Paul Krugman, who has just been awarded the Nobel Prize in economic science, in a New York Times article that appeared online on the 12th, in print yesterday and in today’s edition of The Guardian, praised Gordon Brown and the British government for the way that they handled the current crisis.
Has Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, saved the world financial system?
O.K., the question is premature — we still don’t know the exact shape of the planned financial rescues in Europe or for that matter the United States, let alone whether they’ll really work. What we do know, however, is that Mr. Brown and Alistair Darling, the chancellor of the Exchequer (equivalent to our Treasury secretary), have defined the character of the worldwide rescue effort, with other wealthy nations playing catch-up.
Krugman argues that although London a major financial centre, Britain is in every other way Britain does not have the kind of economic clout to make the running when it comes to dealing with a crisis of this magnitude.
But the Brown government has shown itself willing to think clearly about the financial crisis, and act quickly on its conclusions. And this combination of clarity and decisiveness hasn’t been matched by any other Western government, least of all our own.
But when Henry Paulson, the U.S. Treasury secretary, announced his plan for a $700 billion financial bailout, he rejected this obvious path, saying, “That’s what you do when you have failure.” Instead, he called for government purchases of toxic mortgage-backed securities, based on the theory that … actually, it never was clear what his theory was.
In the final paragraphs, he has a stab at explaining why it was Brown and not Paulson that the made the decisive move.
As I said, we still don’t know whether these moves will work. But policy is, finally, being driven by a clear view of what needs to be done. Which raises the question, why did that clear view have to come from London rather than Washington?
It’s hard to avoid the sense that Mr. Paulson’s initial response was distorted by ideology. Remember, he works for an administration whose philosophy of government can be summed up as “private good, public bad,” which must have made it hard to face up to the need for partial government ownership of the financial sector.
I also wonder how much the Femafication of government under President Bush contributed to Mr. Paulson’s fumble. All across the executive branch, knowledgeable professionals have been driven out; there may not have been anyone left at Treasury with the stature and background to tell Mr. Paulson that he wasn’t making sense.
Luckily for the world economy, however, Gordon Brown and his officials are making sense. And they may have shown us the way through this crisisis.
There is some salutary lessons in all this for the American voter. All one can hope is that he or she is paying attention