Free Markets, Free People


Intellectually Incurious

Yesterday on the podcast, we talked about Pres. Obama’s attitude towards certain aspects of his presidential responsibilities.  Apropos of that discussion, he is receiving some criticism for his indifference to the markets.

Some Wall Street economists think President Obama could have voiced some sympathy about the plight of frightened shareholders when he compared the stock market’s plunge to an election tracking poll that “bobs up and down, day to day.”

They worry that the president is underestimating the important role the stock market plays in the economy’s performance, and that the markets’ precipitous slide is actually a vote of no confidence in the administration’s handling of the economy. There’s also a suspicion that Mr. Obama and his advisers think only wealthy people own stocks.

“There is some of that feeling that rich people are the ones who have stocks. He does have somewhat of that feeling. But you’ve got to remember that most people who own stocks aren’t rich,” said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor’s, the influential Wall Street financial research and forecasting firm…

…Mr. Wyss and some of his colleagues on Wall Street – where investors have lost trillions of dollars in savings and the market is not so much bobbing as dropping straight down – think Mr. Obama could have shown more concern for the markets, which represent the economy and signal its future direction.

During Mr. Bush’s tenure, there was constant criticism that he was “intellectually incurious”, e.g., he showed a lack of interest in the portions of his job he wasn’t required to be engaged in on a regular basis.  I wouldn’t dispute those criticisms, of course, but it seems to be a trait that Pres. Obama shares with his predecessor.

Pres. Obama appears to be fascinated by aspects of politics such as “green jobs” and health care that aren’t actually part of the president’s core portfolio, while being uninterested in the foreign and military policies that are essential parts of the president’s purview.At the moment, we’re in the midst of an economic crisis–and I use the word intentionally–that stems from a credit bubble collapse.  The stock market is a predictor of future earnings and profitability for private sector firms.  As such, it tells you things about the expectations investors (which at this point includes more than half of the population) have about the future income that their investments will produce.  What the collapse in the stock market tells us is that investors are voting with their money that future earnings will be substantially lower, meaning that firms all across the country will be less profitable.

What happens on a day-to-day basis, of course, may be subject to a variety of market whims and fancies, but long-term trends do indicate the direction of the economy.  The market is a leading indicator.  So when there are several straight weeks of decline in stock prices, the market is telling us something.

This seems not to be a reality that the president comprehends.

Instead, the president’s main focus seems to be on health care, green jobs, more policemen and prosecutors, and the like.  All of which may be wonderful things, and none of which will happen if the economy implodes. To the extent the current crisis forces him to concentrate on economic policy, he appears to resent it.

Similarly, the president has made missteps in foreign policy this week.  The Obama Administration apparently attempted to sell our Eastern European allies down the river by offering to shut them out of missile defense if the Russians cooperate on nuclear non-proliferation in Iran–until they got caught out on it.  That was a  major misstep.It was quickly followed by two minor missteps.

First was Sec. Clinton presenting the Russian foreign minister with a button which was supposed to say, in Russian, “Reset”, to symbolize the new engagement with the world the Obama Administration was supposed to bring about.  What the button actually said was “overcharge” in Russian.  On top of this, it’s generally a bad idea, symbolically, to present the Russians with a button to push of any sort, considering that the major foreign policy goal of the last half of the 20th century was to prevent the Russians from pushing “the button”.

Second was the treatment of Gordon Brown, the prime minister of the UK, during his visit.  Rather than pulling out all the stops to showcase the visit of the head of government of what, by nearly any measure, is the United States’ most important ally, Mr. Obama treated it as if the Deputy Agriculture Minister of Azerbaijan had showed up on the White House’s doorstep.  In what may be a first in my lifetime, the various press organs in Britain, from the commies at The Spectator Observer, to the staid tories of The Times of London all agreed that Pres. Obama’s treatment of Mr. Brown amounted to an egregious snub of the United Kingdom.

In addition to the above, one has to note the retention of Sec. gates at the DoD, along with the retention of the great majority of the Bush Administration’s positions on executive privilege and the prosecution of the Global War on Terror.

What all of these things add up to is a picture of a president who is essentially uninterested in military policy, or foreign policy, or, really, economic policy, and who in effect simply ignores them to the extent he is able, and delegates their operation to his subordinates.  What he cares about is government, and its ability to intervene in the marketplace, and to provide goods and services.  It is in those areas where his interest and attention actually lie, and the remainder of the executive branch can, as far as he’s concerned, operate on auto-pilot.

Take all of the above together, and it appears to present an emerging picture of a man who is truly intellectually incurious, and who wishes to ignore, to the extent possible, those aspects of the president’s job that he doesn’t find personally appealing.

