"THIS sucker could go down.” George Bush’s verdict during the worst of the financial crisis a year ago was crude but penetrating. Barack Obama, delivering a speech in New York on September 14th to mark the anniversary of Lehman Brothers’ failure, managed the opposite trick. He produced plenty of elegant phrases but little that was new, and quite a bit that was confusing.How can one argue for both extending financial services to those unserved and for regulations to prevent this sort of thing? How can one argue that future bailouts will not cost taxpayers? The tone is serious but the arguments are not.
The intricacies of bank reform were never likely to get a thorough airing in a set-piece political speech. But the casual listener to Mr Obama’s oratory might conclude that the crisis occurred because there were no regulations, that big banks would be allowed to fail in the future and that the proposed constraints of finance will create a new age of prosperity. (They would also think that the incomprehensible decision on Friday to impose tariffs on Chinese tyre imports was designed to save free trade.) The truth is far messier. Reform is badly needed, but people will still be greedy, banks will still need saving and a more stable system will entail less credit flowing through it. Mr Obama is eloquent but too often he does not tell it like it is.That last part just about says it.