How much do you want it to add up to?
There is an old joke about finding the right accountant for your business. It is said that, when asked how much 2+2 equals, the prospective accountant will reply, “How much do you want it to add up to?”. Which is why this should be of concern to most Americans:
Conventional thinking has Greenspan departing in 2006 and Bush appointing Harvard economist Martin Feldstein as his successor. The former Reagan economic adviser has strong ties to the administration, dating back to Papa Bush and extending through Bush Jr.’s presidential run, when he sat on the campaign’s economic-policy committee. Since then, he has frequently briefed both the president and vice president. As president of the National Bureau of Economic Research and a prolific writer, he enjoys considerable credibility inside the economic establishment.
But the recent Washington buzz is not about Feldstein — it concerns former Bush II economic adviser Glenn Hubbard.
Most observers thought Hubbard, who’s a first-rate economist with unimpeachable credentialsâ€”Harvard Ph.D., teaching positions at Northwestern and Columbiaâ€”would make a first-rate CEA chairman. But from the start, Hubbard wanted to do more than conduct dry academic research on the effects of proposed policies. He wanted to be an active player in formulating and suggesting specific positions that the Bush administration should adopt. As he told the New York Times upon his nomination, “You have to see how these things evolve, but my hope for the Council of Economic Advisers is that it plays a very strong participatory role in developing economic policy.”
Hubbard’s fierce advocacy of specific tax reformsâ€”both within and without the administrationâ€”has made him increasingly willing to adopt the administration’s politically expedient, rather than economically sound, justifications for its proposals. It’s not fair to expect Hubbard to check his beliefs at the White House door, nor is it objectionable that Hubbard is a conservative economistâ€”after all, he’s been one for years. The problem is that his eagerness to enact his preferred legislation has made him willing to adopt the bad logic of the administration’s talking points and spin. In Hubbard’s book, the best policy is tax reform, not honesty.
In 2001, he uncorked an economic whopper in a Washington Post op-ed, writing, “It is a major fallacy to praise new spending plans as stimulus.” That’s “not even right-wing economics,” a former CEA member told the New Republic. “If an undergrad wrote that, you’d give the statement and the logic behind it a D.”
I suppose we shouldn’t be too concerned about Hubbard’s name being tossed around, particularly when the tosser is Larry Kudlow. That would be this Lawrence Kudlow.
Maybe he’s just back on the blow….