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It's Academic

March 1st, 2003

Jason Soon points to this piece of silliness by Stephen Moore of the National Review. Moore doesn’t like Greg Mankiw because he once wrote that Reagan-era supply-side economists were “charlatans and cranks”. The piece is certainly ripe for a fisking, but I’ll just concentrate on Moore’s proposed alternatives. He writes

The good news is there are a multitude of brilliant supply-side academics who would be superb chief economists at the White House. I am thinking of talented people like Brian Wesbury of Chicago, Richard Vedder of Ohio University, and David Malpass of Bear Stearns.

It seemed a bit odd to describe someone working on Wall Street as an academic, but of course lots of academics have been lured there in recent years. And while I’d never heard of any of these guys, Chicago is one of the top economics departments in the US (or the world, for that matter) and Ohio State is certainly respectable. But why not say “University of Chicago” and “Ohio State University.”

A short Google search reveals all. Not only is David Malpass not an academic, he doesn’t hold an economics qualification of any kind (he has an undergraduate physics degree and an MBA), though this hasn’t stopped him becoming chief economist at Bear Stearns. Wesbury is “Brian Wesbury of Chicago” in the same sense as millions of other people – he works for a bank in Chicago – but at least his undergraduate degree is in economics. On the other hand, Richard Vedder is a genuine but obscure academic, and Ohio University is a real but obscure university (at least in relation to economics).

In fact, I doubt that there’s a single academic economist in any of the top 20 Universities who would seriously disagree with Mankiw in his assessment of the economic ideas promulgated by people like Moore. Of course, there’s no rule that says that the Council of Economic Advisers should be headed by an academic economist, prominent or otherwise, or, for that matter that it should be held by a trained economist at all. If Moore were arguing honestly, instead of claiming the support of ‘a multitude of brilliant supply-side academics’, he’d argue that the wisdom of practical business people should be preferred to academic theories.

In fact, it’s striking that there is now almost no academic discipline whose conclusions can be considered acceptable to orthodox Republicans. The other social sciences (sociology, anthropology, political science) are even more suspect than economics. The natural sciences are all implicated in support for evolution against creationism, and for their conclusions about global warming, CFCs and other environmental threats. Even the physicists have mostly been sceptical about Star Wars and its offspring. And of course the humanities are beyond the pale. Yet despite this, Moore seems to want to claim academic respectability for his ideas.

Update After chasing down Moore’s two non-academic sources, I got lazy and didn’t check my impression that Ohio University was a private institution. In fact it’s a state university. Thanks to William Sjostrom for pointing out this error, which has been corrected.

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