5 gifts for world leaders
November 28, 2011
In the holiday classic "A Christmas Story", Ralphie yearns for one gift above all: a Red Rider BB gun. Even looking back as the adult narrator, he views that pump-action air rifle -- spoiler alert -- as the best Christmas present he ever got.
As 2011 closes, world leaders could surely use a few gifts too. Here are five presents that, if delivered, would probably be their all-time best -- regardless of whether they ever found a BB gun under the tree:
1. For Barack Obama: One uninterrupted week of good news
Every presidency has its ups and downs, but for Obama in particular, it seems that every success is almost immediately buried by bad news. Just this year, the overthrow of dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya was followed by growing concerns about the stability and democracy of the successor governments; a hard-fought compromise to raise the debt ceiling was followed by a downgrade of U.S. government debt; and a relatively good advance report on third-quarter GDP was soon obscured by new concerns about the European debt crisis. Whether you like Obama or not, an end to this cycle would benefit the nation as well as the president.
2. For John Boehner: Something to say yes to
No wonder he cries so much. Politics have cast Boehner as this generation's Dr. No, but this role may not reward him in the long run. His tireless efforts to block Obama's initiatives could be helpful toward getting a Republican elected President in 2012, allowing the Republican nominee to run as an "outsider" to a gridlocked system. But Boehner himself is very much a government insider, who will have to run for re-election on his achievements. Being a stalwart obstructionist may serve his party well, but it may not fire up his constituency on election day.
3. For Ben Bernanke: An imagination
With his multiple degrees in economics and extensive academic experience, the Fed chairman is often hailed as a knowledgeable economic historian. But while historical knowledge is important to any decision-maker, so is the imagination to consider creative solutions to problems that resist traditional cures.
While low interest rates have stimulated the economy in the past, they have continually failed to help in the current environment. With a little more imagination, Bernanke might look deeper into whether low interest rates do more harm than good when loan demand is weak for reasons other than interest rates. After all, while low interest rates have failed to stimulate demand, they have taken billions of dollars in income out of the hands of bank depositors through dismal savings account interest rates. That lost income could have served as a stimulus in an economy that needs all the boosts it can get.
4. For Warren Buffett: Higher taxes
This may seem like wishing for a visit from the Grinch, but Buffett is just one of the wealthy figures who have urged Congress to raise taxes on the rich to help address the deficit. No one who has given as much money to charity as Buffett needs to prove his altruism, but there may also be some self-interest in his request for higher taxes.
The nation needs credible deficit-reduction strategies, which means both cutting spending and raising revenues. The financial markets are likely to respond positively if they see government taking tangible steps toward such strategies. When you have an investment portfolio as large as Buffett's, you would gladly accept paying a couple percent more on your income in exchange for a 10 or 20 percent rally in your asset prices.
5. For Angela Merkel: Better neighbors
For decades, Germany has been a model of financial responsibility -- only to now confront the need to bail out more profligate neighbors such as Greece and Italy. German Chancellor Merkel is often cast as the heavy when she resists writing blank checks for these bailouts. But at times she must be thinking, "With friends like these, who needs the euro?"
These gifts may be a lot to ask, but who knows? If Santa is kind to these leaders, they may remember this as the best Christmas ever. And they wouldn't even have to worry about shooting an eye out.
Barack Obama photo © 2008 IowaPolitics.com, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.
John Boehner photo © 2011 Gage Skidmore, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.
Ben Bernanke photo © 2011 Medill DC, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.
Warren Buffett photo © 2011 Fortune Live Media, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
Angela Merkel photo © 2007 World Economic Forum, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license.