My Audacious Wish: Uwe Reinhardt for Secretary of Labor.
One of my great disappointments, and a cause of utter dismay at times, of Obama’s first term was his near-total failure to bring into his administration really brilliant academics, and (apparently) to actually listen to the ones he did bring in. I remember back in early 2009 how happy I was that Obama was going to pursue major healthcare insurance reform, right at the outset, and I assumed that he would enlist the assistance of two or three of the most prominent academics who had extensive background related to healthcare financing. Which, in my opinion, meant, first and foremost, Uwe Reinhardt, the James Madison Professor of Political Economy at Princeton’s Economics and Public Affairs departments.
I sort of had this vision of Reinhardt and Gail Wilensky, the moderate Republican healthcare economist who had served as George H. W. Bush’s Medicare director, joining together at Obama’s request to draft a potential healthcare insurance bill.
Instead, of course, Obama left it up to Max Baucus and a few other members of Congress to draft a bill from scratch, and then failed to aggressively explain its contents and refute the massive campaign of disinformation about it. Sort of like his method of handling the stimulus legislation. Thus, the 2010 election results.
But healthcare costs and related issues are deeply entwined with economic and labor issues, and Reinhardt’s expertise is not limited to healthcare costs and delivery. He is not per se a labor economist, but he is per se brilliant and possessed of the ability to explain complex facts to the economics-and-healthcare-finance-challenged crowd. (Trust me on this.)
A huge difference between now and any time during the past four years is that, finally, suddenly, some mainstream journalists and pundits are joining Paul Krugman in awakening to the facts highlighted in the above indented excerpt by Jim Tankersley. In mainstream print journalism, it may still be just the editorial writers at the New York Times and economics correspondents at the Washington Post, but I’m betting that it’s about to gain real steam.
The Times editorial I’m referring to is in today’s paper, and argues:
I agree that if Obama limits his options for this post to past or present politicians and people already, or recently, in government, then Granholm is an excellent choice. But I think it’s past time now for him to look elsewhere, to academia, to fill a post that has the potential to make a defining contribution to critical economic and labor policy.
I fear, of course, that Reinhardt is the wrong gender. Obama needs to place women in prominent positions in his administration, after all. And there may well be a terrific labor economist who is female; I wouldn’t know. But even more than placing women in prominent positions in his administration, he needs to place someone with a deep understanding of national and international labor and economics dynamics in a position of real influence and public exposure.
Very good piece.
I was amazed, as someone who lived in Europe for a decade, that the healthcare debate never embraced particulars and never compared and contrasted the advantages and disadvantages of various systems already in use.
I prefer Germany’s. And I prefer Germany’s approach on a lot of things compared to the US.
But, Obama and the Dems were never about reforming the system so much as they were about seizing control of the system by putting a jackboot on the neck of insurance companies.
Once you have control of the system, you can “fix” it.
One minor disagreement: “from scratch”. Really?
My impression as an ex-member of SEIU, ILWU, Teamsters and a union or two other than that, was that most of that had been thought of previously.
The Obama team simply put it together without much thought, having swallowed the “Metis” of debate and functional/dysfunctional so that a full-blown Athena called “The Affordable Care Act” could spring from Obama’s Zeus. 🙂
Roy, my “from scratch” sentence reads: “Instead, of course, Obama left it up to Max Baucus and a few other members of Congress to draft a bill from scratch, ….” Obama did not offer or suggest a bill to Congress, the way most presidents do when they want major legisltation of some sort. The Obama team didn’t put it together at all. Obama simply asked Congress to come up with a bill that would provide insurance for most Americans. Baucus and other members of Congress drafted THE BILL from scratch–the BILL, not the healthcare system. The healthcare system and insurance system clearly were not drafted from scratch in the ACA. And, clearly, I did not say they were.
And I don’t understand your comment that Obama and the Dems were never about reforming the system so much as they were about seizing control of the system by putting a jackboot on the neck of insurance companies. Obama’s big mistake was in so fearing that the health-insurance industry would do again what it did to the Clinton healthcare reform proposal that he, in effect, gave the industry waht it wanted. And among the things the industry wanted was no public option of any sort. Seize control of the industry? if that’s what they wanted to do, they failed.
Geez. Where did Baucus get his ideas from? Whom had he talked to, consulted with, over the years? Are we kidding?
Insurance companies are lowest on the totem pole of HC problem makers.
Right now, the top belongs to HC reformers who don’t know squat.
Romney Care solved the problem of access and improved outcomes and should have been the model for gradual responsible reform of the HC system.
I talk to HC insurance execs daily and, while some of them voted for Obama, no one thinks that insurance companies won’t be going out of business as the requirements of OCare mean rates have to go up.
One exec who wrote about the coming increases in a letter to policy holders got public censure from Obama’s admin for simply telling the truth.
After the insurance companies go broke, then Obama thinks he will impose single-payer.
In the chaos that ensues, no outcome will be anything less than very, very painful.
Hi Bev…nice to see you getting such coverage after all these years. I don’t know anything about Uwe and after reading your piece, I still don’t know anything about her. Can you tell us why she is such a good candidate and what exactly you think the DoL should be doing?
Hi again, Woolley. Reinhardt’s Wikipedia page is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uwe_Reinhardt. His Princeton page is at http://wws.princeton.edu/people/display_person.xml?netid=reinhard&display=core.
This post of mine hasn’t exactly gone off the charts for hits, maybe because most everyone who did read it probably rolled their eyes. I guess they recognize that the chance that Reinhardt would accept an offer to become Labor secretary is about as likely as that he’d be offered the position. Which is to say, not … um … great.
Reinhardt, as I said in my post, is prominent these days mainly for his expertise in the economics of healthcare funding and insurance. But, in looking just now for an example of his writings on labor issues, I found a good example, from two years ago, at http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/02/18/how-convincing-is-the-case-for-free-trade/. He is, or at least was, one of the regular contributors to the NYT’s Economix blog.
The blog is subtitled “Explaining the Science of Everyday Life,” and that post of Reinhardt’s is called “How Convincing Is the Case for Free Trade?” In it, he makes clear the distinction between free trade and offshoring. He does that partly by discussing a 2007 article in the Washington Post by his Princeton Econ. Dept. colleague Alan Blinder called “Free Trade’s Great, but Offshoring Rattles Me.” That issue and, I believe, the issue of whether modern technology–robots in manufacturing; computers of all sorts–really is different than earlier huge advances in technology, such as the automobile putting horse-buggy makers out of business, in its effect on employment, worldwide, but especially in advanced economies like ours.
Blinder is, best as I can tell, the most prominent liberal Princeton economist other than Paul Krugman. He would be a wonderful choice as Labor secretary, but my impression is that he would be too risky a pick, politically, just as Krugman would be. Same with Brad Delong. Which is why I suggested Reinhardt instead.
The point I was trying to make in my post has less to do with Reinhardt himself than with my hope for the appointment as Labor secretary of an economist well-versed in the academics of these issues and also who has the ability to explain these things clearly, and publicly, to lay people. And to help Obama do that.
Another excellent choice–one I didn’t think of until this morning–would be Alan Krueger, another liberal Princeton-affiliated economist, and one who actually could, theoretically, be nominated. That’s because since November 2011, he has been the chairman of the White House Counsel of Economic Advisors. He has done extensive research and writing on issues of growing inequality, and the role of government-supported education in the economy. His Wikipedia page is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Krueger.