A big story among the dismal science set has been the Romney campaign’s white paper on economic policy, which represents a concerted effort by three economists — Glenn Hubbard, Greg Mankiw and John Taylor — to destroy their own reputations. (Yes, there was a fourth author, Kevin Hassett. But the co-author of “Dow 36,000” doesn’t exactly have a reputation to destroy.)
And when I talk about destroying reputations, I don’t just mean that these three say things I disagree with. I mean flat-out, undeniable, professional malpractice. It’s one thing for them to make shaky or even demonstrably wrong arguments. It’s something else when they cite the work of other economists, claiming that it supports their position, when it does no such thing. And don’t take my word for it — listen to the protests of the cited economists.
By the way, this isn’t obscure stuff. To take one example from their paper: the work of Atif Mian and Amir Sufi on household debt and the slump has been playing a big role in making the case for a demand-driven depression, which is exactly the kind of situation in which stimulus makes sense — so you have to be completely out of it and/or unscrupulous to cite some of their work and claim that it refutes the case for stimulus. Or to take another example, anyone following the debate knows that a paper written by Scott Baker, Nicholas Bloom and Stephen Davis claiming to show that uncertainty is holding back recovery clearly identifies the relevant uncertainty as arising from things like the Republican Party’s brinksmanship over the debt ceiling — not things like Obamacare.
Can Mr. Hubbard, Mr. Mankiw and Mr. Taylor really be that out of it? I don’t think so. They just believe that they can pull one over on the rubes and pay no professional price. Let’s hope they’re wrong.
Simon Wren-Lewis, an economist at Oxford, wonders what could have possessed Mr. Mankiw and Mr. Taylor to sell their souls this way: “This is sad, because it tells us as much about economics as an academic discipline as it does about the individuals concerned,” he wrote in a recent blog post.
I won’t pretend to have a full answer. But surely part of it is simply that they have gotten caught up in the vortex of the broader Romney campaign — a campaign that has made fraudulence part of its standard operating procedure.
Remember, Mitt Romney spent months castigating President Obama because he “apologizes for America” — something Mr. Obama has never, in fact, actually done. Then he spent weeks declaring that Mr. Obama has denigrated small business by claiming that businessmen didn’t actually build their own firms — all based on a remark that was clearly about infrastructure. Meanwhile, Mr. Romney’s tax plan is now a demonstrated fraud — big tax cuts for the rich that he claims would be offset by closing loopholes, when the Tax Policy Center has demonstrated that the arithmetic can’t possibly work. He turns out to have been dishonest about when he really left Bain Capital. And on and on.
So this is a campaign that’s all about faking it — fake claims about Mr. Obama, fake claims about policy, fake claims about Mr. Romney’s personal history.
Is it really surprising, then, that the economists who have decided to lend their names to the campaign have been caught up in this culture of fraud? Maybe some of them were initially reluctant, or thought they could support the campaign with selective renderings of the truth. But the pressure was on to be team players, to give the campaign material it could use — and so, one day, they all ended up putting their names to a report that is just plain dishonest, in ways that can be and have been easily documented.
This would be a terrible thing even if it were in a defensible cause. It’s even worse when the goal is to elect a man who seems to have no core, no purpose save personal ambition.
Paul Ryan joins ticket
On Aug. 11 Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, announced that Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin would be his vice presidential running mate, a choice that has intensified the political debate in the United States as the November election approaches, with conservatives calling it a bold and energizing decision and liberals labeling it a politically toxic move that boosts President Obama’s re-election prospects.
Mr. Ryan, 42, who has served in Congress for 14 years, is widely considered one of the most influential Republicans in the House of Representatives and is favored by the Tea Party caucus, which advocates for deficit reduction through cuts in government spending. As chairman of the House Budget Committee since 2010, Mr. Ryan
has proposed that the size of the federal government be drastically reduced.
Many leading conservative commentators have expressed support for Mr. Romney’s choice. In an online commentary for Fox News, Karl Rove, a former adviser to President George W. Bush, called Mr. Ryan “a stellar addition to a ticket that gives optimism and confidence to the nation and victory to the G.O.P.”
Advisers for the Obama campaign, however, have characterized Mr. Ryan as an ideologue who advocates for unpopular positions. “He’s a very articulate spokesperson for Gov. Romney’s vision,” Mr. Obama said at a recent campaign speech in Iowa. “The problem is, it’s the wrong vision for America.”
Some commentators argue that Mr. Ryan’s selection will usher in long-overdue conversations. “It forces the debate the country needs to have about entitlement spending,” wrote Jacob Weisberg, the chairman of the Slate Group, in an op-ed published in the Financial Times.
RESEARCH UNDER FIRE
A paper recently released by Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign has drawn criticism from some economists whose work was cited in the document, arguing that their findings have been misinterpreted and used for political purposes.
In the paper, Glenn Hubbard, the dean of Columbia University’s business school, Greg Mankiw, a professor at Harvard, John Taylor, a professor at Stanford University, and Kevin Hassett, an author and director of policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, suggest that President Obama’s economic stimulus policies have failed to spark growth or create jobs in the private sector.
“America took a wrong turn in economic policy in the past three years,” the authors explain. They continue: “the negative effect of the administration’s ‘stimulus’ policies has been documented in a number of empirical studies.”
The commentator Ezra Klein at The Washington Post spoke with several of those economists whose research was quoted. “The Romney campaign, they said, knows little of their work,” wrote Mr. Klein in an analysis. “Or of their policy proposals.”
For instance, the paper pointed to a study conducted by Atif Mian, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, and Amir Sufi, from the University of Chicago, as evidence of the failure of Mr. Obama’s stimulus policies. But Mr. Sufi, whose work focused on the $4 billion “Cash for Clunkers” program in 2009, told Mr. Klein that “we weren’t saying anything specific about broader stimulus programs.”
And while the four authors suggested that research by the economist Alan Auerbach proves that Mr. Romney’s plan to cut taxes could boost gross domestic product in the United States by 0.5 percent to 1 percent per year, Mr. Auerbach told Mr. Klein that his studies have looked at “a much bigger tax change than Romney is proposing,” with different types of taxes.