Casey Mulligan on Donald Trump versus Jeb Bush
By David Henderson
I found so many things memorable in Casey B. Mulligan’s recent book, You’re Hired: Untold Successes and Failures of a Populist President. I noted many of them in my Hoover article 2 months ago but didn’t have space for the following story. Here’s Casey:
The conventional wisdom is that @realdonaldtrump is a window into the “presidential id.” In other words, the person and the Twitter persona are in essence the same. That’s a nice theory, but how well does it fit the evidence? Let’s compare personal interactions between two 2016 Presidential candidates and look at President Trump’s use of nicknames for his staff.
Stanford’s Hoover Institution got involved with the 2016 Presidential campaign. The senior economists there invited me to join a small roundtable to discuss economic policy ideas with the leading candidate at the time. Eagerly introducing me, they asked that I tell the candidate a bit about my findings related to President Obama’s economic policies as reported in my 2012 and 2015 books. Explaining how the Obama Administration, with the intention of helping the poor and unemployed, had created and expanded more than a dozen programs that subsidized them, I said, “When you subsidize something, you get more of it.”
The candidate had little to bring to the conversation, so he mocked me instead. Why would anyone write two books to say something so obvious? The candidate was wrong: the Obama Administration was full of smart people who had yet to realize these “obvious” points. More important, the candidate was bullying the youngest person in the room in front of more senior economists. (In my profession, gatherings like that have real money at stake because someday the senior economists would decide whether and how I could be affiliated with Hoover.)
If all we had were representations of the candidates provided by the major news outlets, we would conclude that this arrogant and egotistical candidate was named Trump. Instead, the July 2015 Hoover roundtable was for John Ellis “Jeb” Bush. It was said by the New York Times, and Jeb Bush himself, that he was suffering a regrettable campaign handicap. In contrast to a purported[ly] mean-spirited Mr. Trump, Mr. Bush was brought up to be polite and kind. Why then was I slinking down in my chair, desperately wishing for the roundtable to end?
I’ve actually read this passage a few times. Part of the reason is that I like to prepare myself if I’m in similar situations. The main reason to be a Monday morning quarterback is to prepare for next Sunday.
I think I would have answered to Jeb’s face the way Casey answered in his book, something like the following:
There are two main reasons to point out what you claim is obvious. First, it’s not obvious to a bunch of smart people in the Obama administration, in the media, and even in academic economics.
Second, I was summarizing it for you. But I put empirical meat on the bones, showing, for example, that at least half, and probably more, of the drop in aggregate hours worked since 2007 would not have occurred, or at worst would have been short-lived, if the safety net had been constant. I’m guessing you didn’t know that, Governor.
I adapted the second last sentence above from his 2012 book, The Redistribution Recession, which I reviewed here. I’m not sure if I really would have used the last sentence. It would have been awfully tempting though.