Tag Archives: Sheila Bair

Read This Book, Win The Election

By Simon Johnson

With the presidential election looming and both sides looking for a knockout blow in the vice-presidential debate on Thursday evening, now is a good time for both Democrats and Republicans to look for one more defining issue. The new book by Sheila Bair, “Bull by the Horns: Fighting to Save Main Street From Wall Street and Wall Street From Itself,” offers exactly that – to whichever party is smart enough and fast enough to take up the opportunity.

Ms. Bair lays out a compelling vision for both financial-sector reform and for dealing with the continuing mess around mortgages. Neither presidential campaign is likely to endorse her ideas in all their specifics. But if a candidate signaled that he had read and understood the main messages in this book, this would have great appeal both with undecided centrist votes and – importantly – with their respective bases. Continue reading

Responsible Populism

By Simon Johnson

“Populism” is a loaded term in modern American politics. On the one hand, it conveys the idea that someone represents (or claims to represent) the broad mass of society against a privileged elite. This is a theme that plays well on the right as well as the left – although they sometimes have different ideas about who is in that troublesome “elite.”

At the same time, populism is often used in a pejorative way – as a putdown, implying “the people” want irresponsible things that would undermine the fabric of society or the smooth functioning of the economy.

In Latin America, for example, there is a long tradition of populists falling into bed with a corrupt political elite, and the results invariably include irresponsible macroeconomic policies and various kinds of financial disaster (see “The Macroeconomics of Populism in Latin America,” edited by Rudiger Dornbush and Sebastian Edwards).

In North America, however, the populist tradition has proved much more constructive. More than 100 years ago, hot-button issues included direct election of senators and a federal income tax. None of these demands seem irresponsible today, and achieving those goals through constitutional amendments in the run-up to 1914 in no way jeopardized American prosperity. Continue reading