Moments of crisis hold a very special place in history because they are the moments when man steps up to the plate to bat with the innings at stake. The unprecedented economic slowdown combined with an electorate sick and tired of war brought Mr. Obama to the plate. Unfortunately for the batting team despite being in a position to hit the home run, he has chosen to not do so. The innings now looks in shambles and if anything promises an even worse innings ahead.
At a time when the United States and the world required tough decisions to be taken, the novice leader faltered and let the weight of office weigh him down. At every juncture Obama has taken the path of least resistance.
Bailouts – When faced with the choice of bailing out companies that were sick because of their own inefficiencies versus pumping money back into the markets to revitalize it, Obama chose the easy way out and dumped huge amounts of hard-earned tax money into callous corporations. Even more surprising, at no point where the companies asked for a plan to return the money they were being given. I’d really like to know how many times Citibank told a sick debtor that they understood that people could fall ill or lose jobs so they were writing off their credit card bill?
Job outsourcing – Again a knee-jerk reaction to order companies to not outsource jobs. If not for the seriousness of the slowdown, this one would actually be hilarious. The very same government that pushed, cajoled, prodded and threatened the world to open up is the first to go running into its cubby hole at the faintest hint of danger.
So what should Obama have done?
The answer to that question has been staring two American presidents in the face now for over a decade – infrastructure. Investment in infrastructure would have kick started the economy and created jobs must faster and more effectively than propping up companies that deserve to go under anyways. Just off the top of my head two areas come to mind – telecom and transport.
The United States desperately needs to upgrade both these key infrastructure immediately. A country well connected by wide freeways has meant that people have moved to suburbs to avoid the city, making the daily commute a necessary routine of life. In the 1960s, the oil companies bought stakes in the existing railroads and tore them up leaving America captive to the black gold. An undertaking to connect America’s suburbs to her cities through mass transportation networks like railways would have meant a much more constructive use of the money being given away free to dead companies.
The telecom infrastructure in the United States is begging for an upgrade. As the demand for faster transfer speeds and higher bandwidth grows geometrically, America needs to upgrade her infrastructure quickly. Some of those billions spent in this area would have ensured that even as Americans lost jobs in America, they could work anywhere in the world without leaving her borders.
The biggest impact would have been a decreasing dependence on the black gold, which in itself would have been a major victory for a country that has grown to depend on it like an addict needs his fix.
Posterity will judge Mr. Obama on more concrete evidence – performance.