Thursday, January 27, 2005

Tuesday, Paul Krugman's column gave us the lowdown on likely Greenspan replacements:
Alan Greenspan is expected to retire next year. The Bush administration, because of its nature, will have a hard time finding a successor.
One Fed chairman famously described his job as being to "take away the punch bowl just when the party gets going." Bond and currency markets want monetary policy in the hands of someone who will say no to politicians. When a country's central banker is suspected of having insufficient spine, the result is higher interest rates and a weaker currency.
Today it's even more crucial than usual that the Fed chairman have the markets' trust. The United States is running record budget and trade deficits, and the foreigners we depend on to cover those deficits are losing faith. According to yesterday's Financial Times, central banks around the world have already started shifting into euros. If Mr. Greenspan is replaced with someone who looks like a partisan hack, capital will rush to the exits, the dollar will plunge, and interest rates will soar.
Yet President Bush, as you may have noticed, only appoints yes-men (or yes-women). This is most obvious on the national security front, but it's equally true with regard to economic policy. The current Treasury secretary has no obvious qualifications other than loyalty. The new head of the National Economic Council apparently got the job because he is a Bush classmate and fund-raiser.
Of course, Mr. Greenspan himself has become a Bush yes-man. The chairman acted as a stern father figure, demanding fiscal rectitude, when Democrats held the White House. But he turned into an indulgent uncle when Mr. Bush took office. First, he urged Congress to cut taxes in order, he said, to prevent an excessively large budget surplus. Then, when surpluses were replaced by huge deficits, he supported a highly irresponsible second round of tax cuts.
Nonetheless, Mr. Greenspan retains considerable credibility with the markets. Who else can satisfy both Mr. Bush and foreign investors?

Click here to see who is on the A list and whether any of them can resolve the conundrum.

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