2021年4月20日 星期二

The silence of the wonks

Where are the open letters from conservatives condemning Bidenomics?
President Joe Biden is flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen during the weekly economic briefing, as Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, listens in.Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
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By Paul Krugman

Opinion Columnist

Today's column is about the remarkable popularity of President Biden's economic proposals, and the haplessness of Republican attempts to condemn them. One thing I didn't have space to mention, although it's a topic I care about, is the peculiar silence of conservative wonks, of policy intellectuals you might expect to be writing op-eds and circulating open letters condemning Biden's aggressive spending and tax policies.

And yes, there are policy intellectuals on the right. Like just about all of academia, economics is a Democratic-leaning field — but not as much as other social sciences. One 2016 survey of leading institutions found that among economics faculty, registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans by "only" 4.5 to one, compared with an average of 11 to one in social sciences as a whole. Furthermore, the Republican minority in the profession has traditionally included some heavy hitters, researchers with bodies of work their colleagues take seriously and cite often.

In the not-so-distant past, Republicans could count on these friendly academics to stand up for G.O.P. policies and against Democrats. In 2009 Robert Lucas, the Nobel laureate from the University of Chicago, ridiculed the Obama stimulus as "schlock economics." In 2010 a who's who of right-wing intellectuals signed an open letter to Ben Bernanke (himself a former Republican), insisting that his efforts to rescue the economy risked "currency debasement and inflation." In 2017 a number of Republican economists with significant reputations strongly endorsed the Trump tax cut.

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Now comes Biden, pushing through a short-term spending bill much bigger than the Obama stimulus, following it with a plan to spend trillions more and raise corporate taxes. In the past, such plans would have met a barrage of objections. As it is, more or less respectable Republican economists have been eerily quiet. The noisiest condemnations of the Biden plan have come from Democratic economists, notably Larry Summers, the chief economist of the Obama administration.

What explains this silence of the wonks?

Part of the answer may be embarrassment over past acts of political loyalism. The signatories of that letter warning that Bernanke was debasing the dollar got considerable ribbing when the inflation they predicted didn't materialize, and then when none of them would admit having been wrong. Enthusiastic endorsers of the Trump tax cut are also, I believe, quietly embarrassed by the complete failure of that policy to produce the promised investment boom. Another display of party loyalty would just give critics a new chance to highlight their previous misadventures; better to stay quiet.

Another piece of the answer may be that conservative economists who still have some reputation to lose may have figured out that they're just being used; the modern G.O.P. isn't interested in giving them any actual policy role, preferring hacks and cranks.

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Finally, there's Jan. 6. For many years conservative economists waved off those who said that by making excuses for Trump and company they were giving aid and comfort to thugs. Now they realize that this was simply the truth, and they're slinking off into the sunset.

The result is the near-absence of respectable or even coherent voices opposing Bidenomics from the right. It may not be the most important reason Republicans are finding it so hard to get traction, but it's remarkable all the same.

Quick Hits

Wage numbers are weird in a pandemic.

Economists and cities.

Defining rural: It matters.

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