Looking back on his economic legacy, President Barack Obama disputes the conclusion in the movie The Big Short that nothing changed on Wall Street after the 2008 economic meltdown and maintains that his policies have helped stabilize the financial sector.
In a wide-ranging interview with the New York Times published Thursday, Obama bemoaned his fractious relationship with Wall Street, said finance is absorbing more talent in science and engineering than it should, and speculated he might have gone into business if not politics. But he has little patience for criticism from business leaders.
One of the constants that Ive had to deal with over the last few years is folks on Wall Street complaining even as the stock market went from in the 6,000s to 16,000 or 17,000, he said. Theyd be constantly complaining about our economic policies. Thats not rooted in anything theyre experiencing; it has to do with ideology and their aggravations about higher taxes.
In his Dodd-Frank legislation to overhaul the financial system, Obama sees a major shift in how Wall Street is regulated. He takes issue with Hollywoods version of The Big Short, which suggests that little has changed on Wall Street.
There is no doubt that the financial system is substantially more stable, he said. It is true that we have not dismantled the financial system, and in that sense, Bernie Sanderss critique is correct.
Obamas statement put further distance between himself and the Vermont senator, whose bid to replace him has garnered massive rallies and featured repeated calls to break up Americas biggest banks. Obama said such a drastic change in the financial system could have unintended consequences.
But one of the things that Ive consistently tried to remind myself during the course of my presidency is that the economy is not an abstraction, Obama said. Its not something that you can just redesign and break up and put back together again without consequences.
Obama saved his harshest criticism for Republicans running in the 2016 race, calling their economic plans fantasy.
If you look at the platforms, the economic platforms of the current Republican candidates for president, they dont simply defy logic and any known economic theories, they are fantasy, Obama said.
Slashing taxes particularly for those at the very top, dismantling regulatory regimes that protect our air and our environment and then projecting that this is going to lead to 5 percent or 7 percent growth, and claiming that theyll do all this while balancing the budget, he said. Nobody would even, with the most rudimentary knowledge of economics, think that any of those things are plausible.