One of the themes I’ve been running with lately is the need for a serious meta-appraisal of the economics discipline from the perspective of how vested money and power in society directly or indirectly shapes schools of thought. I don’t want to get too far into the weeds of poststructuralism and Foucault and “but, like, it’s all about power structures dude” though.
This weekend the New York Times ran a profile on Glenn Hubbard
essentially actually called him an economic mercenary. I’m disappointed that the profile didn’t follow this thread and instead launched an unnecessarily personally attack against the guy, because there may be some merit behind the mercenary hyperbole.
Case in point, I’ve seen Hubbard blast president Obama for the shoddy recovery with a straight face, even as Reinhart & Rogoff (who aren’t liberal hacks by any means) have put together empirical evidence that financial recessions are worse than regular ones, and post-2008 fits the recovery curve of a financial crisis almost exactly.Of course there’s also another study that says “not so”, and Hubbard and other Romney supporters have been quick to cite this while ignoring the other. Noahpinion did an excellent breakdown of the two studies already, which basically says a. you can make data say anything you want it to if you pick and choose the right kinds, and b. Reinhart and Rogoff are more convincing i.e., financial recessions really are different.
I know Hubbard is a smart and thoughtful guy, so when he writes off excellent research for the sake of blasting the president, I think he really is acting as a mercenary, and he’s not the only one. It takes a certain kind of intellectual contortion to claim to practice economic science* and maintain the kind of selective vision which denies good evidence that would interfere with your worldview, and indirectly the worldview of the people that pay for your studies and consulting gigs.
In a sense, investigating the politics of the Hubbards and Krugmans of the world is not what I’m after because the politicization of their thought is a non-issue. They’ve chosen to expose themselves in this way. They are just the surface current of the really interesting dynamics that lie beneath. Hubbard is an overtly political economist by choice but you would have to be stupid not to realize how lucrative it can be to support the worldview of vested interests in one way or another. To put it another way, I bet one of the reasons there are no saltwater/freshwater opposing schools of physics—the science economics loves to compare itself with—is because there’s not a lot of vested interest in making sure Newtonian gravity conforms to your worldview.
*These are Greg Mankiw’s—another prominent Romney supporter—own words that go in the front of his undergrad textbooks. But to his credit, or perhaps not, Mankiw tends to sink into the wallpaper whenever the Romney camp says something economically outrageous, like having sympathy for going back on the gold standard.
Postscript: Reinhart & Rogoff basically call out the Romney team for their selective vision in this Bloomberg Op-Ed.
Post-Postscript: No sooner do I draft this thing, and Krugman writes a post on essentially the same topic. But Krugman isn’t immune from having selective vision, including some Reinhart-Rogoff work that worked against a Keynesian/Krugman worldview.