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Q: ...There is a G-20 resistance group. Some of the protesters will be from outside, but some of the protesters will be from Pittsburgh. And their general theme is anticapitalism, that ... Pittsburgh, rather than showing what is possible with an evolved 21st-century post-industrial economy, shows what capitalism has done to beat down ordinary working people. What is your reaction to that kind of analysis?
Mr. Obama: Well, look, there have been protests at every international economic summit for years now. And I think that's part of what makes America wonderful, is people have a lot of different opinions.
We've got a robust and sometimes contentious democracy, but if you think about what's happened to our economy -- there was a period of time in which heavy industry took a beating in this country and we didn't respond as quickly as we should have. And we then had the choice of trying to pretend that change wasn't coming and trying to close the world off from that change, and that's just not possible.
The other alternative is to embrace the fact that the world is changing; that how well we do is going to depend on our ability to export goods; have the best-skilled workers in the world; have a economy that's based on energy efficiency; and that if we're training our workers to embrace those changes, that we can out-compete anybody because we've got the best workers in the world. And I think that's the right direction to go in.
Now, one of the things that we'll highlight at the G-20 -- and maybe the protesters are missing this -- is that I and other world leaders are very interested in making sure that the excesses of global finance are reined in; that we've got a regulatory framework and structure that assures you are not seeing the sorts of abuses that resulted in this most recent financial crisis that did create enormous hardship for Main Street.
... What we want to create is a race to the top where, because of a strong regulatory framework, the free market can still operate effectively and there's still innovation and dynamism and creativity -- all of the things that have made America great -- but that it's happening with some rules of the road so that things don't spin out of control.
Q: [Unemployed people are] going to ask, 'How do we fit into this economy?' What do you say to those people?
Mr. Obama: Well, look, we are not out of the woods in terms of this extraordinary recession that we've gone through. When I came into office, we were losing 700,000 jobs per month. Credit was frozen so that small businesses and large businesses alike couldn't borrow. You couldn't get an auto loan even if you had good credit. People were losing their homes at an extraordinary pace.
What we've been able to do is to slow the deceleration of the economy and now we're starting to see an upswing. Even in manufacturing, we saw for the first time an improvement on that front. That will have a good effect for everybody.
And unemployment is typically what's called the lagging indicator -- businesses don't start hiring until they have some confidence that not only are their sales up and it's worth them making investments, but that the orders are up enough that it justifies hiring new workers.
So it typically takes several months after you start seeing recovery for the jobs picture to improve. I think that's going to be true in this economy, as well.
Because the economy is interrelated now, what we don't want is a return to a situation in which the U.S. consumer, through credit card debt and home equity loans, is basically financing world growth across the board.
We want to make sure that other countries are also spurring demand, that they're also making investments, so that we can sell products to them. That has the added benefit, by the way, of starting to reduce our trade deficits and gives us an opportunity to grow not based on bubbles and busts and over-extended credit, but based on us making great products, delivering great services, and being able to sell out to the rest of the world.
Q: Have you changed your mind or [are you] more sympathetic to some presidents who you might have been less sympathetic to before?
Mr. Obama: You know, I -- as a student of presidential history, I've always believed that even presidents who were considered failures oftentimes were just dealing with issues at a time when the country was going through some tough times and that the power of this office to shape the course of history is sometimes limited.
I mean, you know -- the way I approach the job is that given the options in front of me, I try to create a decision-making process where I'm making the best possible decision, given the information that I have and the circumstances that present themselves.
But sometimes there aren't good options. And I think that there are a lot of presidents who have found themselves making the best decisions they could and it didn't work out so well. And that happens because this is a big, complicated country with a lot of moving parts.
Q: After years of being back and forth between Chicago and D.C. and on the [campaign] trail, how does it feel to be with your family most nights?
Mr. Obama: The single best thing about being president is I got this nice home office that's only one minute away from my family, and it means I get to eat dinner with them every night.
Q: Do you help them with their homework?
Mr. Obama: Help them with their homework, go to --
Q: You do any calculus or chemistry or what not?
Mr. Obama: Michelle has assigned me math and science.
Q: That's good.
Mr. Obama: She decided she's taking over the English and the social studies.
Q: The ultimate home school.
Mr. Obama: So I'm having to -- I'm having to brush up on --
Q: It's tough.
Mr. Obama: I was always a little stronger on algebra ...
Q: This is the second time you've taken algebra, too, isn't it?
Mr. Obama: That's exactly right.
First Published September 20, 2009 12:00 am