Obama: Hamiltonian, Neoliberal, or…?

Todd Tucker
Sep 20 · 2 min read

(From this thread.)

I’m totally here for a piece that describes if and how the Obama administration was neoliberal. I’d assign it to my students! (nyti.ms/2Nk16bb)

But there’s a few flags here: describing Obama as Hamiltonian and Hamilton as a neoliberal? Neither is true, and I’d mark against an essay that argued either. Hamilton was a thoroughgoing structuralist, as I document here. He developed extensive plans to use every lever of government to structure the economy. He failed because of racism — which also hindered Obama’s much less ambitious plans with the GOP. (rooseveltinstitute.org/industrial-pol…) Any account of the Obama era must put that and Congress at its center.

As @ezraklein argues, the institutional constraints were real. And in cases he documents, determinative of the outcome.

Ezra Klein✔@ezraklein

You can’t blame everything on “neoliberalism.” https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2019/9/20/20874204/obama-farhad-manjoo-neoliberalism-financial-crisissanders-warren?utm_campaign=ezraklein&utm_content=chorus&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter …

But Congress can’t explain everything. On antitrust — the example both authors seem most animated by — the executive can do loads on its own. Here, the ideology of not only Obama but also the independent agencies helps explain a lot. Read @GaneshSitaraman (greatdemocracyinitiative.org/document/takin…)

Ezra laments how everyone from Reagan to Clinton to Obama can be labeled “neoliberal” “A label that can describe everyone doesn’t usefully describe anyone,” he says.

Actually, we would expect any hegemonic ideology to capture many people in a given era.

That’s kind of the point!

In my class, we contrast (neo)liberal, libertarian, and structuralist. We often struggle to come up with many prominent policymakers that represent the latter two.

But as my student joked this week, “almost everyone is a neoliberal.”

It will take time before we recover the full diversity of approaches to political economy, and see all of them represented in mainstream politics. Until then, this book is great for primers on classical, neoclassical, Marxist, developmentalist, Austrian, Schumpeterian, Keynesian, Behavioralist, and the many institutional -isms that exist out there. (amazon.com/Economics-The-…)

Todd Tucker

I write about democracy, political economy, and trade. Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute and Roosevelt Forward.

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