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Somebody Has Been Feeding Jonathan Chait More than Wheaties: Criticizing Michael Boskin Department

Jonathan Chait:

World’s Wrongest Man Ventures Latest Prediction: Michael J. Boskin — former George W. Bush economic adviser, Hoover Institute fellow, and staunch advocate of conservative anti-tax doctrine — appears today, as is his wont, in The Wall Street Journal op-ed pages to warn that the Democratic president’s economic policies will lead us to misery…. Four years ago, Boskin penned a Journal op-ed whose thesis was captured in the headline, “Obama’s Radicalism Is Killing The Dow.” That was the signal for the Dow to go on a tear…. In 1993, Bill Clinton enacted an economic program centered around some public investment, coupled with deficit reduction with higher taxes on the rich. Boskin was very, very sure it would fail…. He made a series of predictions: “The new spending programs will grow more than projected, revenue growth will be disappointing, the economy will slow, and the program will reduce the deficit much less than expected.” Boskin repeated his prophecies of doom in a summerlong media blitz. Boskin labeled Clinton’s plan “clearly contractionary,” insisted the projected revenue would only raise 30 percent as much as forecast by dampening the incentive of the rich, insisted it would “take an economy that might have grown at 3 or 4 percent and cause it to grow more slowly,” and insisted anybody who believed in it would “Flunk Economics 101.” (The preceding pre-Internet quotes are all via a Lexis-Nexis search.) As it happened, literally every Boskin prediction turned out to be the opposite of reality….

Boskin decided to take his talents back to Washington. He had spotted a brilliant new economic mind in Texas governor George W. Bush. "These people were immensely impressed with him, how quick he was to pick stuff up," Boskin said. "His instincts were all very good, very much market-oriented; that created a very, very favorable impression." Boskin… did return to public punditry to insist that George W. Bush’s tax cuts would reduce revenue by far less than the official forecasts predicted….

Now, in defense of Boskin, he is probably suffering from a large dose of bad luck on top of a horrendously wrong ideology…. If you chained a thousand Boskins to a thousand keyboards for a thousand years, eventually one of them would make a correct prediction…. [I]n addition to being in thrall to a rigid and disproven ideology, Boskin suffers from unbelievably bad timing. Any investors who have actually put real money on the line after listening to him deserve the punishment they’ve received.

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