Thursday, October 18, 2012

The Politicalization Of Economics

John Taylor is a prominent economist who is an adviser to the Romney campaign.  He claimed that the recovery from the Great Recession, under Obama, is much worse than recoveries from other recessions that included a financial crisis.  In particular he argued that we had a very sharp recovery from the 1981 recession under Ronald Reagan.  Romney used that point in the last debate by arguing that Republican presidents are a better choice than Democrats for ending recessions.

The 1981 recession, however, was nothing like the Great Recession.  The Fed triggered the recession by raising interest rates.  They did so to end a period of double digit inflation.  They successfully disinflated the economy.  They then lowered interest rates and the economy recovered.  We should also remember that Reagan cut taxes dramatically and he increased military spending substantially.  These are Keynesian approaches that resulted in very large budget deficits.  Republicans during the Obama administration have campaigned against the use of Keynesian approaches to stimulating the economy.  They focused their attention on rising budget deficits, and argued that austerity was the best method for ending the Great Recession.

Taylor also included  the 1973 recession, that was primarily induced by the rapid increase in oil prices due to the OPEC oil embargo as an example of a quick recovery from a recession with a financial crisis.  This was not a recession that was triggered by anything like the 2008 financial crisis that triggered a global recession that is still underway.

Reinhart and Rogoff, who wrote the book on recovery from recessions associated with financial crises, were also critical of Taylor's method.  In particular, they argued that the recovery from the Great Depression was not a sharper recovery than our recovery from the Great Recession.  Taylor measured the recovery from the Great Depression from the trough of the depression to the end of the first year.  Reinhart and Rogoff measure recoveries from the peak prior to recession to the peak of the recovery.  As we know, the recovery from the Great Depression took a long time and we entered into a second recession during the recovery in 1937.  It makes no sense to argue that the recovery from the Great Recession under Obama was worse than our recovery from the Great Depression.  In fact, Reinhart and Rogoff argue our recovery from the Great Recession is better than our recovery from the Great Depression.

John Taylor received his PhD from Stanford where he is currently a professor.  He has risen through the ranks to become a prominent economist partially because he is able and productive.  He is best known for developing the Taylor rule which argues for inflation to be held at 2%.  The Fed uses the Taylor rule in its efforts to battle the twin perils of inflation and recession.  Its current policies are built around maintaining the Taylor rule plus or minus one.  Taylor has also built his career around support for conservative causes.  This is also true of Glenn Hubbard, the dean of the business school at NYU. and Greg Mankiw, the Chairman of the economics department at Harvard.  They have all had appointments and/or roles in Republican administrations.  It is unlikely that they would have similar roles in Democratic administrations.  This suggests that the economics profession, and economics itself, is more closely associated with politics than it is claimed. Certainly, many economists have risen up the ranks, in part, because of their association with a particular brand of politics. The research of Reinhart and Rogoff, of course, serves as a counter example.  Rogoff claims that he voted for John McCain in the last elections.  His research, however, seems not to be colored by his political affiliation.  I'm sure that is true for many economists.  Much of the economic research that takes place is not closely connected to politics.  On the other hand, the sponsorship of research grants, is more easily connected to monied and political interests. There is no clear separation of economics research, and the paradigms that attain prominence, from economic or political interest groups.

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