In an extraordinary interview just now on NPR’s morning edition (at the top of the hour; to be rebroadcast in 2 hours, just after 9am Eastern; audio recoding should be available at around that time also), Steve Inskeep pushed Gordon Brown hard.
My favorite part is when Steve asked the Prime Minister whether, during his stewardship of the British economy over the past 10 years, he had worried about “too much debt” being taken on by consumers and firms and excessively risky lending. Brown’s response, “our corporates did not borrow too much.” Not answering on the other dimensions of the runaway lending boom says it all – Britain had an unassisted, unsustainable property and financial sector bubble.
But apparently no one now bears responsibility for this, because then Brown falls back on what appears to be the current line for him and other US/global leaders, “it’s a global crisis” – with blame (of course!) placed on “massive capital flows” after the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98. In a masterful piece of political misdirection, Brown mixes platitudes (betters rules and standards), obvious ideas (governments ready to take regulatory actions against shadow banks), and things that he has implacably and effectively opposed in the past (a more effective global early warning system).
There is no acknowledgment of massive regulatory breakdowns in Britain or his inactions on all relevant fronts while he was the long-standing chair of the ministerial body that oversees the IMF’s activities.
Steve Inskeep asks point blank if we can have a return to strong growth in 2010, as assumed in the Obama Administration’s budget and banking stress tests. Brown ducks – we’ve done a lot, he says. Of course, they haven’t really, but the joint official line coordinated across countries seems to be, “repeat this often, and perhaps people will start to believe it.”
There is one silver lining, potentially. Prime Minister Brown stresses, early on, that this is a “banking crisis” and we need to “clean up the banks.” Hopefully, he will convey this message forcefully to President Obama later today.
Update: in early coverage, Reuters spots the duck on growth (but not on stewardship):
He did not directly answer a question about whether there would be strong economic growth next year but said the stimulus packages, combined with cooperation among governments, would “make a big difference to our chances of recovery quickly.”