Economists: Now With 30 Percent More "Con"

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Alex Burns and Avi Zenilman had a good enterprise story on Wednesday about the McCain campaign's support from economists.

In interviews with more than a dozen of the signatories, Politico found that, far from embracing McCain's economic plan, many were unfamiliar with — or downright opposed to — key details. While most of those contacted by Politico had warm feelings about McCain, many did not want to associate themselves too closely with his campaign and its policy prescriptions.

Constantine Alexandrakis, a professor at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, expressed second thoughts about signing.

"I would describe myself as an Obama supporter," he explained. "Maybe I shouldn't have rushed into signing the letter."

Megan McArdle made a prediction:

If anyone bothers to call them, I'm pretty sure they'll get a few not-very-political types who were recruited by enthusiastic colleagues, and then a boring litany of "Maybe not perfect, but a lot better than the alternative."

Well, Nico Pitney and Sam Stein e-mailed 150 more of the economists on the list.

"Yes, I support the Jobs for America policy proposal, especially a simplified tax code, lower restrictions on trade, and energy development," said Michael Connolly, Professor of Economics, University of Miami. "[But] I am worried that continuing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will tear apart our social fabric and defeat any economic proposal to reduce the deficit and stimulate growth. Guns are crowding out butter."

This past week, the McCain campaign presented the list of the economists as backing a general statement outlining the Senator's economic objectives. But when asked to weigh in on specific proposals—as opposed to the 403-word executive summary—many in the group shuddered. Among individual policies, McCain's idea of a gas tax holiday was the one most scoffed at with nary an economist offering a defense.

"It would do nothing but increase the quantity demanded—and it wouldn't increase supply," wrote Dave Garthoff of the University of Akron. "So price would just go back up again until demand and supply approached equilibrium, and everyone would blame the oil companies."

Basically, the McCain campaign played an okey-doke and got caught. The statement its economists signed was a short bit of pablum about tax simplification and free trade, but the McCain campaign says that they support the "Jobs for America" plan. I take this a bit more seriously than McArdle becasuse the objects raised by Connolly and Gartoff are issues on which McCain is worse than Obama. McCain's making a calculation on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that no one should take seriously: that we'll win the wars, and that'll put our fiscal house in order. At the same time he's ready to spend whatever it takes to fight the wars, leading to worries like Connolly's.

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  1. These ekonomists need to take Ekon 101.

    Srsly, people gathering signatures for ballot petitions get fined and imprisoned for tricks like that.

  2. Economists’ apparent trust in politicians explains their tendency to shill for government programs to “improve” the economy.

  3. What the hell is an Okey doke?

    Oh wait…

    “A kite is a note, a con is a okey doke”

    Thanks Big L

  4. Economists don’t say the tax holiday is bad, they say it’s meaningless.

    Meanshile, they say Obama’s anti-free-trade, tax-hiking policies are very bad for the ecnomy.

    McCain’s making a calculation on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that no one should take seriously: that we’ll win the wars and that’ll put our fiscal house in order.

    And Obama’s supposedly making what competing calculation? That we could surrender either or both to extremists at zero cost? That’s assuming you ignore the fact that Obama’s policies on both are probably essentially the same as McCain’s.

  5. Of course, at the rate he’s moving right, by September Obama will probably have essentially the same economic position as McCain too, just with a healthy dollop more of Helpful Government Action.

    I did so love hearing how unilaterally reneging on our NAFTA treaty obligations was just “overheated rhetoric.”

  6. It’s good that you’re coming to accept the inevitable, Dave.

    Lie back and enjoy it…but it won’t be over fast.

  7. I find it encouraging that joe is likening the Coming Reign of Obama to rape.

    You’re catching on, joe. Or at least your subconscious is.

  8. McArdle’s right – this is pretty weak tea. Connolly explicitly says he does endores the plan but disagrees with McCain on foreign policy. There’s only have 1 person out of 300 who actually says they regret signing it. The gas tax holiday is pointless, but it’s negligibile nature (it would have little more impact that congress declaring August “National Beet Month”) is why economists who otherwise like McCain’s stances would be willing to overlook it.

  9. I’m reminded of Einstein’s comment, upon being told of the publication of a book called “one hundred authors against Einstein”: “Why 100? If I were wrong, one would have been enough”.

  10. I don’t know why you’re so confident in your party, joe.

    In the Newsweek poll Obama went from a 15 point lead to a 3 point lead (dead heat).

