The Great Krugman-Mankiw Debate

Paul Krugman was in a good mood:

Seriously, isn’t it amazing just how impressive the people being named to key positions in the Obama administration seem? Bye-bye hacks and cronies, hello people who actually know what they’re doing.

Greg Mankiw was not amused, noting that surveys of economists put the Bush appointees at about the same level as the Obama team:

Judging by this objective criterion, it looks like the two adminstrations are drawing economists from roughly the same talent pool. Of course, if one defines “grownup” as a person who agrees with Paul Krugman, and “hack” as a person who does not, then one might come to a different conclusion.

Then Krugman tried to kiss and make up, sort of:

Dear Greg:

I was actually thinking mainly about Tim Geithner versus John Snow, not about you.

But I think that Mankiw is quite wrong here. The point isn’t that there weren’t any good or smart people in the Bush Administration. No one doubts Mankiw’s bona fides as an economist.

Rather, in the Bush Administration it didn’t matter whether you were good or not; you were just ignored if you didn’t say what the Dear Leader wanted to hear. Mostly this was because of Cheney: virtually every one of the biggest policy disasters derived from him (although I don’t think you can lay Katrina response at his feet). But Bush knew what was going on, and approved it.

Mankiw became head of the CEA, and was promptly kicked out of the Old Executive Office Building. People like Shinseki warned about Iraq, and were humiliated publicly by Rumsfeld and his minions. Ditto with O’Neill and the deficit. Lawyers at DOD, State and NSC protested the torture policy, and Addington simply went around them. Christie Whitman committed to reining in greenhouse gases, and Cheney got Bush to reject it without even talking to her. Powell wanted to continue the North Korea Agreed Framework, and Cheney undercut him, too.

It must be a little frustrating to be a Republican who actually prized competence, because you will be left with the Bush/Cheney taint for a long time. But I can’t say as that I feel that sorry for you. You supported this man for 8 years. You made excuses for his actions, for his stupidity, for his incompetence. You never called him on it. And now you are protesting that you’re not like him. Sorry: you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.