Commentary

Economists Give Failing Grade to Obama, Geithner

In an opinion turnaround, a recent survey of economists and financial forecasters gave President Obama and Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner low marks for the way they are handling economic policy in the recession.

The economists’ assessment stands in stark contrast with Mr. Obama’s popularity with the public, with a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll giving him a 60% approval rating. A majority of the 49 economists polled said they were dissatisfied with the administration’s economic policies.

On average, they gave the president a grade of 59 out of 100, and although there was a broad range of marks, 42% of respondents rated Mr. Obama below 60. Mr. Geithner received an average grade of 51. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke scored better, with an average 71.

If anything, I think this survey really shows that the people with the most knowledge and understanding of the economy are deeply divided about nature of this recession and what can (or should) be done to bring us out. The same report noted that the economists have pushed back their expectations for when the economy will recover.

Interestingly, many of these economists were very supportive of Obama’s team when he took office.

The economists’ negative ratings mark a turnaround in opinion. In December, before Mr. Obama took office, three-quarters of respondents said the incoming administration’s economic team was better than the departing Bush team. However, Mr. Geithner’s latest marks are lower than the average grade of 57 that former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson received in January.

Mr. Geithner, who is relying on a skeleton crew of advisers in the Treasury Department as the administration struggles to make key appointments to his staff, is encountering the same problems as his predecessor in dealing with the complexities of a bailout plan. Richard DeKaser of Woodley Park Research, who gave high marks to Messrs. Obama and Geithner, admitted disappointment in the delay in action but said he appreciated the magnitude of the task. “I don’t know what’s holding it up,” he said. “But I’m assuming it’s not just because they’re hitting the golf course.”

Reason’s complete bailout coverage can be found here.

Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.