FT's Clive Crook: I'm Rooting for Obama, But His Economics Worry Me

Reporter Clive Crook really likes Barack Obama and in a November 3 op-ed practically endorsed him for president. But, the Financial Times reporter worries, the Illinois senator has some loopy economic ideas.

Yes, your just read that correctly. A reporter for one of the Anglosphere's well-respected financial newspapers admits he'd vote for Obama were he an American citizen -- Crook is a subject of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II -- but he hopes his stump speech populism is all a vote-getting gimmick.

As you read this, imagine the clamor, if not outright outrage, if a conservative-leaning foreign journalist like say Mark Steyn endorsed McCain only to question his foreign policy prescriptions (emphases mine):

My other big reservation is on economics. Here Mr Obama remains an unknown quantity. He can talk a good centrist line, as he did in last week's 30-minute campaign broadcast, praising American values of self-reliance, enterprise and innovation. But he is also a sceptic on liberal trade and rails against companies that "send jobs abroad".

Some of Mr Obama's centrist supporters believe that his position on trade is purely tactical. (In Mr McCain, it would be called "cynical".) I wonder. He has done nothing to modify it since winning the nomination. Perhaps he really believes that taxes, mandates and trade barriers can keep jobs at home and improve living standards. He has surrounded himself with advisers who think this is nonsense but they have made no detectable impression on his campaign speeches. So who knows?

In general Mr Obama takes a more expansive view of the economic role of government than did Bill Clinton, for instance. His political style is that of a Clintonian New Democrat - with its rhetorical moderation, pro-enterprise talking points and calls for co-operation with political opponents. But his economic analysis often harks back to a more old-fashioned kind of liberalism, with its emphasis on redistribution, regulation and national priorities.

As I have already said, I am for universal healthcare. I see the case for making US income taxes somewhat more progressive and especially for using tax credits to improve the rewards for work at low incomes. The financial crisis was indeed the consequence, in part, of regulatory failure. On all these points, there is merit in Mr Obama's positions. But it is unclear how far he wants to push - and I am not sure I trust his instincts. There is a limit to how far you can raise taxes on the highly paid without seriously damaging incentives. Regulation is a hit and miss affair and it is as easy to cripple an economy with too much as too little. A great deal of creative destruction - including "shipping jobs abroad" - is the price you pay for long-term economic vitality.

Perhaps Mr Obama agrees. If he had said so, I could cast the vote I do not have with greater enthusiasm.

Campaign Watch Taxes Economy Campaigns & Elections 2008 Presidential Regulation Recession Financial Times Clive Crook

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