Thursday, November 06, 2008

Top Priority Is Stabilizing the Patient

NYTimes | “Unfortunately, the next president’s No. 1 priority is going to be preventing the biggest financial crisis in possibly the last century from turning into the next Great Depression,” says Austan Goolsbee, an Obama adviser. “That has to be No. 1. Nobody ever wanted that to be the priority. But that’s clearly where we are.”

Throughout the campaign, whenever Mr. Obama was asked about the financial crisis, he liked to turn the conversation back to his long-term plans, by saying that they were meant to solve the very problems that had caused the crisis in the first place. Back in January, he predicted to me that the financial troubles would probably get significantly worse in 2008. They had their roots in middle-class income stagnation, which helped cause an explosion in debt, and the mortgage meltdown was likely to be just the beginning, he said then.

His prognosis was right — and the pundits now demanding that he give up major parts of his economic agenda in response to the financial crisis are, for the most part, wrong. When you discover that a patient is in even worse shape than you thought, you don’t become less aggressive about treatment. But you do have to deal with the most acute problems first.