Globalization Initiative

NDN's Globalization Initiative was established to promote economic growth and restore broad-based prosperity in our globalized economy. Chaired by Dr. Robert Shapiro, Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs under President Bill Clinton, the program works to address the structural changes affecting the American and global economies. NDN argues that a "lost decade," marked by declining household incomes, remains the most important factor in the American economy and politics.

Our agenda for addressing the structural changes inherent in the era of globalization includes three key components: modernizing our healthcare and energy policies, investing in 21st century skills and infrastructure, and accelerating innovation across the economy. NDN also continues to play a major role in the debate over how to best manage the Great Recession and fosters dialogue around renewing the national consensus on global economic liberalization.

Papers and Memos

A New, Progressive Economic Strategy for America released 5/11: By Robert J. Shapiro
Written over a series of weeks in April 2010, this collection of four pieces lays out a new economic strategy for America that creates broad-based prosperity and addresses the America's great economic challenges in the era of globalization.
Building on recent struggles in Congress to do more for the economy than pass the extension of unemployment insurance, NDN outlines a political and policy framework to take steps in 2010 that promote near-term job creation and economic growth.
In this white paper, Globalization Initiative Deputy Policy Director Jake Berliner describes the rise of new economic powers and the challenges and opportunities they are presenting the American and global economies.
Keeping the Focus on the Struggle of Everyday People: 2010 Edition 1/26/10: By Simon Rosenberg
This memo argues that the nation would benefit from a shift to economic rhetoric and policy geared towards the struggle of everyday Americans. 

Crafting an American Response to the Rise of the Rest 1/21/10: By Simon Rosenberg  Cross posted on and
Simon argues that the second generation Obama narrative must be a strategic response to the most significant transformation taking place in the world today, what Fareed Zakaria has called the “rise of the rest.” While the true scope of this transformation is only really becoming apparent now, it leaves our new President with the historic opportunity, and tremendous responsibility, to craft a comprehensive strategic response to this global “new politics” of the 21st century.
A Lost Decade for Everyday Americans 12/17/09:  By Jake Berliner
In this paper, Jake Berliner, Deputy Policy Director of NDN's Globalization Initiative, argues that everyday Americans are at the end of a “lost decade” and explains the still misunderstood causes of the virulence of the recession.
The Key to the Fall Debate: Staying Focused on the Economy 9/03/09: By Simon Rosenberg
The last few months have not been good ones for Democrats, but there is a road map for how they can get back on track, and it revolves around staying relentlessly focused on the economy and the struggle of every day people.
A Stimulus for the Long Run 11/14/08: By Simon Rosenberg and Robert J. Shapiro
Congress and President-elect Obama can use the stimulus not only to create more jobs, but to do so in ways that will drive the development of a 21st century economic infrastructure.
This narrative setting essay argues that leaders must do more to staunch the foreclosure crisis, which was at the heart of the financial meltdown.
The Idea-Based Economy and Globalization 1/23/08: By Robert J. Shapiro
U.S. companies and workers lead the world in developing and applying new intellectual property, a critical advantage in innovation that policymakers should seek to advance in the age of globalization.
Investing in Our Common Future: U.S. Infrastructure 11/13/07: By Michael Moynihan
Michael Moynihan looks at the current state of public investment in infrastructure and proposes a set of measures to restore our national political will and improve funding mechanisms to rebuild and advance U.S. infrastructure.
This presentation details the results of extensive polling conducted by NDN and Benenson Strategy Group in October of 2007 on the American public's opinions about globalization and the changing economy.
NDN Poll: Americans’ Views of the Present and Future Economy - Anxiety and Opportunity 11/6/07: By Pete Brodnitz
NDN, a progressive think tank and advocacy organization, completed a national survey on the economy and globalization on October 15th. This memo is the second of two memos outlining key findings and analysis from the poll.
NDN Poll: Clamoring for Change, Persistent Pessimism, Democrats Dominating on Economic Issues
11/2/07: By Pete Brodnitz
NDN, a progressive think tank and advocacy organization, completed a national survey on the economy and globalization on October 15th. This is the first of two memos outlining key findings and analysis from the poll.

Tapping the Resources of America’s Community Colleges: 7/26/07: By Robert J. Shapiro

Young Americans are increasingly adept at working with computers, but many American workers still lack those skills. Here, we propose a direct new approach to giving U.S. workers the opportunity to develop those skills.

