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On 4 November, 2004, Americans elected their first ever African–American President, Barack Obama. The historic event has been hailed by the news media as signifying the breakdown of the last remaining racial barrier in US society. That’s the good news. The bad news is that President-elect Obama confronts a crisis like no other incoming President has faced since Franklin Delano Roosevelt came to office in the midst of the Great Depression. The country is fighting two wars, and the global economy just collapsed.
At least American voters picked the right team to deal with the economic wreckage. In most exit polls, fixing the economy was foremost on voters’ minds, and their enthusiasm was evidently not aroused by Senator McCain’s economic advisors, who included the likes of fellow Republican Phil Gramm of Texas, who opined during the election campaign that America was a nation of “whiners” stuck in a “mental recession”. (For the record, Senator Gramm was also one of the key figures in the deregulation of the investment banking industry in 1999 that scrapped the laws and protections passed by Congress in 1933 after the last great market crash).
In one sense, therefore, the election of Obama was a resounding repudiation of the economic policies of the last 8 years. Market deregulation, laissez-faire and corporate greed did in the economy. The subprime mortgage crisis and the resulting credit crunch are spilling their toxic effects to the rest of the globe, even to countries that were initially believed to be insulated from the shocks, like China.
Yet it seems like yesterday that commentators were applauding the sagacity of the former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s stewardship of the economy—does anyone remember Bob Woodward’s act of hagiography published not so long ago, entitled “Maestro: Greenspan’s Fed and the American Boom” …
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