Though President Barack Obama’s efforts to solve the 2008 economic crisis were extensively covered by the media, author and journalist Noam Scheiber searched to find the less widely known individuals who played an influential role in advising the president in his fiscal decisions.
The Ford School of Public Policy held a special public lecture and book signing yesterday afternoon with Scheiber as part of the school’s Distinguished Speakers Series. At the event, Scheiber, a senior editor for The New Republic magazine based in Washington, D.C., discussed his recently published book, “The Escape Artists: How Obama’s Team Fumbled the Recovery” to an audience comprised of Ann Arbor residents, students and faculty.
In an interview before the event, Scheiber said he decided to write the book after he realized the enormity of the economic crisis of September 2008.
“It became clear that it wasn’t going to be a garden-variety recession,” Scheiber said. “It was really sort of a deep, painful thing that had some dramatic possibilities and some room for … critiquing the way (the financial team) handled it.”
Though the book does detail complicated economics and governmental affairs, Scheiber said he tried to write it in a way that most people could understand.
“I tried to keep it as free of Washington jargon or economics jargon as possible,” he said. “I tried to make … the explanations pretty intuitive.”
Scheiber explained the most important element of his book is that it’s built around the individual characters involved in the financial decision making process. Scheiber said he tried to get a real sense of Obama’s key advisers by interviewing everyone from their high school classmates to current colleagues.
“There’s this small group of people who had a ton of power and responsibility at the beginning of the administration,” he said. “The hope of the book was to try to help you understand why they made the decisions they made and what they brought to it themselves.”
During the lecture, the main topic of discussion was whether or not Obama’s bipartisan attitude was a strategic move or political naivety. After the lecture, Scheiber participated in a question and answer session, to further discuss the differing opinions.
Public Policy Prof. John Ciorciari said the Ford School invited Scheiber to speak because his work deals with contemporary economic policy and resolving the economic crisis, popular discussion topics within the school.
“It seemed like it would both be a good opportunity to have a book that’s gotten a lot of good coverage, to have him discuss that, but also to deal with a topic that we know interests a lot of our students and community,” Ciorciari said.
Ann Arbor resident Bill Tyler said while he hasn’t read the book yet, he is impressed with the way Scheiber writes and expresses his ideas in The New Republic.
“I read a book review of it in The New York Times,” Tyler said. “(Scheiber) received a very good review, and I’m interested in how he’ll summarize the issues in the book here, and how he’ll present his sources.”
LSA freshman Sarah Myint said while she was glad she came to the lecture, she didn’t plan to buy Scheiber’s book and was frustrated that the discussion focused largely on party politics.
“I was really looking for an unbiased talk,” Myint said. “I still felt there was a bias in favor of Obama, and I was unflattered with the bias against the Republicans that I heard.”
Though Myint was unimpressed, Ciorciari said he thought the event went well.
“Even on a day when it’s warm and the weather’s beautiful and people have other things to do, we managed to get some students, we have some faculty, we also had a lot of people from the community who came in, and that’s sort of the purpose of this,” Ciorciari said.