Baum on Money: Salesman in Chief

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Good morning, everyone. Please enjoy some articles I've selected for you while you await the September employment report, due out at 8:30 a.m.

Caveat emptor

What's the first thing consumers do when they are in the market for a new car, washing machine or lawn mower? They turn to Consumer Reports, the largest, most trusted independent product-testing organization in the world. Let's hope consumers don't consult their product bible on the government's online insurance exchanges. "Stay away from for at least another month if you can," writes software expert Ben Simo, who tested the website for Consumer Reports. With endorsements like that, President Obama needs more than another staged Rose Garden pep rally to convince us the Affordable Care Act is "not just a website."

About that speech

The problem with the Rose Garden speech yesterday was that "it was basically identical to the one Obama would've given if the law's launch had been smooth," writes the Washington Post's Ezra Klein. (Maybe the president's speechwriters thought they could get away with a one-size-fits-all draft?) Klein goes on: "The problem is that much of the law is a Web site." Obama provided no explanation of what went wrong or a timetable to fix it. In an earlier post, Klein says that if Obama is just now summoning "the best and the brightest" to fix the website, who exactly was working on it all along?

'The stakes are huge'

Kaiser Health News reports that the Obama administration has less than a month to get the website up and running smoothly, and "the stakes are huge." Creating broad insurance pools is the key to the law's success. Young and healthy individuals, whose participation is essential for the ACA to work, are less likely to persevere than those with pre-existing conditions in desperate need of health care. Even before the botched roll-out, Republicans were pushing for a one-year extension of the individual mandate. Yesterday, White House press secretary Jay Carney was asked if the penalty ($95 or 1 percent of household income) would be waived if individuals were unable to sign up because of the website malfunction. We're still waiting for an answer.

Confidence ripple effect

Econometric models have been estimating the dollar cost of the government shutdown, but the real cost is in future spending, according to the Wall Street Journal's Gerald Seib. Gallup's daily consumer confidence took a dive during the shutdown, and the number of Americans saying the country is on the wrong track soared -- both by degrees generally seen in conjunction with the outbreak of a war. The fear, of course, is that the lack of confidence will be reflected in spending, prompting businesses to cut back on production. Then we can all look to government to help us out of the slump, forgetting that it was the cause.

Waiting for the next Keynes

Seven years after the Great Crash of 1929, John Maynard Keynes published "The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money," which was to dominate economic thinking for decades. Five years after the crash of 2008, we're still awaiting the next General Theory to emerge. In the meantime, Justin Fox takes a look at "What We've Learned from the Financial Crisis" in the November issue of the Harvard Business Review and identifies some changes. For example, more economists are questioning the idea that markets work, that there is always a buyer and a seller at some price. Macroeconomists are paying more attention to finance. Financial economists are starting to see the consequences of "market misbehavior." Fox's lengthy article is well worth the time.

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