Hoisted from Comments: Torture and Its Euphemisms
links for 2008-05-07

Oderint dum Metuant

Paul Krugman gets it wrong, I think:

Gas tax hysterics - Paul Krugman - Op-Ed Columnist - New York Times Blog: OK, this has gone overboard. Hillary Clinton’s proposed gas tax holiday is not, in my view, a good idea. But the furor over what is, when all is said and done, a small and temporary policy proposal is entirely disproportionate. What’s going on?

Part of it, clearly, is the fact that many people in the media really, really want Obama to win and Clinton to lose — read Kurt Andersen — and have seized on the gas tax as their latest proof that she is ee-ee-vil. But there’s also something going on with economists, a phenomenon I recognize wearing my other hat: the tendency to place excessive weight on issues where professional judgment differs from lay opinion.... [E]conomists then become like the little boy with a hammer, to whom everything looks like a nail. Because protectionism is an issue on which they believe they have some special insight, they inflate its importance, and make free trade versus protectionism THE crucial issue in economic policy — which it isn’t. Trade barriers are a minor issue.... Yet economists talk much more about trade than they do about health care policy, because they think they know something about it in a way the laity don’t.

The gas tax holiday is in this category.... There’s a lot of troubling stuff in both Democrats’ proposals. Mandates aside, Obama is seriously low-balling the cost of health care reform, and promising way too much in middle-class tax cuts. Clinton’s numbers don’t quite add up either, though she’s probably closer to the mark — and both Dems are towering figures of responsibility compared with McCain. Amid all this, the gas tax holiday is a real issue, but a small one; don’t let economist’s tendency to overemphasize their areas of expertise distort your view.

Two points...

First, there's not a lot of troubling stuff in both Democrats' proposals. There's a little troubling stuff in both Democrats' proposals. All in all, they are quite good--economists these days sit around their department lounge and feel pity for John McCain's guy Doug Holtz-Eakin; they don't feel pity for Austan Goolsbee or Laura Tyson.

Second, it is important that presidential candidates fear economists even in the campaign. If they don't fear their economists, then we get campaign promises of really lousy economic policy, some of which will then make it into post-election real policy, and then we are in trouble. Republican politicians have not feared their economists since... the Eisenhower administration, I think, and so Republican economic policy is overwhelmingly lousy. Democratic politicians have in the past and still today fear the bad headlines that are generated if their own economic advisers say that they are full of it. And so their campaign rhetoric is less out-to-lunch. And their post-election policies are better.

For Paul to take steps to diminish Democratic politicians' fear of economists... Well, it's contrary to guild rules. Just saying...