We can address the challenges of the 21st century economy without sacrificing the benefits of globalization and technological advance, principally by expanding public investments in critical areas and reforming health care and energy policies.
A Laptop in Every Backpack 5/1/07: By Simon Rosenberg
We believe that America needs to put a laptop in every backpack of every child. We need to commit to a date and grade certain: we suggest 2010 for every sixth grader.
Voters Deliver a Mandate for a New Economic Strategy 11/10/06: By Simon Rosenberg
The American people want the new Democratic majorities in the House and Senate to focus and pursue an aggressive strategy to help them and their families get ahead.
Crafting a Better CAFTA 6/9/05: By Simon Rosenberg
We believe that an agreement with Central America is so important to how Americans approach the 21st century that we must commit ourselves to help negotiate and pass a better CAFTA.

Major Events

Growing the Next Economy 12/7/11
On Wednesday, December 7th, NDN hosted the Director of Multi-State Initiatives in the Office of Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and Karl Agne, a partner at GBA Strategies, for a lunchtime discussion about bottom up economic growth, accelerating the ideas that work, and creating the Next Economy. Joining us were 

A Look at Current Global & Domestic Economic Challenges 7/26/11
On Tuesday, July 26th NDN hosted a morning conversation about the economic challenges facing America and the world featuring views from the United States Senate, House and the British House of Commons.

Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Francisco J Sanchez at NDN 4/26/11
On Tuesday, April 26, NDN hosted Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade Francisco J Sanchez. Sanchez was joined by NDN Globalization Initiative Chair and former Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs Dr. Robert Shapiro.

National Economic Council Deputy Director Jason Furman on Winning the Future 2/22/11
Following the release of the President's budget, Jason Furman, the Principal Deputy Director of the National Economic Council joined NDN for a discussion of the budget, the economy, and the President's strategy to make America competitive in the global economy of the 21st century.

Under Secretary of State for Economic Affairs Robert Hormats on Global Economic Challenges 11/15/10
On November 15, NDN hosted Under Secretary of State for Economic, Energy, and Agricultural Affairs Robert Hormats for an important address on global economic challenges.

US Ambassador to the OECD Karen Kornbluh on Jobs for the Future 7/27/10
On July 27, NDN hosted the United States' Ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Karen Kornbluh. Ambassador Kornbluh, who previously served as Senator Barack Obama's Policy Director and as Deputy Chief of Staff at the Treasury Department, discussed a wide range of issues in creating "Growth and Jobs for the Future," from youth unemployment, to innovation, to U.S. engagement at the OECD.
On Wednesday, June 16, NDN hosted a speech by Congressman Ron Kind (WI-3), Vice-Chair of the New Democrat Coalition and Co-Chair of the NDC Task Force on Innovation and Competitiveness. Kind spoke about the value of innovation to the American economy and the recently released New Dem Agenda for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Kind was joined by NDN President Simon Rosenberg.
Fred Hochberg, Chairman and President of the Export-Import Bank of the United States, Speaks at NDN. 6/10/10
On June 10 NDN hosted a speech from the Chairman and President of the Export-Import Bank, Fred Hochberg, on the National Export Initiative and the work of the Export-Import Bank. NDN Globalization Initiative Chair Dr. Robert Shapiro moderated a discussion and Q&A following the Chairman's remarks.
Senator Mark Warner on Economic Competitiveness and Innovation 3/18/10
On Thursday, March 18, Senator Mark Warner joined NDN to address America's economic competitiveness in a rapidly changing global economy. He discussed the role of innovation in creating prosperity and offered his perspective on the Senate's work to craft a new economic strategy for America, which includes reforming the nation's health care and financial sectors.
FCIC Chairman Phil Angelides on “Examining Our Financial Past to Secure Our Economic Future” 2/2/10
On Tuesday, February 2, NDN hosted an address from Phil Angelides, Chairman of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission. Formerly the Treasurer of the State of California, Mr. Angelides has been charged by Congress to lead the effort examining the causes of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. He discussed the commission's work, which began in earnest in February with much anticipated hearings. NDN Globalization Initiative Chair Dr. Robert Shapiro introduced Mr. Angelides and opened the event with contextual remarks.


Visit the Globalization Initiative blog for more of our ongoing work.

Visit Globalization Initiative Chair Robert Shapiro's blog.

