The presidential campaign is both very boring and a waste of attention. Obama’s minions (to include the Boston Globe of course) would accuse Romney of being Jack the Ripper and the captain of the Exxon Valdez if they thought that such accusations would deflect public attention from the unemployment rate and retail sales figures. I don’t really fell bad for Romney. Does anybody doubt that Romney would be doing the same thing if the shoe was on the other foot? Meanwhile, the public aspects of the Romney campaign are in state of semi-hibernation as the campaign saves, money and candidate energy for when people are more focused on the election. On the one hand it seems like a reasonable strategy. No otherwise persuadable person is going to care in November what was on the Bain stationary while Romney was on leave running the Olympics. But the Bain story isn’t what matters. Bain is just a set up. Obama’s real campaign theme is going to be Mediscare. The Bain stuff is just to create the impression (however vague) of Romney as a greedy uncaring rich guy so they can terrify the public Romney is going to send the what is left of Greatest Generation and their Baby Boomer children to the veterinarian if they should get sick. The more people have a working understanding of Romney’s premium support Medicare plan, the tougher it will be for an Obama Mediscare campaign to work. The problem is that explaining premium support Medicare would take a major investment of time and effort. In the shot-term, it seems a lot easier to talk about how the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report shows that Obama’s socialism of European Big Government has failed. Maybe Romney will be able to talk his way out of Obama’s Mediscare attacks even if the persuadable public knows little or nothing about Romney Medicare plan other than what Obama tells them. but I doubt Romney is putting himself in the best position to win on this issue if present economic conditions persist and Obama’s job approval stays in the 46-48% range.
On to the summer reading. I’ve been going through A Monetary History of the United States by Milton Friedman and Anna Schwartz. I think Chapter 7 and excerpts from Chapters 8 and 9 should be required reading for college students taking a survey course on US History in the 1900s. that isn’t because I necessarily totally buy into the Friedman ans Schwartz explanation for why the slowdown of 1929 turned into a Great Depression rather than a sharp recession. It isn’t because I think the book forms some kind of infallible guide to policy going forward. What the book does is it helps the reader think of large, and sudden moves in the economy in terms of monetary and banking policy and helps correct for narratives of economic events that tend to overwhelmingly focus on questions of taxation, spending and labor regulation. Reading Monetary History and then reading the campaign speeches of Hoover and FDR (and also FDR’s famous First Inaugural) gives a sense of how much of our public discussion of historical events is missing. A focus on monetary history helps undermine a lot of the coalitional narratives that we have inherited. It doesn’t exactly explode them. FDR’s banking holiday and deposit insurance were really important in stabilizing the banking system. It is just that the NRA, the AAA, and pump priming become a much smaller part of the story. The same hold true for the Reagan years. If you were trying to tell the story of the course of the economy in Reagan’s first term, do you start with the Kemp-Roth tax cut or Reagan’s relationship with Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volker?