  11. No Name Guy —

    I’m *telling* you, it’s the crazy purple knock-out gas.

    Why won’t anybody listen?

  12. TallDave —

    “Economists say” is approximately as meaningless a phrase as “Doctors say”. Stick a “some” in front, for accuracy, and you’ll do much better, and maybe even create sentences that are true.

  13. Elemenope-

    Even those of us with the writing style of marxist revolutionaries understand that you gotta throw in your qualifiers.

  14. liberty mike, elemenope –
    Some people don’t even notice when you use qualifiers and just assume that you didn’t. I am very good about using qualifiers and yet people accuse me of saying things that I didn’t.

  15. Some people don’t even notice when you use qualifiers and just assume that you didn’t. I am very good about using qualifiers and yet people accuse me of saying things that I didn’t.

    Sometimes it is difficult to win, I will admit. I do try to look hard for those qualifiers though before I jump down someone’s throat.

    liberty mike —

    LOL, re: Marxist revolutionaries. Besides, shrike lately has been the shrill one ’round these parts.

  16. If economics were a hard science like physics, then one economist would be all that is needed to say the plan is bad. But economics doesn’t study a rigorously quantifiable domain. Sure there are lots of numbers out there to run regressions on, but those numbers are still subjective. And it certainly doesn’t help that nearly the entirety of economists are government employees or grant seeking professors with a vested interest in flattering the king.

  17. Elemenope, where can I buy some of this gas you mention? Does it give a good trip?

    I made need some if the scenario I fear most (and expect) to happen–an electoral college tie.

  18. If McMegan says it, it’s probably wrong!

  19. Is Obama’s plan any better?

    Let’s see: massively increase taxes while engorging the federal government.

    Sounds wonderful.

  20. Obama: massively increase taxes while engorging the federal government.

    McCain: massively increase the debt while engorging the federal government.

    A choice you can believe in! Pick your deadly poison.

  21. Obama: massively increase taxes while engorging the federal government.

    McCain: massively increase the debt while engorging the federal government.

    A choice you can believe in! Pick your deadly poison.

    That’s an easy one; I don’t even have to think about it. Crushing dept facilitated by borrowing into oblivion is not only apparently too complicated for the average voter to understand (much less care about), but also has the neat effect of concealing how bad the damage is until it’s waaaaaaaaaaaay to late to do anything about it.

    On the other hand, taxes is dollars out of the pocket *today*. Simple enough, easy to understand. You can call someone out on raising taxes too high and expect voters to be able to comprehend and react to it.

    Obama by a mile, on this one.

  22. On the subject of crazy purple knock-out gas, I hear that Peter Griffin has a good supply.

  23. If it is Obama 269-McCain 269, I will call up Peter Griffin. Don’t ask me how. But I will. It will help me get through the riots, and be a great way to cap off this horrible decade in January, 2009.

  24. One of the McCain ads I’ve seen prominently promises to “make CEO’s more accountable.” I wonder if the economists thought that was a good idea…

  25. McCain’s idea of a gas tax holiday was the one most scoffed at with nary an economist offering a defense.

    I like Rothbard’s guidance that tax cuts are always a good idea. However, if the cut results in a greater deficit, it could engender higher taxes in the long run cuz of the interest paid on deficit spending or, if the increased deficit is monitized, the tax of inflation is extracted.

    So, the way to make the temporary gas tax cut (or any tax cut) a good idea for sure is to cut government spending by the amount of the reduced revenue.

  26. ….And the way to really do it right is to cut some of the government that causes gas to be artificially high.

  27. NNG,

    I said at the time, the 15 point lead in Newsweek’s poll was a fluke. Nobody else was showing a lead that large. None of the poll aggregators showed a lead anywhere near that.

    Obama’s lead has been increasing slightly, from the low-to-mid single digits to the mid-single digits over the past few weeks. Newsweek put out a crappy poll, and now it’s put out a good one.

  28. NNG,

    There’s an interesting story on kos right now. Apparently, the two Newsweek polls used vastly different party and demographic splits. For example, the old one had Democrats with a 10% lead in party registration, while the new one used even splits. The old poll had a small % of whites and a larger % of non-whites. Ditto with age.

  29. joe,

    As the old saying goes (about data acquisition and extrapolation): “Garbage in-garbage out”. Is that still common parlance?

  30. It sure is, Rick.

    Now, the trick is to figure out which one was garbage.

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