Visit Globalization Initiative Deputy Policy Director Jake Berliner's blog.

Obama Foreign Policy and the Politics of the Bottom-Up

Time and time again, we've seen President Obama go around the world's leaders to speak directly to its people. This emphasis on the politics of the bottom up, which Simon has written about as a global phenomenon, has gone from a hallmark of the Obama campaign to a hallmark of his foreign policy. Today in Russia, he addressed the power of these new politics:

We not only need a "reset" button between the American and Russian government, but we need a fresh start between our societies -- more dialogue, more listening, more cooperation in confronting common challenges. For history teaches us that real progress -- whether it's economic or social or political -- doesn't come from the top-down, it typically comes from the bottom-up. It comes from people, it comes from the grassroots -- it comes from you. The best ideas and solutions come from ordinary citizens who become involved in their communities and in their countries. And by mobilizing and organizing and changing people's hearts and minds, you then change the political landscape. And oftentimes politicians get the credit for changing laws, but in fact you've created the environment in which those new laws can occur.

Will Higher Savings Help or Hurt the Economy?

What happens if Americans come out of the current downturn with a serious commitment to save more? There are many sound and obvious reasons for people to save -- to build up a cushion should they lose their jobs, for example, accumulate the down payment for a house, cover their children's college tuition, and be able to retire on more than their Social Security. Yet, over the last generation, the U.S. personal saving rate fell steadily and sharply, even reaching negative territory, as most Americans decided that the rising value of their homes or stocks could substitute for saving. And anyway, most of us simply preferred to consume more. The drawbacks became painfully clear as soon as the current crisis struck, and those home and stock values nosedived.

For now, personal saving is back, quickly turning positive and reaching 4.3 percent of people's post-tax incomes in the first quarter and nearly 7 percent in May. Businesses also are saving (i.e., they're retaining earnings) -- but not much, since hard times leave them less to save: The private saving rate, which includes businesses and households, was a little under 6 percent of national income in the first quarter. But the national saving rate is down in negative territory for the first time in generations, mainly because federal and state governments are running such big deficits -- i.e., "public dissaving." So households are rebuilding their resources, businesses are holding on, and government is using stimulus to support overall demand.

As there are risks to both families and the economy from under-saving -- our low national saving rate is what's forced us to borrow so much from China, Japan and Saudi Arabia -- high saving brings its own problems. As people save more, they have to consume relatively less, and ours is an economy run for a long-time largely on consumption. A saving rate substantially higher than we've been used to could mean slower growth and fewer new jobs, unless we maintain strong demand with large, permanent government deficits -- a bad idea for other reasons -- or much stronger business investment. Other nations also have some skin in this game of ours: More than $2 trillion of what we consumed last year came from abroad -- imports -- so weaker U.S. consumption means fewer exports and jobs in China, Germany, Japan and a lot of other places.

How we all fare with a higher saving rate will depend in part on how quickly it rises and how high it goes. Nouriel Roubini, the NYU economist who actually predicted the housing and financial market meltdowns, sees personal saving going to 10 or 11 percent, and worries especially about how a quick ascent to those levels could mean a deeper and longer recession. Most Wall Street economists, however, predict a relatively gradual increase which shouldn't impair an initial recovery -- especially since we still have most of the federal stimulus in the pipeline -- but would likely mean a slower expansion. But if the saving rate does continue to go up, it's likely to stay high for some time: Nobel economist Edmund Phelps calculates that it may take 15 years for American households to rebuild what they've lost in this meltdown. And that doesn't count the enormous debts which so many Americans carry today: In the seven years from 2000 to 2007, the debts of American households grew as much, relative to income, as they did during the previous 25 years. All of this helps explain why a majority of Americans now say they plan to keep their expenditures down after the recession ends.

The actual effect of higher saving on jobs, growth and most Americans' quality of life, however, will really depend on what happens to the incomes those savings come out of. If we return to the trends of the 2000-2007 expansion, when real wages declined and real incomes stalled, each percentage point increase in the saving rate will reduce spending by at least $100 billion. That's more than $1 trillion if we reach 10 percent and stay there (and assuming business investment doesn't soar). But if incomes rise 2 percent a year in the next expansion -- as they did through much of the 1990s -- we can save more without having to endure a long period of very slow growth.

