Ezra Klein writes:
EzraKlein Archive | The American Prospect: Noting that he instinctively shares the optimism that this won't turn into another Great Depression, Atrios writes that his confidence is "largely based on the knowledge that there are smart technocrats who know what they're doing, and not on the reality that while those these people exist they probably aren't actually steering the ship. George Bush, Chris Cox, Dick Cheney, and Henry Paulson are."
Putting aside whether Paulson knows what he's doing -- I think he's acquitted himself well thus far -- one of the odd facts about this crisis is that the elected branches of government have been completely cut out of the response. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have not, as far as anyone can tell, been steering the ship. According to The Wall Street Journal, Bush was briefed on the rescue after it was in play. And even then, he was only "briefed." There's been no effort on the part of the White House to even advance the idea that Bush is an engaged participant who's actively signing off on these actions, possibly because suggesting his involvement in a crisis of this complexity would cause the stock market to run and hide in a corner.
Congress, too, has been cut totally out of the loop. The AIG bailout -- in fact, all of the bailouts -- have been conceived entirely without their involvement. Indeed, the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department have been acting, over the course of this crisis, as if they are the sum total of the government. And that may be the correct approach: Neither the president nor the legislative branch possess the expertise or speed to be involved in the real-time crisis management that Bernanke and Paulson are trying to manage. They could, presumably, reverse decisions after the fact or change the contours of the law, but for now, the ship is being steered by the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, the Treasury Secretary, and an informal working group of Wall Street CEOs and banking powerhouses. And the government, as we normally think of it, has basically accepted their temporary authority. You've heard of martial law? We're currently in a state of market law.
This is how things have been since 1979--when Carter appointed Volcker to head the Fed, Volcker decided he was going to stop inflation no matter what the cost and would dare anyone else to try to block him, and congress and the president decided that challenging the Fed meant taking responsibility for inflation and thus blame if anything went wrong. Congress and the president occasionally show up to pass tax cuts--and twice, in 1990 and 1993, to take action to try to balance the budget. But otherwise the technocrats at the Fed and the Treasury run things.
This is the Age of Central Bankers.