Council of Political Enablers
Near the end of George W. Bush's second presidential term, I got a call from the White House asking if I'd be willing to be nominated to serve on the president's Council of Economic Advisers. Although I confess to being flattered by this unexpected invitation, I pondered the offer for no longer than 30 seconds before saying “no.”
I declined for three reasons. First, the White House probably knew too little about me. I was publicly so critical of President Bush that I could hardly have any credibility as a member of his administration.
Second, I likely would fail to be confirmed. The blogosphere is filled with many of my writings, making clear that I disdain and distrust government — statements that I am unwilling to disown.
Third and most importantly, my conscience prevents me from taking such a position. I don't judge others who took, or will take, such a post. But I could not have done the job that the administration invited me to do. That job is principally not to give economic advice. That job, instead, is to give credibility to political maneuvers.
Sure, on matters that aren't politically charged, a president might sincerely seek and follow the advice of an academic “expert.” But being the U.S. president is a political job. And the chief talent and ultimate goal of all expert politicians is to win votes. At the end of the day, it's the far-too-rare successful politician who will do what is right if doing what is right differs from what is most popular.
In the 30 seconds that I spent envisioning myself on the Council of Economic Advisers, I saw myself ricocheting between offering advice in private that would be ignored and being asked to defend in public many policies that I believe to be wrongheaded or even immoral. Such a job repulses me.
Consider Jason Furman, a very good economist who is now chairman of President Obama's Council of Economic Advisers. The Washington Post, in a glowing profile of Mr. Furman, reports that in January he told attendees at a public event that over the past half century, “the economy itself had done nothing for the poor: Only government dollars had.”
Of course, such a claim is precisely what a “progressive” politician such as Mr. Obama wants voters to believe. But we have solid evidence that Furman himself doesn't believe this claim.
One of Furman's well-known research papers is his 2005 article “Wal-Mart: A Progressive Success Story” ( mackinac.org/archives/2006/walmart.pdf). He back then concluded that “(b)y acting in the interests of its shareholders, Wal-Mart has innovated and expanded competition, resulting in huge benefits for the American middle class and even proportionately larger benefits for moderate-income Americans.” In short, a major player in the private market had indeed done something — something wonderful — for Americans of modest means.
Can Furman's 2005 conclusion be squared with his recent statement? Yes, but only with great effort. Perhaps he changed his mind or perhaps “the poor” he referred to last month somehow do not include anyone who shops at Wal-Mart.
The more plausible conclusion, however, is that, in political jobs, politics trumps truth.
Donald J. Boudreaux is a professor of economics and Getchell Chair at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. His column appears twice monthly.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Starkey: Hockey hypocrites, unite
- Prime time not kind to Heinz Field
- Steelers offense puts up gaudy numbers in season’s 1st half
- State police trooper seriously hurt when hit by vehicle in East Huntingdon
- Steelers notebook: Roethlisberger, offense must adjust with CB Smith out
- Penguins veteran defenseman Scuderi’s game looking up
- Apple CEO Tim Cook: ‘I’m proud to be gay’
- Lifesharing allows families to open homes, hearts to disabled
- Ferrante murder trial heads into day 6 with testimony on cyanide, Web searches
- Range Resources reports $146M in Q3 profits on record Marcellus production
- Clairton police rounding up street-level drug dealers