It always comes back to incomes. It was, after all, the income slowdown since 2001 which drove up that household debt and pushed tens millions of families to spend down their home equity -- ultimately contributing to the current meltdown. And let's talk politics: Once the recession eases, what happens to wages and incomes will be the critical test of the economic success of Barack Obama's presidency and his large, Democratic majorities.

Unhappily, nothing will be harder to achieve, because restoring the broad income gains we saw in the 1950s, 1970s and again in the 1990s will require, just to begin, slowing increases in the health care and energy costs that businesses bear, and, which in a period of intense global competition come out of jobs and wages. Fortunately, the Obama Administration is focused on both of these problems. The catch is that their programs, at best, will take a decade to produce a significant slowdown in those costs. That's a long time for people to wait while their wages stagnate. But if we don't start now, those benefits will be still further off, and prospects for broad upward mobility could fade for another generation.

An Excellent Day of Discussion on mHealth

Yesterday, NDN, CTIA, the UN Foundation, and the Vodaphone Foundation partnered to release a study on mHealth for Development. Following a morning program focusing on the domestic benefits of mHealth, and specifically its ability to impact chronic disease, the evening program focused on mHealth in the developing world.

The evening session featured speakers very close to NDN. Simon opened the presentation, framing the conversation broadly around the power of mobile and reading from the 2007 paper he coauthored with Alec Ross, now the Senior Advisor on Innovation to Secretary of State Clinton:

A single global communications network, composed of Internet, mobile, SMS, cable and satellite technology, is rapidly tying the world’s people together as never before. The core premise of this paper is that the emergence of this network is one of the seminal events of the early 21st century. Increasingly, the world’s commerce, finance, communications, media and information are flowing through this network. Half of the world’s 6 billion people are now connected to this network, many through powerful and inexpensive mobile phones. Each year more of the world’s people become connected to the network, its bandwidth increases, and its use becomes more integrated into all that we do.

Connectivity to this network, and the ability to master it once on, has become an essential part of life in the 21st century, and a key to opportunity, success and fulfillment for the people of the world.

We believe it should be a core priority of the United States to ensure that all the world’s people have access to this global network and have the tools to use it for their own life success. There is no way any longer to imagine free societies without the freedom of commerce, expression, and community, which this global network can bring. Bringing this network to all, keeping it free and open and helping people master its use must be one of the highest priorities of those in power in the coming years.

The evening continued as Ross spoke, largely about his work at the State Department, noting that “networks are as, if not more, important than states and governments.” Following Ross, Tom Kalil, the Deputy Policy Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy spoke, reviewing the conclusions he drew in the paper he wrote last year for NDN affiliate, the New Policy Insitute, on Harnessing the Mobile Revolution. In October of 2008, Kalil wrote:

that the explosive growth of mobile communications can be a powerful tool for addressing some of the most critical challenges of the 21st century, such as promoting vibrant democracies, fostering inclusive economic growth, and reducing the huge inequities in life expectancy between rich and poor nations.

The benefits of mobile communications are particularly profound for developing countries, many of which are “leapfrogging” the traditional fixed telecommunications infrastructure. As a result, billions of people in developing countries are gaining access to modern communications of any sort for the first time. There is no doubt that mobile communications are having a significant impact on the way Americans live, work and communicate with each other. But the impact is no doubt more keenly felt by the African mother who can call ahead to determine whether a doctor is available to treat her sick child before traveling for hours.

Following Kalil, former Senator Tim Wirth of the UN Foundation introduced the study on mHealth and Development, which is available here.

Sensory Overload Produces Sloppy Policymaking

Washington policymaking is caught in its own version of sensory overload. All at once, there are too many problems that seem - and actually are -- urgent, mind-bogglingly complex, and politically ultra-sensitive, to handle well. The result now emerging could be waves of ill-considered decisions.

Exhibit A is climate change.Taking serious measures to protect the planet's climate and ecosystems by driving down greenhouse gas emissions comes as close to an imperative as exists in science-based policy. But a small group has used this imperative to try to force a decision quickly, without preparing the public or most representatives for how their cap-and-trade scheme would affect everybody - for example, by increasing the volatility of energy prices, and setting off frenetic Wall Street speculation in the emission permits created by cap-and-trade.That's just the start of the sloppiness: The process of corralling the support to pass the measure in the House of Representatives - the vote is expected this week - has become a frenzy of giveaways that have cost the program most of its teeth and all of its bite. The result is the worst of both worlds: A measure that most environmentalists agree (at least privately) would do little about climate change, while unnecessarily harming the economy. Thankfully, the Senate is unlikely to go along.Once it fails there, perhaps we can get on to more serious and public deliberations about what will be required from all of us to shift to a less carbon-based economy.

