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Policy intellectuals and the state

March 11, 2015 1 comment

from David Ruccio

Andrew Bacevich begins his review of Christian Appy’s new book, American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity, with the following:

Policy intellectuals — eggheads presuming to instruct the mere mortals who actually run for office — are a blight on the republic. Like some invasive species, they infest present-day Washington, where their presence strangles common sense and has brought to the verge of extinction the simple ability to perceive reality. A benign appearance — well-dressed types testifying before Congress, pontificating in print and on TV, or even filling key positions in the executive branch — belies a malign impact. They are like Asian carp let loose in the Great Lakes.

Appy’s examples include, in the area of national security, Cold Warriors McGeorge Bundy, Walt Whitman Rostow, and Samuel P. Huntington. Bacevich then extends the analysis to the new foreign policy intellectual establishment associated with Ashton Carter in his return to the Pentagon as President Obama’s fourth secretary of defense.

I wonder if we might use the same kind of analysis to examine Obama’s economic team, especially the first group of economic advisers. They included Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (whose “counselors” included Lewis Alexander, Gene Sperling, and Lael Brainard), National Economic Council Director Lawrence Summers, Deputy Director of the National Economic Council (and now Chairperson of the Council of Economic Advisers) Jason Furman, and others. In Obama’s case, the members of the economics “Brains Trust” weren’t from Yale but had close associations with Robert Rubin, the former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs who served as Treasury secretary under Bill Clinton.

As Matt Taibbi wrote back in 2009, Read more…

Niall Ferguson: More mistaken musings from the land of the Excel spreadsheet error

June 28, 2013 7 comments

from Dean Baker

Harvard’s standing in economic policy debates took a big hit when the famous Reinhart-Rogoff 90 percent debt-to-GDP growth cliff was shown to be the result of a simple spreadsheet error. Niall Ferguson’s strange rant in the Wall Street Journal about the United States becoming the land of government regulation continues the downhill slide.

The gist of the piece is that the country is going down the road to economic stagnation and suffocating bureaucracy because of excessive regulation. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the main villain in this story.

It’s fair to say that just about everything in the piece is wrong. Starting with the meat, rather than being some horrible burden for small businesses, the main effect of the ACA on the vast majority of small businesses will be to provide them with a subsidy if they offer their workers insurance. The mandate only applies to firms that employ more than 50 workers, most of whom already provide insurance that would meet the mandate anyhow. So these engines of innovation will grind to a halt if the government offers them subsidies for insurance? Interesting theory.

Ferguson then cites a number of hack studies that find enormous costs to regulation. The main trick in this sort of study is to add up every possible cost associated with restrictions without taking account of the benefits of these regulations. Read more…

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