Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Help Wanted

The Council of Economic Advisers for the president has several vacancies, including the chair. I would have thought that conservative economists would all be fighting for the chance to steer the economy of this country in the rightward direction. I would have been mistaken:

The White House and Congress need as many as five academic economists of high caliber, and it's not obvious where they will come from. The Republican Party may be facing something of a shallow bench.

"Bush's reputation in at least the academic community is about as low as you can imagine," said William A. Niskanen, who was a member of the council during President Ronald Reagan's first term and is now chairman of the Cato Institute, a libertarian research group. "A lot of people would not be willing to give up a good tenured position for a position in the White House."

Back in 2003, the choice of N. Gregory Mankiw, a Harvard professor, to head the council initially provoked some wonderment from economists. He had condemned supporters of some Reagan-era tax cuts as "charlatans and cranks" in the first edition of his basic economics textbook, and he had suggested replacing part of the income tax with higher taxes on gasoline - a nonstarter in this White House. But it's possible that the administration had few other options.

There are several reasons for the wingnut economists' reluctance to serve on the Council or in the other currently vacant posts. But the major one surely is that Bush will not take advice from mere economists (perhaps because he is more used to talking to God), yet it would be the same economists who would be associated with any failures in Bush's economic policy.

Rats and the ship.