Arnold Kling  

Economists and Influence, A Depressing Take

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Jim Tankersley writes,


"If you bat .300, you're going to win the National League [batting title]. But if you bat .100 as an economist in D.C., you're going to go to the Hall of Fame." So mused conservative economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin

He is referring to your ability to influence policy, not to the accuracy of your analysis.

The article focuses on the fact that Mitt Romney's campaign positions are in conflict with the views of his top economic advisers. I would add that it's not only Romney. My guess is that not one of Obama's top economists was in favor of throwing Bowles-Simpson under the bus. My guess is that had they been consulted, the economists would have been pretty skeptical about the energy department loan guarantees to specific companies.

Prior to the current Administration, I would have told you that economists are taken more seriously by Democratic Presidents than by Republicans. (Being taken seriously means that you allow an economist to talk you out of doing something that is politically attractive.) Now, I think that economists are likely to bat less than .100 with either.

For example, Here is Greg Mankiw on tax reform. Although he is one of Mitt Romney's advisers, and although his ideas have support among many Democratic economists as well, tax reform is an uphill battle.


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COMMENTS (6 to date)
Andy writes:

Well sure, good politics almost always trumps good policy.

Jim Rose writes:

Buchanan and Brennan wrote The Power to Tax in 1980: Their message was if you don’t always trust governments, beware of efficient taxes.

Efficient taxes make it easier for government to extract excess revenue from the population with less resistance.

When Brennan said at a tax reform conference in Australia 20 years ago or so that efficient taxes are bad because they lead to higher taxes, no one understood him.

Idealists all, I and the rest of the audience assumed they were advising a benevolent government, not a size maximising leviathan – a beast to be staved with constitutional constraints on tax bases and tax instruments.

Fiscal arrangements are analysed by Buchanan and Brennan in terms of the preferences of citizen-taxpayers who are permitted at some constitutional level of choice to select the fiscal institutions they are to be subject over an uncertain future.

Those in elected office are assumed to exploit the power assigned to them to the maximum possible extent: government is a revenue-maximizing Leviathan.

Joe Cushing writes:

It's a politician's job to do what the people want done. If an economist is going to really effect policy, they best way is to change attitudes of the people. Sure, to some degree, this can be done by advising politicians because it makes news but platforms such as this are just as important. It's a long slow process to change the minds of a hundred or so million people. There will always be people pushing big government, socialist, fascist, ideas of big brother government actions in the name of safety and fairness. These ideas will always have appeal because of the seen and unseen and other fallacies. Freedom is a long hard never ending struggle. Economists play a part in that struggle every day and you deserve our thanks.

Joe Cushing writes:

Oh, and if you think politically popular is bad, just try giving politicians life time positions of power. Then we can try politically unpopular actions for a change. Somehow I think we would be clamoring for what we have now.

fundamentalist writes:

If you think the influence of economists on politics is weak, check out the real world of business and finance. Mainstream econ has no influence whatsoever. Read Mark Skousen's book, "The Structure of Production." He describes the economics that finance and business people follow; it's closer to folk Austrian econ.

Jeff writes:

@fundamentalist,

You say that as if you think it's a bad thing. Maybe it's less an indictment of finance and business people than it is an indication of how irrelevant to real-world concerns modern macroeconomics has become.

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