WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
Stimulating the economy: In the eyes of economists, not all stimuli are created equal. According to Mark Zandi of Economy.com, the best ways to jumpstart the economy are those that target the lowest-income Americans quickly and directly. That means spending increases. Zandi calculates that the most effective measures boost food stamps ($1.73 in added GDP per dollar spent), extend unemployment insurance ($1.64), and build or repair infrastructure ($1.59). By Zandi's math, Obama's $25 billion infusion for state and local government services also packs a punch; it would deliver $34 billion in growth. By this measure Obama's stimulus fares well -- much better, in fact, than the stimulus package passed by Congress last winter. Those business incentives and personal tax rebates will generate just 27 to 29 cents in activity for every dollar they cost the Treasury.
On the other hand, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office says that an effective market jolt must "focus on the time period when stimulus is most likely to be needed." In that light, Obama's $25 billion in infrastructure spending looks less appealing. "Large-scale construction projects of any type require years of planning and preparation," says the CBO. "Even those that are 'on the shelf' generally cannot be undertaken quickly enough to provide timely stimulus to the economy."
Regulating financial markets: While financial interests generally oppose more intrusive federal regulation, there is widespread acknowledgment in the wake of the mortgage meltdown and the current economic distress that something is likely to change -- and probably should change. In particular, Obama's sweeping call for revamping federal oversight makes sense to many experts. As the Illinois Democrat noted in his speech, "the large, complex institutions that dominate the financial landscape do not fit into categories created decades ago. Different institutions compete in multiple markets -- our regulatory system should not pretend otherwise." Meanwhile, mortgage companies issued two-thirds of the subprime loans but did not fall under the tough guidelines for lending that applied to banks and thrifts.
The principles Obama has laid out follow the thinking of Congressional Democrats, but the notion of wholesale streamlining taps into a bipartisan agenda. A 2007 study by McKinsey & Company for Democratic Senator Charles Schumer and (then-Republican) New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg found that financial executives are gravitating toward the United Kingdom, which has a single financial services regulator: "Many of the executives interviewed find a single regulator easier to deal with - there is a single point of contact and a single institution to whom regulated parties are held accountable. Increasingly, they prefer to operate under a single, expansive universal banking license, as opposed to working through multiple chartering regimes and a variety of licenses and legal entities." The Bush Administration released its own plan for reform, which embraced a similar ethic. The Treasury plan, however, is much more cautious. It does not call for tighter regulation -- in fact in places it calls for less -- and while it proposes to give the Federal Reserve more information about non-bank institutions, it wouldn't grant it authority over those institutions except in a crisis.