Financial regulation is Exhibit B. The minimum for sound policymaking here has to be a genuine recognition of how our capital markets came to melt down and what irreducible steps can prevent it from happening again. We now know, to start, that the most prominent institutions in our financial system have operated for years in ways that create unsupportable levels of risk. We also know that their risky behavior wasn't an accident, but the result of thousands of calculated responses to real incentives. The toxic combination here is what insiders refer to as limited liability plus leverage: The executives, managers, traders and deal makers at Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, Citigroup, Bank of America, AIG, Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs and others could borrow unlimited amounts of money (the leverage) to enter into almost unlimited numbers of risky deals. For the deals that worked out, they pocketed enormous profits and additional compensation; and for those that went south, only the shareholders suffered. If the bottom fell out on thousands of deals at once, they also all believed that they would be both too big to fail and not too big to save - and but for the incompetence of the Bush Treasury in the Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers cases, they were right.

Today, after $3 trillion to $4 trillion in federal bailouts and federal guarantees, these incentives to undertake risky deals are even greater than they were before. And if the latest OECD forecast is right, and we should expect at best a weak and fragile recovery next year, the incentives to go for a killing will be even greater still.

Yet, most current proposals for new regulation would do little to head this off. Part of the problem with the financial system comes from simple size - firms that are too big to fail - yet none of the proposals even approach this issue. For example, we could debate scaling up a firm's capital requirements with its size:The bigger it is, the less pure risk it can take on - an approach the Administration likes. And with the collapse of so many large institutions, the survivors are now even bigger. So here's another thought we haven't heard much about: Shouldn't the rules of antitrust apply to finance?

We also know that part of the problem is the nature of the risks taken by these huge institutions:Complex derivatives being traded outside regulated markets, and thus not subject to the normal capital and governance rules applied to those issuing them or to the normal disclosure and transparency requirements applied to all transactions in regulated markets. So, requiring that all derivative-like instruments henceforth be traded on regulated public markets seems like a no-brainer. Perhaps sensory overload can help explain why the leading reform proposal preserves the right of those undertaking "large private transactions" in these derivatives to operate outside the regulated markets.If this sloppy decision stands, another element for the next market meltdown will be in place.

We also know that part of the problem lies in compensation arrangements that reward executives, managers, deal makers and traders for the highly-leveraged risks that pan out, but exact no costs for those that don't.The issue here is not how big the bonuses are - that's their business - but rather a structure that actually drives decisions to take unreasonable risks because they carry no personal price.Yet, for all of this issue's urgency, addressing it among the hundreds of others demanding attention has apparently been too complex and politically-sensitive. Why can't we have a serious discussion of creating a new SEC rule that would require a shareholders' vote approving any compensation over, say, $1 million? Better still, how about a genuine debate about compensation arrangements that would claw back previous bonuses to reflect large losses by the same people?

Maybe everybody needs a break to clear their heads - and remember their principles. Let's hope it happens before the new regulatory reforms for climate change and finance become law.

Choices in Universal Healthcare

Beijing, China -- As the health care debate in Washington begins in earnest, a quick trip around the world over the last week has given me a fresh perspective.  My first stop was Sweden, to deliver a talk on the America's economic prospects, post-financial crisis.  But, first I found I had to see a doctor for a mild, recurrent eye infection, and I experienced first-hand some of the advantages and drawbacks of one of the world's best national health care systems.  I saw a physician who prescribed antibiotic drops within an hour - try to do that in America -- and the visit and the prescription together cost me less than $50.  (It would have cost a Swede nothing but taxes).   It also turns out that the medication was one developed years ago - one reason it was so inexpensive - and which takes about 10 days to clear up the problem instead of five to six days using the more advanced drops I would have received at home, at a much higher cost..  It was a small example of how national health care can trade-off technological advance for universal access - thankfully in this instance with no difference in the outcome. 

