August 11, 2012
Culture Of Fraud
by Paul Krugman
Still on vacation, but I have internet access for a bit, and have checked in on a few matters. The big story of the week among the dismal science set is the Romney campaign’s white paper on economic policy, which represents a concerted effort by three economists — Glenn Hubbard, Greg Mankiw, and John Taylor — to destroy their own reputations. (Yes, there was a fourth author, Kevin Hassett. But the co-author of “Dow 36,000″ doesn’t exactly have a reputation to destroy).
And when I talk about destroying reputations, I don’t just mean saying things I disagree with. I mean flat-out, undeniable professional malpractice. It’s one thing to make shaky or even demonstrably wrong arguments. It’s something else to cite the work of other economists, claiming that it supports your position, when it does no such thing — and don’t take my word for it, listen to the protests of the cited economists.
And by the way, this isn’t obscure stuff. To take one example: the work of Mian and Sufi on household debt and the slump has been playing a big role in making the case for a demand-driven depression, which is exactly the kind of situation in which stimulus makes sense — so you have to be completely out of it and/or unscrupulous to cite some of their work and claim that it refutes the case for stimulus.
Or to take another example, which Brad DeLong picks up, anyone following the debate knows that the Baker et al paper claiming to show that uncertainty is holding back recovery clearly identifies the relevant uncertainty as arising from things like the GOP’s brinksmanship over the debt ceiling — not things like Obamacare.
Can Hubbard, Mankiw, and Taylor really be that out of it? I don’t think so. They just believe that they can pull one over on the rubes, and pay no professional price. Let’s hope they’re wrong.
Simon Wren-Lewis wonders what could have possessed Mankiw and Taylor to sell their souls this way. I won’t pretend to have a full answer. But surely part of it is simply that they have been caught up in the vortex of the broader Romney campaign — a campaign that has made fraudulence part of its standard operating procedure.
Remember, Romney spent months castigating President Obama because he “apologizes for America” — something Obama has never, in fact, actually done. Then he spent weeks declaring that Obama has denigrated small business by claiming that businessmen didn’t actually build their own firms — all based on a remark that was clearly about infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Romney’s tax plan is now a demonstrated fraud — big tax cuts for the rich that he claims would be offset by closing loopholes, but the Tax Policy Center has demonstrated that the arithmetic can’t possibly work. He turns out to have been dishonest about when he really left Bain. And on and on.
So this is a campaign that’s all about faking it — fake claims about Obama, fake claims about policy, fake claims about Romney’s personal history.
Is it really surprising, then, that the economists who have decided to lend their names to the campaign have been caught up in this culture of fraud? Maybe some of them were initially reluctant, or thought they could support the campaign with selective renderings of the truth. But the pressure was on to be team players, to give the campaign material it could use — and so, one day, they all ended up putting their names to a report that is just plain dishonest, in ways that can be and have been easily documented.
This would be a terrible thing even if it were in a defensible cause. It’s even worse when the goal is to elect a man who seems to have no core, no purpose save personal ambition.