Jo Walton on Linguistic Subcreation
Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (Joe Klein Edition)

Hillary Rodham Clinton and John McCain vs the Economists

Felix Salmon writes:

Clinton vs the Economists: [D]oes it matter if politicians ignore economists? Thoma and Mankiw say yes, if they're willing to ignore the experts on one of the few areas where the experts agree with each other, then you can't trust that they will ever make good use of advice. Krugman and Cowen say no, there are bigger fish to fry, and economists tend to overrate their own importance.

For me, personally, this gas-tax episode has changed my opinion of Hillary Clinton quite dramatically. Yes, I've been an Obama supporter for a while, but I've been less opposed to Clinton than most Obama supporters, until now. But the gas-tax proposal reminded me of the way that she described the proposed Dubai Ports deal as a threat to national security, and I realized that I just couldn't trust her assertions. I'm pretty sure she's smart enough to know that she's pandering - what Mankiw calls "mendacity with a dash of condescension". Which means that Clinton considers working-class votes to be more important than working-class voters. And that's not a claim I'd make about either of the other two candidates.

And Greg Mankiw writes:

Greg Mankiw's Blog: In Praise of Gas Tax Hysterics: Paul Krugman thinks all of the fuss about the gas tax holiday has become a bit hysterical. He agrees that the policy is a bad idea, but it is no big deal, so let's not focus on it. Paul is right that the issue is, quantitatively, small potatoes, but I am nonetheless pleased to see it get so much attention. This issue is like the canary in the coal mine: No one really cares about the canary, but its condition tells us about deeper problems that lie below.

Many economic issues (e.g., health care, corporate taxation, the trade deficit) are vastly complicated, with experts holding a variety of opinions. When candidates disagree, it simply means that each is siding with a different set of experts, and it is hard for laymen to figure out which set of experts is right. By contrast, the gas tax holiday is not nearly as complicated, and the experts speak with one voice.

Why, then, are candidates proposing the holiday? I can think of three hypotheses:

  • Ignorance: They don't know that the consensus of experts is opposed.
  • Hubris: They know the experts are opposed, but they think they know better.
  • Mendacity with a dash of condescension:* They know the experts are opposed, and they secretly agree, but they think they can win some votes by pulling the wool over the eyes of an ill-informed electorate.

So which of these three hypotheses is right? I don't know, but whichever it is, it says a lot about the character of the candidates.

It is very clear on both McCain's and Rodham Clinton's part that it is not ignorance It my be to some degree hubris on McCain's part--but I doubt it. It is overwhelmingy on Rodham Clinton's part and predominantly on McCain's part the third option: mendacity with a dash of condescension.

And Greg is right: it says a lot of bad things about th character of John McCain and Hillary Rodham Clinton that they would do this.

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