Friday, March 4, 2011

Yes, Hack Liberal Economists Still Missing

After the relatively good jobs report today, I noticed that House Republicans were quick to claim credit; after all, they've...oh. Actually, it's very hard to draw a line between anything done by the current Congress and, well, anything, since it's too early for the new Congress to have done much of anything. Still, I don't blame them. That's what politicians, and political hacks of all sorts, do.

But as usual, there's one group missing: hack liberal economists. That is, real economists who are willing to support whatever the Democrats do. What would a hack liberal economist say in response to the jobs report? She would emphasize how bad the economy was under George W. Bush, how well-calibrated was the response from Barack Obama and the Democrats, and how well the economy is doing now. Naturally, a good hack economist would be constrained by the facts, but she would certainly be an optimist now, in order to properly congratulate the Democrats for their wise stewardship of the economy.

If there's anyone out there saying that, I haven't seen it. Paul Krugman gets the GOP-bashing right in his column today, but of course he's always been critical of the stimulus, too, and he continues to emphasize the economy's vulnerability, not its strength. On his blog today, he's mostly underwhelmed by the new numbers. Dean Baker at CEPR reacts to the jobs report with equal emphasis on strengths and weaknesses. Brad DeLong doesn't have anything up yet about the jobs report (although he does have a link to Krugman's column).

Perhaps there's someone out there that I'm missing, but if there is he's not linked to very often by the major liberal bloggers. I'm certainly not criticizing Krugman, Baker, DeLong and other liberal bloggers. Just pointing out there there's no one, at least to the best of my knowledge, using her authority as an economist to praise the president's policies and hype the results (although Jonathan Chait today does cite some writers who are more bullish on jobs). As usual, I don't have an explanation...I have no idea whether it's something about the profession, or something about the liberal market, or something else entirely. Just strikes me as interesting.


  1. I think it's remarkable that you think it's remarkable that nominally liberal economists are not spinning in a hackish way.

    Do you suppose that between the left and the right there could be an honesty gap?

    Fact is, there is barely enough job growth to accommodate new entries to the job market, let alone aproach any kind of prosperity.

    Unemployment among 25 yr-olds was over 19% a year ago. Even if that number has improved, we are still in a world of hurt.

    With Rethug austerianism the order of the day, I see no reason for even the slightest optimism.
    I doesn't take much cynicism to see this as part of their campaign to make Obama fail.

    Twenty months until the election.


  2. I thought Galbraith sounded pretty hackish when he told Ezra Klein that the danger posed by the LONG TERM deficit is zero (see link).

    He has slightly plausible reasons why the risk of long term deficits is zero. On the decline in interest rates last year: "So there are two possibilities here. One is the theory [that the increase in the deficit will cause an increase in interest rates] is wrong. The other is that the market isn't rational. And if the market isn't rational, there's no point in designing policy to accommodate the markets because you can't accommodate an irrational entity."

    This argument is pretty slick in a the-Laffer-Curve-means-tax-cuts-are-all-and-only-good sort of way. I think the market is mostly rational--and hence policy accommodation makes sense--but bad at long term projections due to uncertainty. Also, the time horizon for market participants is shorter than the amount of time until we'll feel the effects of the risks posed by the long term deficit. In other words, Galbraith, hackishly in my opinion, provides a false dichotomy to argue for his preferred conclusion.

  3. Shorter Guy:

    I disagree with Galbraith, ergo, he is a hack.

    And it's no false dichotomy. In fact, Galbraith's possibilities aren't even mutually exclusive. They could both even be right.

    The thing that's false here is Guy's assessment of Galbraith.

  4. Jazzbumpa is clearly a hack, does that count?

  5. Galbraith has been consistently to the left of the Obama administration's economic policies. The only movement conservative I remember criticizing Bush on economic policy was Stephen Moore arguing that Mankiw shouldn't be hired to the CEA because he called supply-siders charlatans and cranks.

  6. I agree with Jazzbumpa about Galbraith, who clearly is not a liberal hack; right or wrong, he's hardly someone who toes the administration's line.

    But I'm afraid I'll have to agree with Anon about Jazzbumpa -- sorry, like the comments, but I'm not a big fan of the epithets.

  7. Actually, jazzbumpa, it is a false dichotomy. Both could be true, but both could be false as well.

    It's possible I'm just working from a different understanding of what makes up a hack. I tend to think of hacks as engaging in sloppy thinking and willing to say anything to advance their particular agenda. In some cases, that could be careerism (carving out a niche in the pundit / economist market) or intellectual laziness rather than hackery. Particulary if being a hack necessitates carrying water for the major players in a political party.

    Galbraith, in my opinion, is prone to sloppiness in service of his progressive agenda (moreso than a specifically Democratic one). I don't think it's bad faith, per se; but his arguments seem reverse engineered to fit his preferred conclusions. And this is coming from someone who basically agrees with a lot of Galbraith's policy prescriptions... right conclusions, wrong inputs.

  8. "Do you suppose that between the left and the right there could be an honesty gap?"

    I think a conservative (like me!) would suggest that it's because the current economic situation isn't very spinnable.


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