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Congratulations. After such a momentous night, let’s hope you caught a few hours sleep. Please grab all the rest you can before moving to the White House in January. With the global economy sinking into the mire, an incoming president has not faced such a great burden of expectation in many decades. That does not mean you have to rush. Times are never as desperate, nor as wonderful, as others will have you believe. As you survey this crisis, the crucial first step is to divide the problems into ones your administration can actually help to solve and those it cannot. Then you must move decisively. For the truth is you will have no better idea whether your plans will work than the rest of us – even Keynes had doubts about his slump-correcting theory. Still, as president, you must act like you do.
Here are the two central economic roles you must play. First, to make sure the half dozen or so Treasury-led initiatives to revive the financial system are well managed. Unpopular though banks now are, they remain central to the economy. Making credit available again (even if borrowing remains weak) is a priority. What you must resist, however, is extending the state lifeline to every two-bit sector that comes begging. Your second crucial role is to guarantee that any further fiscal packages are focused on boosting future productivity rather than building bridges to nowhere.
Unfortunately, Mr President, you can only influence house prices, corporate earnings, interest rates and jobs at the margin (unless your administration loses its head). But as these issues are politically charged, you will surely be pressed to do something. Resist. If you have to “act”, make your initiatives popular but harmless. Get the crucial things right and the cycle will ride to your rescue in the end.
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