Barack Obama has promised to fill his cabinet with rivals, which in theory will keep policy discussions and decisions lively and balanced. However, it appears there is at least one area of his fledgling administration that is not open to discussion or debate - the economy.
In Obama's economic team, only the voice of Bob Rubin's "Rubinomics" is represented: balance the budget, deregulate, and expand free trade. Those appointees and advisors such as Timothy Geithner, Lawrence Summers, and Peter Orszag are all Rubin disciples, and therefore represent a similar position on the economy. They are hardly rivals. The appointments of men who share a common philosophical umbrella is unwise enough, but Obama is so enamored with Rubin that he went a step further and hired the man's spawn, James Rubin, as a headhunter.
Individuals will remember old Bobby Rubin from his days in the Clinton administration where he was Treasury of the Secretary. Rubin then went on to serve as Director and Senior Counselor of Citigroup. Of course, the government now finds itself in the position where it is bailing out Citigroup, yet another bank deemed too big to fail.
There are patterns here, and the patterns are ideology and investment. While economic experts now agree that some kind of regulation is needed, especially in the realm of multi-billion dollar bailouts, the overall ideology of free trade being good for the world remains intact. As President Bush so helpfully reminded us during his recent trip to Peru, there is nothing wrong with free trade. Free trade will show us the way. All hail Free Trade!
The second pattern is investment. When government officials travel through the revolving door directly into private sector banking and investment positions, and then sometimes travel BACK into government jobs, they of course represent the interests of the market, and not the people, of the United States. The almighty dollar is their most prized constituent. This second pattern is so powerful that it doesn't take direct conflict to persuade opinions. All it would take, for example, is for a man like Bob Rubin to have an investment in a group like Citigroup in order to extend his persuasive hand to his former disciples, who now have the ear of the President-Elect.
Both of these patterns are reasons for why an economic team of rivals would be a good thing. Otherwise, only one narrow alley of the country is represented: Wall Street. Of course, Obama promised rivalry within his administration, and not departmental rivalry, but a mix of economic ideologies is important primarily because the ideologies of deregulation and free trade are failing. In the case of Citigroup, they have failed. Risky investments and deregulation have led us to this clusterfuck arena, and the solution isn't packing the treasury with more Yes-men Rubinites.
As Obama is so fond of saying, the solution is to develop an economic team of rivals, or at least include one fan of regulation and accountability in the new economic team. It's not enough to reinstate the economic players of a bygone era. Besides, Clinton shares the blame (See: NAFTA) in the current economic firestorm, so simply bringing back his Treasury team isn't enough to cure America's recession blues.
It will take radical new thinking to dig us out of this one, and a lively discussion about the broader economic system is where we need to start. Bring on the rivals.