Last Friday, following the release of some pretty lousy employment numbers, the White House tried its best to provide some positive spin about the state of the economy (“signs of gradual labor market recovery….private sector employment has increased….continued signs of healing”). Liberal economists were having none of it, however, and Jonathan Bernstein wants to know why:
My question, which I’ve asked before: where are the hack liberal economists? One would think that there’s a real market niche here that someone would fill. I can think of two possible reasons that it’s not happening. Perhaps there is no such niche — that is, there are few Democrats out there in the nation eager to buy the product of anyone basically cheerleading for the White House. Or, perhaps the market exists, but liberal economists all have too much integrity to fill it, and insist on saying whatever they believe is true (or whatever they believe suits their policy goals), regardless of whether it rewards them with appearances on MSNBC talk shows and healthy book contracts.
Hmmm. There are, I’d say, more hacks among conservative economists (and economic hangers-on) than there are among liberals, so Jonathan’s question is a good one. Still, I don’t think that’s the primary explanation here. I think it’s simpler. Generally speaking, conservative economists like tax cuts. They like them all the time, but they especially like them as a stimulus measure, and that’s exactly what they got from George Bush following the 2001 recession. Liberal economists, conversely, think increased spending is the best stimulus during a deep recession, and they aren’t getting it from Obama. You can argue about whether this is Obama’s fault or the Senate’s fault or just the way things are, but still: Obama doesn’t seem to be fighting very hard for the policy response that liberal economists want to see.
To the extent that Obama has done what they want, though, I’d say that liberal economists have reacted about the same way that conservatives did during the Bush era. Back then, conservatives spent a lot of time explaining how, if you looked at the numbers right, the Bush tax cuts were improving the economy. Today, liberal economists spend a lot of time explaining how, if you look at the numbers right, the 2009 stimulus bill is improving the economy. Likewise, in 2002 conservatives were insisting that we needed more tax cuts and today liberals are insisting that we need more stimulus.
So….there’s not as big a difference as it seems. If Obama and Congress were giving liberal economists what they want, they’d probably be cheerleading as much as Larry Kudlow was during the Bush administration. I don’t think they’d be deliberately twisting the numbers the way conservatives seem all too happy to do, but they’d still be cheerleading.