The Bush presidency took a search and destroy attitude to contrary opinion but the appointments to Obama’s economic advisory board suggests that reason is about to make a comeback.

The 17-member board appears to have been recruited with conflict in mind and could easily cleave into a malformed high school debate.

On the left sits Warren Buffett who, in 2003, famously called derivatives “financial weapons of mass destruction“. He believes that the class war is real and that it’s his class that’s winning. Former Harvard Professor and Secretary of Labour under Clinton, Robert Reich, is of a similar persuasion. Having successfully campaigned for an increase in the minimum wage, Reich is the closest an American gets to being a communist.

On the right are a phalanx of advisors attributed with key roles in creating the current crisis. These include Lawrence Summers, former Secretary of the Treasury under Clinton, who gained notoriety for suggesting that women were rubbish at maths. Summers succeeded his mentor Robert Rubin, a former head of Goldman Sachs, when he resigned in May 1999. Both were ardent supporters of the repeal of the Glass Steagall Act, which permitted financial institutions to merge and get into derivatives in a really big way. No, I mean really big. A few months later Rubin joined the Citigroup board.

On the basis that the best way to solve a problem is to employ the same thinking that created it, Rubin was made chairman of Citigroup in November last year. Both he and Summers sit on Obama’s board, along with former SEC chairman William Donaldson, another regulator not that fond of regulation.

Eric Schmidt of Google and Anne Mulchay of Xerox represent US businesses not yet dependent on Government support and could be useful when the AV packs up. The closest any member gets to representing the automobile industry is David Bonior. Born in Detroit, he’s a founder of American Rights at Work and was campaign manager for John Edwards in the Democratic primaries.

Even the conspiracy theorists have something to ponder. Paul Volcker, chairman of the Fed under Carter and Reagan and likely to side with Buffett and Reich, was a founding member of the Trilateral Commission.

It’s hard not to believe that this is a board rigged to produce combative, challenging debate.

During his time as a lecturer in constitutional law Obama was well known for keeping his personal beliefs out of the classroom. In a New York Times article former student Michael Turbes said, “I’ve read that he’s good at poker, and that doesn’t surprise me. He is good at not wearing his opinions on his sleeve.”

With the soon-to-be-announced appointment of his Treasury Secretary, we’ll get an early indication of what Obama thinks is the best way to play the financial crisis. And a hint as to which side won the debate.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey