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Mohamed El-Erian's Phony Political Courage

We were discussing the order in which the Devil had invented war, pestilence, and risk-weighted securities at the back table of a small restaurant. The waiter kept coming by offering small bowls of bread, menus and other things intended to encourage us to take solids with our lunch.

mohamed el-erian
CNBC.com
mohamed el-erian

"It takes courage to keep waiving the waiter away like that," my lunch companion said.

This struck a bell. Earlier that day I had read Mohamed El-Erian's Washington Post op-ed on the political courage needed to get us through our economic slump.

"Speaking of courage, did you read that El-Erian piece today?" I said.

"Of course. What about it?"

"It drove me absolutely crazy," I said. I then began digging into my satchel, which sat under the table. When I arose with my laptop in hand, I noticed that somehow the waiter had snuck a plate of bread onto our table. That's what I call determination.

I fired up the internet and pulled down El-Erian's piece.

"Here's what drove me crazy. El-Erian begins by saying that the 'economy needs political courage that transcends expediency in favor of long-term solutions,' right?" I said.

"Sounds about right to me," the other guy said. He didn't glance at the bread. Instead, he held up his glass and gestured to the waiter that we required more of the stuff we were drinking.

"Yeah. Sure. Whatever. He then goes one to list what political courage would mean: 'housing reform, medium-term budget rules, pro-growth tax reforms, investments in physical and technological infrastructure, job retraining, greater support for education and scientific research, and better nets to protect the most vulnerable segments of society,'" I said.

"I assume, Carney, that there's a point in here somewhere. Perhaps you should eat something."

"So political courage consists of listing nine things every one simply loves. Nine things we can't have all at the same time. Spending on infrastructure and tech, spending on job retraining, spending on science, spending on welfare, spending on education. And tax cuts. And housing reform. Oh, and budget discipline. This is the kind of spoiled-child, 'you can have it all' junk that got us in this mess in the first place," I said.

"You know El-Erian is a pretty smart guy. If he had an ounce of gold for every smart thing he's thought, he'd be a very rich man."

"He is a very rich man."

"So you see my point then."

The waiter was back, this time threatening us with a dessert menu. I decided to drop the point.

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