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January 8, 2009

The Matt Millens of Our Economy

Tony Soltero

The Detroit Lions just set a new standard for futility in the NFL, having just wrapped up the first winless season by a team since the league went to a 16-game schedule 30 years ago.


Now, this isn't easy to do. The NFL maintains all kinds of scheduling and drafting mechanisms to ensure competitive balance. So it takes some serious long-term ineptitude at every level for a team to go 0-16.


But the Lions pulled it off. And while there's plenty of blame to go around, much of it fell upon general manager Matt Millen, whose many years of inept drafting and personnel management played a big part in driving the organization into the ground.


So, it was more than a little amusing to watch the Falcons-Cardinals wildcard game last weekend, and notice that the announcers in the booth had a very special guest regaling the TV audience with deep insights as to how the Falcons built a winning team this year.


That special guest was...Matt Millen. Out of the vast pool of former and current members of NFL front offices, NBC decided that Matt Millen, the man who "built" the 0-16 Detroit Lions, would be the one they would enlist to provide analysis on team-building.


Most football fans just shook their heads at the ridiculousness of the scene. In the NFL world, good-old-boy-ism obviously transcends all matters of competence and credibility.


Now, we might say, that's an amusing story, but that's just the NFL. It's the entertainment industry, so what's the big deal, really? Well, that's true – this is the entertainment industry. But we're seeing many parallels to this Matt Millen spectacle in the real world, especially as pertaining to major policymaking on the part of the incoming Barack Obama administration. And the problem is even worse in the media.


The number-one issue in the country is our economic mess. That's the reason President-elect Obama won the presidency. We are in an economic crisis that was brought about by a reckless deregulatory atmosphere, a massive, unsustainable buildup of consumer and corporate debt, a naive reliance on "innovative" financial instruments that led people to suggest that the old rules of economics no longer applied, and an irresponsible worship of The Market over all rational counterarguments. We listened to the conservatives. We did it their way. It blew up in our faces.


So, logically, we shouldn't be listening to the conservatives anymore, should we? It's not just Republicans we should be ignoring – there were plenty of conservative Democrats who signed on to this speculative madness.


While the principal culprits behind the fiscal meltdown are George W. Bush, Phil Gramm, Alan Greenspan, Henry Paulson, and a host of other conservative Republicans who have proven that they don't know what the heck they're doing, Bill Clinton and many conservative Democrats did an awful lot of enabling. This is a bipartisan disaster. Robert Rubin, a key Clinton economic adviser, was the Matt Millen of Citigroup.


There have been, of course, many economists over the years who saw this credit and housing bubble for what they were, and who sounded the alarms – only to be ignored. These include figures like Nobel Prize laureates Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz, and economic writers like Kevin Phillips. These men and others were the voices of reason during the worst excesses of the economic bubble – though you'd have a near-impossible time finding them in the media, which continues to give generous space to the same merry band of free-market fundamentalists who provided the philosophical environment for our current economic pains.


If we're going to get out of this hole, the Obama administration needs to get rid of the conservatives before they infect any economic recovery plan with their hair-brained ideas, which have been implemented enough for us to see that they don't work.


For all his talk of "bipartisanship," there's nothing noble about giving a forum to proponents of failed approaches to economics. It's just silly – conservatives (of either party) have nothing to contribute to the discussion. We already did it their way. They were wrong.


So, let's see a few more Krugmans and a lot fewer Rubins advising Mr. Obama. And let's see more of Kevin Phillips and less of Newt Gingrich on the talk shows. It's time for the progressives to take over.


Because the conservatives have proven to be nothing more than a bunch of Matt Millens. The economy is too important for our new president to get stuck in good-old-boy-ism.


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