Krugman's Bait and Switch
By David Henderson
Paul Krugman has a post on the importance of MIT economists in policy discussions. Had he simply made the point that they are highly influential, his post would have been fine. We could still argue about which of the influences have been good and which have been bad, but there is no doubt that MIT graduates have had a large role in policy debates.
Here are the people he lists, along with the years that they were granted their Ph.D.s:
Ben Bernanke 1979
Olivier Blanchard 1977
Mario Draghi 1976
Paul Krugman 1977
Maurice Obstfeld 1979
Kenneth Rogoff 1980
Paul then goes beyond that, to compare the influence of MIT and the influence of another source of much of recent economic thinking: the University of Chicago. There’s nothing wrong with making such a comparison and, with a fair comparison, I wouldn’t be surprised if MIT, for good or ill or, more likely, a mixture, does come out as more influential.
But here’s how he does it:
You might ask, how does this list compare with similar lists you might draw up for other schools, Chicago in particular? The answer, I’d submit, is that there is no comparison. It’s true that the more or less Keynesian view of macroeconomics common to everyone on this list is by no means unchallenged in the real world; but the anti-Keynesians don’t really turn to academic economists for guidance. When a politician like Scott Walker tries to appeal to the conservative macro brains trust, it’s not some version of the Chicago Boys — it’s Stephen Moore, Art Laffer, and Larry Kudlow.
See what he did? He measures the Chicago influence by the fact that Scott Walker and, presumably, other Republican politicians, don’t seek advice from Chicagoans.
But wait. If the criterion for influence is, as it seems in Paul’s mind to be, whether U.S. politicians who are considering running for President call on economists for advice, then wouldn’t it then be reasonable to ask from whom Democratic politicians–Hillary Clinton, say, or Elizabeth Warren–are seeking advice? I don’t know the answer to that question, but that is the relevant question Paul should be asking, given his criterion for Chicago. But here’s what I’m willing to bet at even odds: Neither of them has sought advice from any of the six people he listed. Here, for example, is a recent NY Times piece that mentions Clinton’s advisors on economic policy: none of them is named in Paul’s list above.
And here’s what I’m willing to bet at 10 to 1 odds: Neither of them has sought advice from one particular person on the list: Paul Krugman.
This is not to say that they wouldn’t do better if they did seek his advice. If they asked textbook Paul (or 1990s Paul–take your pick), as opposed to New York Times Paul, if there were significant downsides to raising the minimum wage, they might get the answer that there are. If they were to ask Slate Paul, as opposed to New York Times Paul, if it’s a good idea to insist on higher wages for third world people who work in “sweatshops,” they would get a good answer.