Arnold Kling  

The Best and the Brightest

Moneyball and Randomness... How Lazy Is the Professoriat?...

Megan McArdle writes,

The administration was supposed to have the economic dream team. Couldn't they have spared a moment to sit down with the folks at DOE and explain the concept of sunk costs?

This is why everyone has to read The Best and the Brightest, by David Halberstam. My take-away from that book is that the most dangerous thing you can have is a "dream team" in government. Energy Secretary Chu is the Robert McNamara of this Administration. Except I would guess that Chu has even less ability to doubt himself. Far less ability, in fact. Maybe no ability to doubt himself at all.

I really think that there is a Halberstam book to be written about the Obama Administration's economic policy. Who could write it? Pethokoukis? Carney? A book came out recently by an author who makes stuff up and is an economic ignoramus. I have no plans to read his book. Or to mention his name. Don't feed the trolls.

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COMMENTS (8 to date)
CC writes:

I guess the book is Thomas Friedman's new one.

JohnW writes:

How are we supposed to know what book not to read if you don't mention it?

Mentioning it without the title is the worst thing you could have done, since it immediately starts people thinking about what it could be.

Either don't mention its existence at all, or mention it by title as being not worth reading. But don't be mysterious about it!

Just Guessin' writes:

The book he is referring to is most likely "Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington and the Education of a President" by Ron Suskind.

Aidan writes:

I thought you might be serious until you mentioned Pethokoukis.

AJ writes:

David Halberstam, "The Best and the Brightest" is Halberstam's greatest book and forerunner/example for Bob Woodward books later.

I agree with Arnold's assessment with a few exceptions. JFK's Vietnam policy made much more sense than Obama policies. Halberstam wrote from the vantage point of some years later when the entire academic/intellectual/mainstream media were united in thinking Vietnam was not only a mistake but a moral failing of the establishment. The book tended to address the issue of "how could our hero, JFK, have gotten us into this mess"

The equivalent for the Obama administration is not just the story of Chu et al, but how Bernanke and Summers (and Romer and others) threw off economic sense in a state of panic and fell back on the naive view that government spending can increase private sector economic activity and economic growth. Instead this "Keynsianism" has been just an intellectual patina for leftist programs, socialism, and politically favored porkulus spending.

I think the bigger intellectual story is the academic economics community over the last 50 years rationalizing and bending their analysis to justify the "benevolent" role of government. Whether it's Paul Samuelson, Peter Diamond, or your friend/mentor Robert Solow, or legions of others, I think the M.I.T. school of leftism is largely to blame. It's leftism combined with "we're so good and smart that if they put us in charge, we could run things better." Larry Summers and Ben Bernanke (et al) are the inheritors of this and were unable to break out of the mold this had created.


Shangwen writes:

Another good one is Peter van Buren's We Meant Well, about the State Department's misguided attempts to "help" Iraq. The anecdote about the government's attempt to set up a chicken processing plant, despite cheaper chicken from Brazil, an inadequate local distribution system, and the absence of widespread home refrigeration, is depressingly familiar.

David R. Henderson writes:

Thanks for this reference. I hadn’t known about this book, but I will definitely buy it.

Peter Schaeffer writes:

"Energy Secretary Chu is the Robert McNamara of this Administration."

Chu's impact has been nil so far.

Geithner on the other hand.

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