Saturday, April 04, 2009

Obama "disarms" the Germans

Among the several key messages delivered by Obama this week that the world is, pardon the expression, "voraciously" consuming, one that's rightly received a lot of attention is his bid to "rebalance" world trade. From the April 1 press conference with Gordon Brown (recounted by Michael Scherer):
"In some ways, the world has become accustomed to the United States being a voracious consumer market and the engine that drives a lot of economic growth worldwide," Obama said, hinting that this position may not be sustainable. "We're going to have to take into account a whole host of factors that can increase our savings rate and start dealing with our long-term fiscal position as well as our current account deficits.
On Friday, he elaborated at length about the U.S. needing to "move from a borrow-and-spend economy to a save-and-invest economy," and about other trade surplus countries' need to boost consumer spending. Scherer emotes that Obama's full answer " could lead to a remaking of the global economy." Okay... but what I find interesting is Obama's means of nudging various parties -- in this case, countries -- in the direction he wants them to go. He has a rooted mental habit of acknowledging the counterpoint to whatever point he's trying to make, and it goes a long way in influencing counterparties. To wit:
Now, the U.S. will remain the largest consumer market, and we are going to make sure that it's open. One of the principles that we very clearly affirmed in London was that protectionism is not the answer. It's not the Germans' fault that they make good products that the United States wants to buy. And we want to make sure that we're making good products that Germans want to buy. But if you look overall, there is probably going to need to be a rebalancing of who's spending, who's saving, what are the overall trade patterns.
This kind of gesture, or series of gestures -- the U.S. will remain the largest consumer market, protectionism is not the answer, the Germans make great products, but...enacts a stated axiom in Obama's political credo. In The Audacity of Hope, in speech after speech over two years (and probably in various ways over twenty years preceding), Obama held up a vision of a reformed politics that entails "acknowledging that the other side may sometimes have a point." He does that in every forum, every speech.

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