Can Obama's Election Bump The Economy?

How is the business world reacting to the election and yet more grim numbers? Host Scott Scott Simon talks to New York Times business columnist Joe Nocera about President-elect Obama's influence on the economy

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

We go now to our friend from the world of business, Joe Nocera, who's had his eye locked on how the business world reacted to this election. He joins us now from the studios of the Radio Foundation in New York. Joe, thanks for being with us.

Mr. JOE NOCERA (Business Columnist, The New York Times): Thanks for having me, Scott.

SIMON: Markets went up and down this week. Now, isn't confidence supposed to be half the battle?

Mr. NOCERA: Well, it's part of the battle. But, look, the key word in the market right now is, really, volatility. The market is not - it's not about the presidential election per se. There's a whole series of things that need to happen. The Treasury secretary needs to get named. But also, you know, the stimulus package has to happen. We need to see the government moving ahead to solve the problem before the real confidence kicks in. And there are all sorts of things going on in the market right now that mitigate against a rising Dow on any kind of regular basis for the foreseeable future, such as, for instance, in scared investors pulling money out of hedge funds, which is happening like crazy.

SIMON: There was some expectation that President-elect Obama might announce his choice for Treasury secretary yesterday. This is going to be a position that has new, almost plenipotentiary powers in the U.S. economic system. Do you think Wall Street would be pleased if he made that choice soon?

Mr. NOCERA: Yes, I absolutely do. Wall Street wants to know who the Treasury secretary is, and they want a sense that it's going to be someone of significant stature like Larry Summers or like a Paul Volcker or like a Bob Rubin. I mean, that's what Wall Street wants. And that's what the country wants, for that matter. So, you know, Wall Street's waiting for that. I mean, the big - there's a tricky issue here for the president-elect, which is, you know, how much do you really want the incoming Treasury secretary to sit next to the outgoing Treasury secretary and, you know, in effect get tied to the previous guy's policies? So, you know, Franklin Roosevelt had - you know, didn't do anything to help Hoover during his interregnum. And I think, you know, Obama now has to make the same sort of political calculation. How close do I want to get to this thing?

SIMON: Yesterday's unemployment numbers were very discouraging.

Mr. NOCERA: They sure were.

SIMON: And...

Mr. NOCERA: Well, they sure were.

SIMON: To state the obvious. And what can be done between - well, I don't even want to use the inauguration, January 20, as a benchmark. What happens over the - what could happen over the next few months that would help?

Mr. NOCERA: Well, you know, he has said - there's not much that can be done in the short term that will help. We are in a recession, Scott. And recessions, you know, you are watching companies all across the country cutting back on employees. I mean, you just pick up the paper every day. So the big - what they really - what needs to happen is the credit crisis needs to unfreeze. I mean, once you get money flowing back in the system. And that's going to take time. And, you know, I think the most encouraging thing the president-elect said yesterday was that he's not going to let the auto industry die. That must give hope to the industrial sector in a way that it hasn't had in quite a while.

SIMON: Joe Nocera, who writes the "Talking Business" column for The New York Times, thanks so much.

Mr. NOCERA: Thank you, Scott.

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Obama Urges Swift Action To Stem Financial Crisis

Holding his first post-election news conference, Barack Obama said quick action is needed to deal with "the greatest economic challenge of our lifetime." Speaking in Chicago, he said that the passage of an economic stimulus plan by Congress will be his No. 1 priority when he takes office in January.

"We are going to have to act swiftly," Obama said, but he reminded the public that President Bush is the president and is still making the decisions.

"Immediately after I become president, I am going to confront this economic crisis head-on by taking all necessary steps to ease the credit crisis, help hardworking families, and restore growth and prosperity."

Flanked by American flags and financial advisers, Obama laid out several ways his transition team will begin to take charge of economic issues. He said his administration will fashion a rescue plan for the middle class and address the impact of the economic crisis on other sectors of the economy domestically and internationally.

He spoke of needing to "help the auto industry adjust" to the changing market.

"I do not underestimate the enormity of the task that lies ahead. ... It is not going to be quick. It is not going to be easy. ... I know we will succeed if we put aside partisanship and politics and work together as one nation."

There was anticipation in the air as Obama made his first public appearance since his victory speech on election night. And there was bad news: The unemployment rate is up to 6.5 percent — the highest level in 14 years — and 240,000 jobs were lost in October. This year more than 1 million Americans have joined the unemployment rolls.

Before the news conference, Obama met with a cadre of economic heavyweights, including former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker; Lawrence Summers, a Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton; and billionaire Warren Buffett, who joined the summit by telephone.

Asked about a letter of congratulations from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Obama said that Iran's development of a nuclear weapon "is unacceptable." Obama said he wants "to be very careful that we are sending the right signals to the world as a whole." He added, "I am not the president and I won't be until Jan. 20."

Obama has been invited to meet with President Bush on Monday at the White House. "We are gratified by the invitation," Obama said. He plans to take a tour of his new home and engage in a substantive conversation with the current president.

Obama brushed off questions about Cabinet appointments, saying he was proud of his choices of vice president and chief of staff and wants to proceed with "deliberate haste" to assemble his administration. The important thing, he said, was "to get it right."

When a reporter stood with her arm in a sling, he asked her what happened. She said she hurt it running to hear his victory speech in Grant Park Tuesday night.

The news conference was short and not particularly deep, except concerning the economy. The president-elect appeared at ease, mixing humor with seriousness. He said he had spoken to all the living presidents but didn't want to get into "a Nancy Reagan thing" of using seances to speak to presidents of the past. He did add that he has been reading the writings of Abraham Lincoln for inspiration.

As for the White House dog, he told reporters that there were lots of considerations. One of his daughters has allergies. The dog "has to be hypoallergenic," Obama said. The family preference would be to get a dog from a humane shelter. But, he added, "a lot of shelter dogs are mutts like me."

He said that he and his wife, Michelle, have not made a decision on which school or schools his daughters will attend in Washington.

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