Casey Mulligan's Excellent Adventure
By David Henderson
A sharply dressed bearded man stood up near the door of the White House meeting room and bellowed, “HHS, you need to hear the OMB loud and clear: your AKS RIA is DOA!” and exited the meeting. As several others filed out of the room behind him, I leaned toward CEA’s General Counsel Joel Zinberg and whispered, “That must be a world record for number of acronyms in one sentence. What the hell does it mean?” Joel chuckled and said, “I have no idea, except that we’re going to enjoy working with that guy.”
“That guy” was Joel Grogan, a high-level Trump appointee in the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). The quote is from You’re Hired: Untold Successes and Failures of a Populist President, by University of Chicago economist Casey B. Mulligan. It’s about his time as the chief economist at President Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) for the 2018–19 academic year. Oh, and Mulligan did enjoy working with Grogan. I’ll tell why later.
I’ve respected Mulligan’s work for about a decade. He’s a first-rate economist who, by relentlessly applying economic thinking to policy issues, reaches important conclusions.
But I was not a fan of his too-academic writing style. In a 2013 review, I wrote that his 2012 book, The Redistribution Recession: How Labor Market Distortions Contracted the Economy, “could have been one of the most important books of 2012.” Even I, a PhD economist, found it hard slogging. I don’t know what writing pill Mulligan took, but his latest book is profound, important, entertaining, economically solid, and easy to read. It will be one of the most important books of 2020.
The above is from David R. Henderson, “Economic Savvy in the White House,” Defining Ideas, October 8, 2020.
Mulligan himself realized that he needed to “think like a Democratic Congress” to help Trump deal with hostile Democrats in Congress. Here’s how Mulligan characterizes the mindset of the twenty-first-century Democratic Congress: “that big government is likely to achieve big progress, that incentives are of second-order importance, that the title of a bill need not reflect its contents, and that profits are glorified theft by private business from workers and consumers.” Mulligan also regularly read economist Paul Krugman’s tweets. Why? They “proved helpful for predicting mistakes that would be made by the president’s opponents.”
Read the whole thing.
HT to John Cochrane.