “We’ve got the most dynamic free market economy on earth,” Obama said.
And he spoke of a day beyond the current crisis, when he would try to create a “post-bubble” economic model, one that doesn’t rely for growth on “just on an overheating housing market, or people maxing out their credit cards. Those days are over. What we need to do is go back to fundamentals.”
Obama remarks came as part of his recent effort to start talking up the economy, and not talking it down. Obama took some criticism for warning of economic “catastrophe” recently, and his comments lately have shown a marked effort to express a more upbeat tone.
Obama’s comments came after his top economic adviser, Lawrence Summers, came to the defense of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, whose approach to a bank rescue plan has been panned by many economists and has helped plunge bank stocks into a calamitous slide.
“I think that Secretary Geithner has handled this in a difficult and courageous way,” Summers told an audience of several dozen academics and journalists at the Brookings Institution Friday morning.
“The easy thing to do would be—and anybody who’s worked in Washington for a while knows how to do it—would be to lay out a nine-point plan with the illusion of specificity and the sense of certainty about what the future would bring. It’s so easy that we saw half a dozen of them from the previous administration. It’s just that they were different each month.”
Summers, who heads the National Economic Council, suggested that Geithner’s critics were being overly simplistic about the financial sector’s problems and that the Treasury secretary will ultimately be vindicated for taking the time to come up with a workable solution.
“The right approach, the approach that Secretary Geithner has taken, is an approach that is based on deeds and not words. It is an approach that lays out a framework and unlike so much of the commentary actually recognizes the enormous complexity of the problem and the balances that need to be struck ,” Summers said.
“It would be tempting to rush to action to meet a chorus of questions like yours,” Summers said, in response to a query from a former Clinton economic adviser, Martin Baily, about whether the administration was adequately focused on the financial sector’s woes. Summers did not offer a specific timeline, but he said the so-called stress testing of banks should be completed before officials settle on an approach to absorbing toxic assets like bad mortgage debt and opaque derivatives.
“My suggestion is we let this stress testing continue. We allow the process of supporting and reactivating the capital markets to be carried out and we evaluate what the results have been sometime from now and I think the wisdom of Secretary Geithner’s approach will be much clearer at that time,” Summers said.
Summers’ remarks struck a guardedly optimistic tone, echoing recent comments from Obama suggesting that some were being too gloomy about the current state of the economy and its potential for a quick rebound.
While Summers recited statistics about the staggering economic decline in recent months, he also noted that the stock market has dropped, when adjusted for inflation, back to levels it was at more than four decades ago. Just as Obama did in an Oval Office photo-op last week, Summers implied that stocks now represent a good buy.
“That the market would be at essentially the same real level as in 1966 when there were no PCs, no Internet, no flexible manufacturing, no software industry, our workforce was half as large as today and our capital stock was a third as large as today, would be regarded by some as suggesting the presence of the sale of the century,” he said. “There is one ineluctable lesson of the history of financial crises: they all end."
Summers said the stimulus plan passed last month may have helped lower borrowing costs for some businesses and produce signs that consumers may be slowly regaining confidence. “It is modestly encouraging that since it began to take shape consumer spending in the United States, which was collapsing during the holiday season, appears according to a number of indicators, to have stabilized,” he said.
Summers also argued that car sales and housing starts were almost guaranteed to rebound from current levels due to the need to replace old vehicles and create more homes to accommodate population growth.While many business leaders are predicting economic damage from so-called cap-and-trade legislation the administration is advancing to address climate change, Summers claimed that uncertainty about implementing the policy was the main danger and that it could “spur a whole range of great investments” when enacted. “In the long run, we believe this can create jobs on a substantial scale,” he said.
Summers’s most passionate moment came as he expressed frustration with claims that funding to support higher education had no place in the recent stimulus bill . “Isn’t it good to stop families from selling their houses to send their kids to college? Isn’t it good to enable families to spend their incomes without sacrificing their students’ education?“ the former Harvard president asked. “As the father of two college-age daughters, I can tell you there’s very little danger that any assistance that finds their way into their hands will be saved and not spent quickly. “
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