Sadly, he appears to be fascinated by aspects of politics such as “green jobs” and health care that aren’t actually part of the president’s core portfolio, while being uninterested in the foreign and military policies that are essential parts of the president’s purview.

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29 Responses to Intellectually Incurious

  • “There is some of that feeling that rich people are the ones who have stocks.”

    Sadly i would venture a guess there are quite a few people sitting on 401k’s that have the exact same belief…they just have no idea

  • Interesting that you apply the word “incurious”, for TAO was praised to the skies for his “curiosity” by his loopy supporters during the campaign.  Natch, they never could point to any concrete evidence of this alleged curiosity: no books that he’d read, no “intellectuals” he talked with, no writings he produced.  Indeed, it didn’t bother them that whatever he DID write in college was under lock and key, treated with far more secrecy than the average CIA paper or White House memo during the Bush admin.  As is typical with libs, they mindlessly assigned the attributes of genius to their standard bearer without bothering to see if he acutally possesses ANY intellectual muscle.  They did the same with Algore and Jean-Francois; the mere presence of a (d) behind their names was proof of “intellectualism” and lofty IQ.

    I’m curious: does anybody know what books this allegedly brilliant, curious man DOES read?  I’m guessing that “Stocks for Dummies” isn’t on the list!

    Dale FranksDuring Mr. Bush’s tenure, there was constant criticism that he was “intellectually incurious”, e.g., he showed a lack of interest in the portions of his job he wasn’t required to be engaged in on a regular basis.

    Well, it wasn’t that he “showed a lack of interest”: his critics just thought he was plain ol’ DUMB.  Given some of the decisions he made, especially toward the end, it’s a bit hard to dispute them.  I think libs would have been happier had Bush been as “uncurious” or “detached” as they sometimes claim.  I mean, had he not been vitally interested in little problems like WMD and al Qaeda, we might not have wound up in Iraq or even A-stan.  Too bad he didn’t do like his genius successor and focus on important questions like, “rare or medium?” and “arugula or spinach salad?”

    • I read about one of Bush’s reading lists, which included a book about the history of salt, once a key resource in trade. The books in Bush’s list showed evidence of intellectual curiosity.

  • Why should he be curious, since he already knows everything he needs to know?

    Whatever truth there may have been to the ‘only rich folks own stocks’ belief is about six months out of date.

    I have read about penny stocks  but I never thought I would own any, and I certainly didn’t think they would be so expensive.

  • I am sure that his lefty supporters will come by and prasie him for his cool head.  After all, he has far more important things to do than the economy.  The economy is for rich people so hey, it isn’t important.

  • He is intellectually incurious in another way.  He imbibed state-ism literally from his mothers milk. Indoctrinated in radicalism at an early age he seems never to have questioned any of that orthodoxy in any way.

    • Interesting point. When I went of to university, at about 20, I was at my most liberal. And I encountered my most massive interaction with leftists.

      IMO, those of us on the right tend to understand leftists. Visa versa, not so much.

  • The great unanswered question is ..

    has Barack Obama ever participated in a 401(k) ?

    You kinda get the feeling the answer is NO

  • “from the commies at The Spectator
    I think the Spectator is on the right, Dale.

  • Obama’s statements are probably very carefully scripted.  I doubt very much we know about his real level of curiosity and engagement in a lot of these issues from public statements (I’d say that about any President).   On the stock market, Ronald Reagan inherited a bear market as well.  I think the President is chosing not to try to focus on the stock market which is a poor predictor of the future (especially when it bubbles or collapses) and instead do the smart thing – focus on the economic fundamentals.  A fetish with the market is precisely the kind of thing we don’t need.  Fix the economy, the stock market will follow. 

    Obama has made major foriegn policy and defense policy statements which suggest that even while retaining old Bush hands (a smart move to assure bipartisanship in important issues and continuity) he is engaged and in fact instituting real changes. 

    I find it amusing that one would so desperately try to nit pick statements and then make really stretched interpretations to try to throw an ad hominem at Obama.   It’s sort of silly.   True, the left did that to Bush too, I guess it’s only natural for the right to act the same way.

    • very carefully scripted

      I don’t think there was a teleprompter in the room.

    • he is engaged and in fact instituting real changes

      Who wants to take bets on whether Erb will ever list any “real change” or will just keep copy-and-pasting the same paragraph another dozen times?

    • Where to begin?

      Scott ErbOn the stock market, Ronald Reagan inherited a bear market as well. 

      No, Reagan volunteered to try to fix it, just at TAO has done.

      Scott ErbI think the President is chosing not to try to focus on the stock market which is a poor predictor of the future (especially when it bubbles or collapses) and instead do the smart thing – focus on the economic fundamentals. 

