My Review of Noam Scheiber’s “The Escape Artists”

As book review sections vanish from newspapers around the country, we at Slate are launching a new one—a once-a-month Slate Book Review that will appear on the first Saturday of every month. My contribution to the debut edition is a review of Noam Scheiber’s excellent book The Escape Artists. My bottom line analytically:

The greatest question about Obama’s economic policies, however, isn’t why the administration made the choices it did. It’s why some ideas don’t seem to have been considered at all. The flubs of Obama’s economic advisers seem to have as much to do with their failure of imagination as with any disagreements that raged between them. […]
Here, though, may be where the deficit-mania did its greatest damage. The White House is a busy place, and each hour people spent pondering doomed debt-reduction strategies was an hour not dedicated to thinking creatively about the immediate economic crisis. If the past few months of decent jobs growth keep up, Obama will likely be re-elected, his team will claim vindication, and Scheiber’s book will seem moot. But it’s not; it provides a template for future administrations—even a future Obama administration—to avoid the trap of thinking too narrowly and too politically in a crisis.
Check the whole thing out. To expand a little bit on this theme in a different direction, one of the flaws of reporting as an epistemological matter is that it tends to lead to a lot of looking for the keys under the lamppost. For whatever reason, the various heavy hitters of the initial Obama economic team lineup seem to have been relatively willing to discuss their experiences with journalists. What everyone wants to talk about, naturally, is the arguments they had with other members of the team. That’s led to a lot of writing about arguments between the Obama economic team’s members. But in the grand scheme of things, the disagreements between these folks were relatively narrow. The bigger story in terms of economic policy is what they weren’t having arguments about, and about the ways in which the ideas they had in common were constrained or stymied by external political factors.