07/22/2010 01:20 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Think Again: Economist, Heal Thyself

The president's approval numbers are lower than ever, particularly on the economy. A year after President Barack Obama's political honeymoon ended, his job approval rating dropped to a negative 44-48 percent, his worst net score ever. American voters say by a narrow 39-36 percent margin that they would vote for an unnamed Republican rather than President Obama in 2012, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. And as Republican consultant Mark McKinnon writes in The Daily Beast:

The economy is the number one issue on American's minds. And a year and half into the Obama administration, the public is already impatient with the president's handling of the economy. In a Bloomberg poll, 71 percent say that we're still in a recession no matter what economists may say. And in a CBS poll, 51 percent of respondents say they expect effects of the recession to last two more years.

So everyone agrees that things are not going well and a majority of people appear to believe it to be Obama's fault. Thing is, the economy is really complicated. Everybody knows that unemployment is unacceptably high, but if you casually follow the issue in the media, you'll find little consensus on what's really going on, much less what's to be done about it.

One would hope that economists might shed light on this problem. But there's a problem with economists -- or most of them anyway -- which is that they don't like or even much try to understand politics. Let me give you an example.

I happened to spend an hour or so this weekend attending a lecture at a local synagogue by the much-lauded economist Nouriel Roubini on the fate of the U.S. and global economies. The man has quite the resume, and has earned himself the reputation of being a "prophet" and a "sage" after long being called a "Cassandra" for his frequent pre-crash predictions that the housing market threatened global prosperity. He is now putting those admirable labels to use as the chairman of Roubini Global Economics and the author of what he calls "a crash course in the future of economics."

My attendance, however, was pretty much a waste of time. This wasn't because Roubini said nothing of any value. Rather it's just that I could have read pretty much everything he said in this column in about two minutes and stayed home and gone swimming with my kid. (It was an awfully hot weekend.)

But he did say a few things in his talk that I found both annoying and disturbing--and these have more to do with economics than politics. First off was Roubini's consistently stated belief that "politicians" got in the way of sound economic policy. This is undoubtedly true often, if not all of the time, but it misunderstands the point of economic policy in a democracy.

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