IT'S BAD TO NOT BE THE KING.

I've been thinking a lot about James Surowiecki's argument that the administration's critics have developed "a fetishization of boldness."

I'd put this a little differently: I think the administration's critics assume timidity. Government is a constrained institution. Geithner has to deal with pressure from critics, yes, but also a bitterly divided Congress, a filibuster-prone Senate, pressure from Wall Street, and resistance from captured regulators. The objective facts of his situation suggest that boldness won't necessarily be rewarded. And so when observers see informed critics like Krugman and Johnson arguing for a bolder strategy and charging that Geithner's approach deviates from the economic ideal, there's an assumption of credibility there: They, after all, don't have incentives colored by interest group pressure or congressional intransigence.

That said, they also don't have perspectives colored by, well, the intransigence of Congress and the limits of the federal agencies and the downside risks of large initiatives. So there's a sense in which both sides might be right: Geithner may be correct to be more cautious than the Treasury Secretary who serves at the pleasure of the Czar, but it might be that the Czar's Treasury Secretary would be able to fashion a better response.

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