The run up to the US Presidential Elections last year seemed to buck the trend of entrenched cynicism and apathy that had come to characterize contemporary politics. Barack Obama's rallies were often more like pop concerts or festivals, and many young people were mobilized to vote. Beyond broad generalities such as 'hope' and 'change' however, critics noted that specific political ideas and broader party principles seemed to be absent.
Now the US is in the midst of a severe recession: financial institutions and flagship businesses like GM are in crisis and jobs are being lost. So can President Obama deliver on his promise and deliver the change necessary for economic recovery?
The global political climate has changed dramatically in recent years. The traditional debates between right and left, capitalism and communism -- the interplay of which shaped the thinking of economic thinkers like Milton Friedman and John Maynard Keynes -- lack salience today.
So what ideological resources, if any, does Obama have to draw on? It often appears few politicians and commentators even understand what has happened and why -- let alone how to resolve the problem. Many have sought to blame 'greedy bankers' or 'greedy consumers' and neglectful regulators -- but is this a case of scapegoating rather than serious analysis?
Western economies have become increasingly dependent on credit rather than production. Will attempting to kick-start these economies with a stimulus bill that is predicated on more credit creation get to the heart of the problem? Or do we need a more comprehensive, honest debate about the fundamentals of the economy, what is and is not working, and what has changed?
Given all the failed experiments of the past, is there no alternative to how things are? Can citizens make a difference to these complex issues?
Bruce Bartlett is an economic historian who has spent the last 30 years working in politics and public policy. He has served in numerous governmental positions, including as a domestic policy adviser to President Ronald Reagan and a Treasury official under President George H.W. Bush. He is a weekly columnist for Forbes.com and has written for The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, National Review, Commentary, and Fortune. He is also a frequent guest on "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," "Lou Dobbs Moneyline," "NBC Nightly News," "Nightline," "Crossfire," "Wall Street Week," CNN, CNBC, and Fox News Channel, among others.
Bruce Bartlett's most recently published book is The New American Economy: The Failure of Reaganomics and a New Way Forward.
Justin Fox is the economics and business columnist for Time magazine. He also writes the Curious Capitalist blog on Time.com. Before joining Time in 2007, Fox spent more than a decade at Fortune magazine, where he covered a wide variety of topics related to economics, finance, and international business. In 2000 and 2001, he was the magazine's Europe editor, based in London.
Prior to joining Fortune, Fox worked at several newspapers, including American Banker and The Birmingham (Alabama) News. He has a degree in international affairs from Princeton University, studied political science at the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, and speaks Dutch and German. His first book, The Myth of the Rational Market, is a history of the rise and fall of the efficient market hypothesis, the influential academic theory that financial markets are nearly perfectly rational and correct.
Justin Fox is the author of The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward and Delusion on Wall Street.
James Matthews is a management consultant based in New York. Matthews has written about a variety of business and economics topics.
He is a member of the NY Salon, and has convened NY Salon events such as "Is There a Culture of Corruption?" and "Athletes as Role Models in the Steroids Era."
Alan Miller is Director of The NY Salon. He also is the co-founder of London's Truman Brewery and Vibe Bar.
Miller is also a film director and writer.
Robert J. Samuelson was a reporter for the Washington Post, 1969-1973; freelance writer, 1973-1976; economics correspondent and columnist for the National Journal magazine, 1976-1984; NJ columns reprinted in Washington Post beginning in 1977; columnist for Newsweek, 1983-present (biweekly Newsweek columns reprinted in Post; columns for Post in the off weeks).
Robert Samuelson is the author of The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: The Past and Future of American Affluence.
Management consultant James Matthews emphasizes certain holes in Obama's economic policy.
"The Obama administration's approach is essentially trying to rebuild the house of cards that's collapsed, instead of learning from this experience and recognizing that we need to go in a different direction."