      Why is the stock market a “poor indicator of the future”?  Doesn’t its value represent the collective confidence of investors in the future?  GM stock, for example, doesn’t tank because of what the company has done in the past, or even what it’s doing right now: it tanks because investors fear that the value will decline in the future and sell to avoid losing (more) money.

      The market has lost about 1/3 of its value since TAO took over.  People don’t sell stocks at that rate unless they seriously, seriously fear that the values will go lower in the future.

      The market, of course, isn’t omniscent, nor is it always right.  However, it most definitely is an indicator of what people think the FUTURE will be.  Obviously, a lot of people are too confident about that future.  Why should they be?

      Scott ErbA fetish with the market is precisely the kind of thing we don’t need.  Fix the economy, the stock market will follow.

      Naturally.  However, what TAO has done and is planning to do don’t seem to give the investor class a good feeling that he’s “fixing” the economy.  Quite the contrary, it seems that every time he opens his mouth, the stock market plunges again.  His economic policies and plans are frightening to investors.  Why shouldn’t they be?  He’s even let it slip that universal health care and his “green” agenda are actually more important to him than the economy.

      Scott ErbObama has made major foriegn policy and defense policy statements which suggest that even while retaining old Bush hands (a smart move to assure bipartisanship in important issues and continuity) he is engaged and in fact instituting real changes. 

      I join with JWG and ask which “real changes” he’s made aside from closing Gitmo.

      • I join with JWG and ask which “real changes” he’s made aside from closing Gitmo.

        Well, in Erb’s defense, the Obama administraiton has also made the following changes:
        - insult and push away our closest ally, Great Britian
        - show ignorance about the history of democracy and Europe while speaking to European leaders
        - demonstrate a complete lack of competence in finding anyone to speak correct Russian
        - reveal sensitive information about how our government has been working with the gov’t of Pakistan
        - repeatedly bomb the people of Pakistan

    •  “I think the President is chosing not to try to focus on the stock market which is a poor predictor of the future (especially when it bubbles or collapses) and instead do the smart thing – focus on the economic fundamentals”

      Of course, the President hasn’t done anything to help the economy’s fundamentals; though he does want to change them to a method that’s been disproven several times. Then again if Obama can parlay this recession into a depression it’s good for Erb both personally and professionially.  A weakened America would would give credence to his “Iraq is a failure, no matter what the outcome” teachings AND we’d be less likely to take military action no matter what the circumstances are.
        This second part is the ‘progress’ Erb sees in Obama’s foreign policy, a willingness to abandon allies and engage with terrorists. If it reduces the short-term chances of Americans inflicting collateral damage or dying while taking military action, then he’s all for it.  Whether hundres of times as many civilian lives are lost or terrorism against America increases through our inaction is of no consequence. As long as it can’t be directly pinned on the US is the key factor. He wants America to be run on the principle of  “turn the other cheek” (though I guess he’d go apoplectic if Christianity were adopted as a state religion).

    • You’re full of it.  When we had a credit crisis, it was bad.  A capital crisis is much, much worse.  Saying “never mind the stock market” demonstrates a fundamental lack of seriousness and understanding. 

  • It is curious that BHO is very interested in the ephemeral crisis of climate, but so uninterested in the very evident crisis of the economy.

    • By watching the order of execution of Obama agenda, you get the idea that he expects to be chased with torches and pitchforks momentarily, else why front load things this much.

      • No, Neo, he understands his agenda is going to cause a certain portion of the electorate that supported him to turn against the Democrats in 2010.  The virtual supermajority he has today is almost certainly not going to exist after the midterms.  Then instead of turning 2 or 3 wimpy RINOS, he will be forced to turn hords of Conservative Republicans and his own Blue Dogs.  Not the odds he wants to face when he is trying to change the basic nature of the US.

  • BHO’s reliance on the teleprompter seems evidence of an inability to speak knowledgeably about any number of areas.  Such an inability is not in itself evidence of being intellectually incurious, but it is a symptom.  Add enough symptoms together and a diagnosis can be made.  Soon.

  • This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 3/10/2009, at The Unreligious Right

  • “Leading: Leading economic indicators are indicators which change before the economy changes. Stock market returns are a leading indicator, as the stock market usually begins to decline before the economy declines and they improve before the economy begins to pull out of a recession.”

    http://economics.about.com/cs/businesscycles/a/economic_ind.htm
    Erb, you are pathetic. You need to go back to troll school. I am surprised UMF is still accredited, but I know you are working on that.
     

  • Tim is Scott says it’s a poor predictor of the future it must be so.  He, like Obama, thinks the stock market is a poll indicating how people feel about what happened yesterday.

    • I would venture that the stock market is a better predictor of the state of the economy than a graduate degree is of competence in a specific field, or intellectual ability in general.

  • Bla,bla,bla waa,waa,waa. Enough!