OBAMA THE PRAGMATIST?….I have to agree with Ezra about Noam Scheiber’s recent TNR piece that tries to make the case that Barack Obama has surrounded himself with unusually pragmatic and independent thinking economists. The problem is that Scheiber’s examples just don’t back up his claim. Take this, for example:
Just because the Obamanauts are intellectually modest and relatively free of ideology, that doesn’t mean their policy goals lack ambition. In many cases, the opposite is true. Obama’s plan to reduce global warming involves an ambitious cap-and-trade arrangement that would lower carbon emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. But cap-and-trade — in which the government limits the overall level of emissions and allows companies to buy and sell pollution permits — is itself a market-oriented approach. The companies most efficient at cutting emissions will sell permits to less efficient companies, achieving the desired reductions with minimal drag on the economy.
But this is precisely the same policy proposed by both Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. So why does this tell us anything about how pragmatic and grounded Team Obama is?
It’s probably worth adding something to this, too: the reason that all the Dems favor cap-and-trade almost certainly isn’t because of any special devotion to market-oriented approaches. More likely, it’s because it accomplishes much the same thing as a carbon tax but isn’t actually a carbon tax. In other words, they’re doing it because they don’t want to take the risk of supporting a major new tax and getting attacked for it. That is pragmatic, but it’s political pragmatism, not economic pragmatism. There’s a difference.