The first time I visited Congress, I was amazed at how easily you can wander the halls. To enter the office buildings you have to pass through airport-style metal detectors and a bag scan, but no one asks your business and you don’t even have to show identification. (I’ve also visited the U.S. Treasury and other executive branch office buildings, and, without giving anything away, I can safely say that easy/open access is not a theme.)
But once you’re inside a Senate or House building, the thought strikes you – where do I go to hear the issues, see the debate, or even (if you’ve had enough coffee) figure out what could possibly be said that would make a difference? You can study clearly labeled floor plans and all the rooms are well marked, but – in intellectual, policy, or down-in-the-trenches political terms – where do you go?
As far as I know, for our current economic debate – a once-per-generation, perhaps once-per-century event – there’s no available roadmap. Probably even trying to write down such a map would be misleading, as the events and issues continue to prove so dynamic.
But surely there’s something we can do to figure out more precisely what is going on and why. And if we know that, perhaps we can also get some insight into what can be said, to whom, and under what circumstances that would actually make a difference.
After decades of working as a professional economist, I feel like I'm slipping into naive idealism. In many countries and situations, I think that trying to influence the political debate with ideas is essentially hopeless. But in the American democratic system, where politicians are regularly accountable to their constituents, it is possible for ideas to play an important role in making policy - as long as those constituents understand what is going on and what it means to them. Today, as we grapple with the most severe and disruptive economic crisis that most of us have seen, understanding what is going on can seem like an impossible task.
This blog is designed to raise broader awareness of economic policy discussions on Capitol Hill, focusing on formal hearings as the centerpiece, but also providing previews and reviews of many of the lower profile but influential economic debates on and off the Hill. The idea is to generate a roadmap to the debate through our postings, those of our guests, and your comments. Information, opinions, and arguing out workable proposals of all kinds are what we need to understand what is going on.
In terms of really changing anything, I realize that we are likely tilting at windmills. But in this time of financial catastrophe and economic quicksand, I revisit the inscription on the statue of Don Quixote, a gift of the Spanish government that stands on the grounds of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (and which many of our most powerful people must drive by frequently): “Well might the Enchanters rob me of my good fortune, but never of my spirit or my will.”
Posted by: finally1 | April 25, 2009 9:44 AM | Report abuse
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