The author has been described by News Ltd as an "iconoclast", "Svengali", a pollie's "economist muse", and "pungently accurate". Fairfax says he is a "Renaissance man" and "one of Australia’s most respected analysts." Stephen Koukoulas concludes that he is "85% right", and "would make a great Opposition leader." Terry McCrann claims the author thinks "‘nuance’ is a trendy village in the south of France", but can be "scintillating" when he thinks "clearly". The ACTU reckons he’s "an enigma wrapped in a Bloomberg terminal, wrapped in some apparently well-honed abs."

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Two unrelated must reads: Obama missive and the New Yorker on regulation

I caught an excellent Bloomberg TV interview with the Newsweek journalist Jon Alter on his new book on President Obama.

I must admit that I have always been somewhat skeptical of Obama. I certainly never bought into the election hype. History demonstrates that it is very easy to talk--much harder to deliver. Judge the guy by his actions, was my reaction. And my prior is that politics does not provide much useful training for being a successful leader. Nonetheless, Obama may surprise on the upside. And on this subject, Alter was simply brilliant--really smart--and his book, The Promise, has got rave reviews in part due to his unique access to the President.

Regular readers may recall that I just finished a book on the Obama campaign called Game Change, which I think I discussed here. I was not, therefore, really seeking more US political fodder. But Alter's sharpness compelled me to download The Promise on my increasingly satisfying Kindle.

One fascinating learning from both the Bloomberg interview and Game Change is the consensus around Obama's unflappable and calm demeanour. According to numerous close accounts, the guy just does not get upset in the conventional sense. No screaming or yelling no matter the circumstance. And when he does lose it a bit, it is apparently a steely anger that has high impact. It makes for an interesting contrast with our local product. It is definitely not out of the Jack Welch, or standard HBS, playbook.

Okay, the second must read is this little beauty on regulation in the New Yorker magazine. So here's a call-out to the likes of Ken Henry, Greg Medcraft, John Laker, Glenn Stevens, Graeme Samuel, and my favourite pollie of the moment, Lindsay Tanner. Absorb and synthesise fellas. It makes a very important point about the benefits of a permanent civil service, and not having political appointees.

I am guessing that one of the reasons the current iteration of the RBA is so solid is partly a function of the fact that the guys running the central bank know a lot about, well, running central banks! Plucking blokes out of academe, like Ben Bernanke, and asking them to manage an exceptionally complex organisation like the US Federal Reserve, which is full of cat-like pointy-heads, seems to be rather imprudent, to put it nicely.

The New Yorker essay also argues that it is critical to pay your bureaucrats lots of money, which is something I have advanced in the past in a political context.