Introducing Scott Sumner
By David Henderson
Starting tomorrow, Econlog’s new guest blogger will be Scott Sumner.
Ever since we lost Arnold Kling, in the late summer of 2012, Econlog has needed a macroeconomics presence. Both Bryan Caplan and I post occasionally about macroeconomics, but we are both microeconomists who dabble in macro. Now, with Scott Sumner, Econlog has a macroeconomist.
For many of you, Scott will need no introduction. For some of you, he will.
Scott is a Professor of Economics at Bentley University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He earned his Ph.D. in 1985 at the University of Chicago. In 2012, Scott was #15 on Foreign Policy magazine’s Top 100 Global Thinkers. With his usual modesty–and, at the same time, penetrating insight–Scott posted about the lunch he attended with a few dozen of the other “Top 100.” That post was interesting enough that I posted on it, and added my own two cents, here.
Here are four paragraphs from his post that have a “little boy crying that the emperor has no clothes” quality to them, an aspect of Scott’s writing that I most admire:
6. During the day I attended a bunch of foreign policy panels. It was interesting to see what these are like, although I can’t really process foreign policy discussion very well. It seems like lots of words, without clear meaning. I couldn’t tell you why we intervened in Libya and not Syria, except I gather that it’s complicated. There doesn’t seem to be a model, but then maybe there can’t be a model-I certainly don’t have any suggestions.
7. My favorite speaker was Google’s Sebastian Thrun, who remarked that California was wasting a fortune on a train that would connect two obscure Central Valley towns in 2020, by which time self-driving cars would be more energy efficient (and convenient) than high speed rail. His friend remarked that in-vitro meat could cut agricultural greenhouse emissions by 95%. (I doubt it.) Both seemed to think policymakers in Washington were clueless about technology.
8. Hillary Clinton is an impressive speaker, but not likable. I have nothing to say about her views on foreign policy. But in response to a final question on drugs (from a Latin American reporter), she said drug legalization would do no good because drug dealers are really bad people, and they would simply do other crimes. No discussion of how America’s murder rate fell in half after alcohol was legalized in 1933. I think she’d be even worse (from a libertarian perspective) than Obama-and that’s an already low bar for a Democrat.
9. Before she entered the room there was a hushed feeling, like the President was about to appear. People in Washington seem to worship power.
Scott is an impressive man in other ways also. I’ll highlight two.
First, he is a “blog entrepreneur.” He saw a hole in the blogosphere. There was no one out there blogging regularly and creatively about his main monetary policy proposal: having the central bank target the growth rate of nominal Gross Domestic Product. So Scott undertook that task. He decided to fill that hole by starting his own blog, TheMoneyIllusion, and it quickly became widely read. Scott’s accomplishment is all the more impressive when one realizes that he had no institutional support. No college, no think tank, no firm supports or supported his endeavor. He made it work on his own. Now, with Econlog, Scott does have institutional support.
Second, as a regular reader of TheMoneyIllusion, I have been impressed by how comprehensively Scott responds to commenters with his own comments. He does so in batches, usually briefly, but it was the rare commenter on Scott’s site who found himself or herself not responded to.
One other bonus. Although, as I noted above, Scott’s main area of expertise is macroeconomics, he is a careful observer and analyst of issues that are not generally categorized as straight macro. One of my favorite pieces by him is “The Unacknowledged Success of Neoliberalism,” the Econlib Feature Article for July 2010.
The following two paragraphs from that article are a good summary of his findings:
The neoliberal revolution combines the free markets of classical liberalism with the income transfers of modern liberalism. Although this somewhat oversimplifies a complex reality, it broadly describes the policy changes that have transformed the world economy since 1975. Markets in almost every country are much freer than in 1980; the government owns a smaller share of industry; and the top MTRs [marginal tax rates] on personal and corporate income are sharply lower. The United States, starting from a less-socialist position, has been affected less than some other countries. But even in the United States there have been neoliberal reforms in four major areas: deregulation of prices and market access, sharply lower MTRs on high-income people, freer trade, and welfare reform. Many other countries saw even greater neoliberal policy reforms, as once-numerous state-owned enterprises were mostly privatized.
There is an unfortunate tendency to associate the term “neoliberal” with right-wing political views. In fact, the quite liberal social democracies of northern Europe have been among the most aggressive neoliberal reformers. Indeed, according to the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, Denmark is the freest economy in the world in the average of the eight categories unrelated to size of government. The Nordic countries have begun to privatize many activities that government still performs in the United States. These include passenger rail, airports, air-traffic control, highways, postal services, fire departments, water systems, and public schools, among many others. These countries do have much larger and more comprehensive income-transfer programs than the United States has, but are not otherwise particularly socialist.
So, welcome Scott Sumner. Bryan and I hope and trust that your experience with Econlog will be highly positive for all concerned.