In reviewing Bill Clinton’s new book, Back to Work:
What sort of authority does Mr. Clinton bring to writing this book? His admirers will argue that he is the ideal author for a book about fixing the economy, and will point to his record as president — reducing the federal deficit, overhauling welfare, blunting his party’s reputation for profligate spending and presiding over the longest economic expansion on record with falling unemployment, rising incomes and improved competitiveness on the world stage. Moreover, as president and later as founder of the Clinton Global Initiative, he understands the politics and economics of globalization and the dynamics of the technological information age.
But critics will argue that the deregulatory policies promoted by Mr. Clinton’s administration — under the treasury secretaries Robert E. Rubin and later Lawrence H. Summers — contributed to conditions that led to the Wall Street meltdown of 2008 and the subsequent recession. In this book Mr. Clinton skims over these issues lightly. Of his signing of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act repealing part of the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act that prohibited commercial banks from engaging in the investment business, he argues that it is not self-evident that “the mortgage crisis was hastened and enlarged by the end of the division between commercial and investment banks.”
On the matter of failing effectively to regulate financial derivatives, Mr. Clinton writes, “I can be fairly criticized for not making a bigger public issue out of the need to regulate” them. But he adds the rationalization that he “couldn’t have done anything about it, because the Republican Congress was hostile to all regulations, going so far as to threaten to leave the S.E.C. with no budget because the commissioner, Arthur Levitt, was vigilant in doing his job.”
It’s a fair question. I certainly think he deserves to be heard, as do both Bushes. (Jimmy Carter? Not so much. I prefer that we hear less from him.) The more intelligently we speak of our difficulties the better off we are. Based on this review alone, I’m not sure the book adds that much to the debate. It seems – again, I have not read the book – that it might be a lot of Clinton triangulation and poll-driven writing. I wonder whether there are any unpopular opinions in his conclusions, and how he addresses Medicare and entitlements.