My next stop was Ulan Batar, the capital of Mongolia, to give government officials advice on economic development.  It's one of the world's poorest countries, yet the government has set up networks of clinics around the country to reach not only those in the cities, but also the other half of the population, many semi-nomadic peoples, who live in the vast countryside.  (It's a place with 2.6 million people spread across an area three times the size of Texas.).  Again, access is near-universal with much of the cost coming from taxes - business pays them there.  And while the quality of care is basic and often spotty, so is the quality of everything else in Mongolia.  It was a small example of how a society with very little of anything chooses to devote enough of its small resources to provide most of its people much of the health care they need. 

I'm writing now from the sparkling, cavernous airport in Beijing, waiting for my flight back to Washington.  Here, the government used to deliver basic care to everyone through agricultural communes and state-owned enterprises.  When the leadership decided to unravel those institutions in favor of market-based enterprises, they also unraveled the old health care guarantees, so they could channel the resources into economic development.   About 20 percent of Chinese today have coverage - essentially, those working for the central government, the People's Army, and foreign-owned companies (they're the only ones required to insure their workers).  The rest of China lives with a system they call "pay or die" -- if you're sick or injured and can't pay on the spot, you simply don't get treated.  The result is a 30 to 40 percent personal saving rate - ironically, one of the underlying factors that created the conditions for our financial meltdown - by people terrified of getting sick or having an accident.  And international health experts estimate that literally millions of Chinese die from conditions which can be treated easily.  It's the world's biggest example of how the tradeoff between providing universal care and spurring economic growth can leave most people profoundly vulnerable.

No one imagines the United States will ever find itself in China's position, although a small share of Americans do so regularly.  But the three examples can provide lessons for us.  From China, we can learn about the pitfalls of unraveling the way we currently deliver medical insurance to most people, through the tax preferences for employer provided coverage provision.  Unravel that without making provision for government-guaranteed coverage, and millions of us in the world's richest society will find ourselves profoundly vulnerable. From Sweden, we can learn that the cost pressures associated with an efficient, universal system inevitably produce less access to the most technologically advanced and expensive treatments, although it may not make much of a difference for most people.  Of course, that also means it will make some difference in the health of some people - although certainly less of a difference than whether or not they smoke, drink or exercise.  And from Mongolia, can't we learn that we can establish universal coverage tomorrow, if we choose to?  We'll just have to pay for it - and the bill will be a whopper as medical advances grow even more expensive and tens of millions of baby boomers reach the age when the most costly-to-treat conditions become most prevalent.  Yes, alongside the cost-saving reforms and efficiencies from phalanxes of experts, there will also have to be higher taxes.   But if the choice is, your money or your health, what choice is there?

How Do We Define the Obama Doctrine?

This morning on the NDN Blog and the Huffington Post, Simon laid out an argument, to which he urged me to respond, concluding that, due to the rapidly changing nature of the global landscape, the “rise of the rest,” and the ability of America’s very unique new president to speak directly to the world’s peoples, Barack Obama will not be able to be a realist, and will instead have to base his foreign policy on the politics of global aspiration.

Simon’s argument is powerful, and the points he makes about the changing global landscape are on the mark. Obama does indeed have a unique ability to communicate to the world’s peoples, both from a personal and technological standpoint, that is unparalleled. But if Obama is not a realist, what is he?

I would argue that he is certainly not a foreign policy liberal and certainly not a neo-liberal (indisputably the ideological predecessor to neo-conservatism). We will not see an emphasis on democracy promotion as a panacea, and I doubt very much that Obama advisers will be heard calling America “the indispensible nation.”

Rather, much like his domestic policy, Obama’s foreign policy defies labels.

In his almost six months in office, Obama has crafted a middle road, one that has America’s interests at heart, but defines American interests more broadly. It rejects the easily caricatured cynical realism of Kissinger and the narrow realism of Scowcroft/Baker. As Simon argues, he embraces the so called “rise of the rest,” which is not necessarily contrary to American interests – more markets for our goods, greater stability, and fewer failed states all work in our favor.

While Obama often speaks about ideals, we have not seen him subordinate them to interests. In this, Obama has already been the consummate realist – avoiding Carter-esque handwringing about human rights in China, rebuffing Israel – our democratic ally – on settlements, and, most recently, offering very cautious comments on Iran that have sought to avoid pro-democracy pontificating, while still noting that self-determination is a universal value.

The moment that Obama faces and the challenges that come with it, from terrorism, to global poverty, to the rise of new powers, demand this middle road that Obama is walking. America will use diplomacy, alleviate poverty, disease, and strife, and build international institutions all because these serve the American interests that Obama will redefine. He can talk about values, but it will come with the historical knowledge that some of our most disastrous foreign policy moments have come out of liberalism, and that blindly insisting on liberal ideals will, in many cases, backfire.

I’d imagine that, over the next few years, we will find that Obama’s foreign policy will be something that looks like a realism of a more liberal variety, just as Obama’s brand of pragmatism is progressive. And just as a term like pragmatic progressive barely serves as a good descriptor of the Obama domestic policy, nor will whatever term emerges like “liberal realist” be a good descriptor of Obama’s foreign policy. Suffice it to say that the great challenge for this man, in this moment, is to bring America closer to the rest of the world, and the world closer to America, than either has been in a long time – in a manner that serves America’s interests. And he might just be able to do it.

Geithner and Summers Outline New Financial Foundation in WaPo

Today in the Washington Post, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Director of the National Economic Council Larry Summers outline the administration's plans to regulate the financial system. While these reforms will not get the same attention as the other major initiatives President Obama is trying to pass this year, they are incredibly important to our continued prosperity, and the post crisis shape of the financial system is a fascinating story to follow. One also notices that the "New Foundation" theme is repeated for the op-ed. Here's what the President's top economic advisers had to say:

Over the past two years, we have faced the most severe financial crisis since the Great Depression. The financial system failed to perform its function as a reducer and distributor of risk. Instead, it magnified risks, precipitating an economic contraction that has hurt families and businesses around the world.

We have taken extraordinary measures to help put America on a path to recovery. But it is not enough to simply repair the damage. The economic pain felt by ordinary Americans is a daily reminder that, even as we labor toward recovery, we must begin today to build the foundation for a stronger and safer system.

This current financial crisis had many causes. It had its roots in the global imbalance in saving and consumption, in the widespread use of poorly understood financial instruments, in shortsightedness and excessive leverage at financial institutions. But it was also the product of basic failures in financial supervision and regulation.

Our framework for financial regulation is riddled with gaps, weaknesses and jurisdictional overlaps, and suffers from an outdated conception of financial risk. In recent years, the pace of innovation in the financial sector has outstripped the pace of regulatory modernization, leaving entire markets and market participants largely unregulated.

That is why, this week -- at the president's direction, and after months of consultation with Congress, regulators, business and consumer groups, academics and experts -- the administration will put forward a plan to modernize financial regulation and supervision. The goal is to create a more stable regulatory regime that is flexible and effective; that is able to secure the benefits of financial innovation while guarding the system against its own excess.

Read the whole piece here.


Getting Serious about Our Financial Mess

Stockholm -- The best way to clear your head of the political chatter that passes for policy debate in Washington is to get out of town. I’m writing today from Stockholm, a grand old city on a picturesque harbor and archipelago, where it’s harder to care much about Larry Summers’ squabbles with White House colleagues, the cynical fulminations from Newt Gingrich or Rush Limbaugh, or even the heated discussions inside Obamaland over its legislative strategy for health care reform. With a little distance, it’s easier to focus on developments which may actually matter for the rest of us, such as the prospects of Iran electing a democratic reformer as president this week or how the unfolding, deep slump in global trade may imperil economic recovery by China, Japan and Germany.

 It’s also easier to concentrate on our own economic conundrums. Let’s start with the crying need for new financial regulation that can prevent a system whose dysfunctions have just wiped out 20 percent of America’s wealth from doing it all over again sometime soon. The current TARP program, now officially a tangled mess, isn’t much of a model. This week the Treasury announced that 10 large institutions will be permitted to repay their TARP loans, including Goldman Sachs and Morgan, while nine others, including Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Citicorp, have to stay in the system. It sounds reasonable, since the lucky 10 can afford to repay while most of the rest cannot. But the TARP system ties regulation to outstanding loans, so now we’re left with a two-caste financial market where the weaker ones operate at a market disadvantage and others who used the taxpayers to fund their comebacks are no longer constrained to operate in the interests of a public which rescued them less than nine months ago.

We also learned this week that the Treasury’s clever plan to use taxpayer guarantees to create a private market for the toxic assets of all these institutions is a flop: Even with all that largesse, nobody wants to buy much of the toxic paper. So if the economy dips again, the 10 institutions now exiting the TARP regulations will be back for more, and there won’t be enough money in the Treasury or the Fed to save Citicorp and Bank of America again.

