A few days ago, Politico Pulse (can’t find a permalink, but here’s where The Weekly Standard’s blog reprinted the story) published an item saying
“House Republicans open the health reform repeal debate today with an ace up their sleeves: a letter making the economic case for repealing the law, signed by 168 tenured economics professors and academic institution-affiliated scholars, two former CBO directors and four Federal Reserve economists, including a Nobel Laureate, among others. ‘We believe the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is a threat to U.S. businesses and will place a crushing debt burden on future generations of Americans,’ the 200 economists write, in a letter organized by the American Action Forum and obtained by PULSE. They charge that the law is a barrier to job growth and a ‘massive spending increase,’ adding $1 trillion in government spending over the next decade.”
Here’s the (rather overheated) letter. Conveniently, it was followed a couple of days later by a crowd-sourced rating of top economics departments, the top ten portion of which Tyler Cowen calls “exactly right.”
Of the 200 or so economists signing the letter, the number who teach at the top ten departments is four: Michael Boskin from Stanford (Hoover doesn’t count), Robert Lucas from Chicago (the business school doesn’t count), and two from Columbia. We’ll add the Nobel Laureate (Edward C. Prescott) on an honorary basis. That makes five out of two hundred from top ten departments or the equivalent. On the other hand, Hillsdale College is well represented (four signers), as are conservative think tanks.
I don’t intend this as an exercise in snobbery. There are brilliant economists in all kinds of places, and of course any economist knows more economics than I do. But a letter like this is a political exercise, and the currency of politics is reputation. Whoever circulated the letter knew full well that the more famous economists from prestigious departments who signed it, the more impact it would have among people who actually care what experts think. And this is the best they could do.
The letter is “an ace up [the House Republicans’] sleeves” only in the literal sense: they can’t win this game honestly.