Then there’s the matter of how to regulate the derivatives that knocked the pins out from under the vaunted U.S. financial markets last year. The Administration’s current economic mandarins, along with the most elevated mandarin of all, Alan Greenspan, all have confessed publicly to their errors in dismissing the need for such regulation in the late-1990s. With the catastrophic collapse of the multi-trillion dollar markets for mortgage-backed securities and their credit default swap derivatives, strict regulation of these transactions to protect the rest of us -- which basically means transparency and reasonable limits on the leverage used to create or buy these instruments -- should be a no-brainer.

So what’s the logic behind the Administration's decision to keep trading in large, “private” deals in derivatives outside regulated markets? Those are precisely the deals that pose a danger for the rest of us, since they’re the large ones and inevitably the deals carried out by the institutions now acknowledged to be too large to fail. That’s Washington-speak for companies important enough to demand help from the taxpayers whenever they need it. The justification is the same as in the 1990s -- it will reduce their profits. That’s correct, in order to protect the rest of us from the now well-known consequences of a mindless drive for higher and higher profits regardless of the risks.

The next time you feel yourself drawn to the insider accounts of the greasy pole inside the White House or the breakup of the Republican coalition, take a deep breath and remind yourself that these are the players actually responsible for serious matters that ultimately may determine whether you ever have the income and assets required to send your kids to college or retire before you’re 80 years old.

NDN Backgrounder: International Economic Policy for the 21st Century

News came yesterday that the bill containing coverage for the line of credit being extending to the IMF is being slowed because some sadly misinformed members of Congress are concerned that the money is, "a bailout that could line the pockets of terrorist regimes around the world." (John Boehner, courtesy of The Hill.) This scare tactic with no basis in reality would be funny, if the IMF money weren't going to be used in large part to maintain stability in fragile countries in the midst of a global economic crisis. Of course, it's that instability in fragile countries that could actually lead to terrorism.

In the spirit of educating on international economics, please find today's economic backgrounder:

  • Douglas Alexander Delivers Major Speech on Conflict, Fragility, and Development, 4/27/2009 - Alexander, the United Kingdom's Secretary of State for International Development, argued that governments aiding failed and fragile states must do more than work to support economic growth and provide basic services such as clean water, health and education; they must now "support political institutions and processes -- parliaments, political parties, civil society and the media."
  • The Politics of the Bottom Up Go Global by Simon Rosenberg, 4/3/2009 - Rosenberg, reflecting on President Obama's town hall in Strasbourg, writes that Obama has begun the transformation from President of the United States to the paramount leader of the world's peoples.
  • Shapiro Speaks on G-20, Need for Global Economic Action, 4/1/2009 - At an NDN event on "The G-20 and Beyond: Challenges Facing the Global Economy," Shapiro delivered wide-ranging comments on the global Great Recession, its causes, and the global leadership necessary to combat it. The event also featured U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, Foreign Policy magazine Editor-in-Chief Dr. Moisés Naím. 
  • U.S. Rep Adam Smith at The G-20 Summit and Beyond, 4/1/2009 - Ahead of the G-20 Summit, Smith, a Congressional leader on trade, terrorism, and international development, speaks on international trade and the need for a globally coordinated development strategy.
  • The Fallout of the Great Recession for Trade by Dr. Robert Shapiro, 2/11/2009 - Shapiro argues that the world is currently experiencing the economic symptoms of protectionism without actual protectionist measures being put in place, which could have dangerous consequences for the global economy.
  • Recovery Without E-verify and Buy American by Simon Rosenberg, 2/10/2009 - Rosenberg advocates for the removal of "Buy American" and E-verify provisions from the stimulus, provisions that will not stimulate the economy and will do more harm than good. 
  • The Global Economic Crisis and Future Ambassadorial Appointments by Simon Rosenberg, 11/26/2008 - With the mammoth task of rebuilding international financial architecture and recovering from a global recession awaiting the new President, Rosenberg points out the the ambassadors to the G20 nations will be key members of the economic team.
  • Harnessing the Mobile Revolution by Tom Kalil, 10/9/2008 - Tom Kalil, now the Associate Director for Policy of the White House Office of Science and Technology, authored this paper for the New Policy Institute. The paper argued that mobile communications technology can be a powerful tool for addressing some of the greatest challenges of the 21st century.
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