...As one of the 10 most expensive private colleges in the US, Carnegie Mellon
in Pittsburgh almost oppresses visitors with neo-gothic grandness... I was a
guest of Carol Goldburg, the director of CMU's undergraduate economics program,
who had gathered a few colleagues to give their take on the presidential
election. Here were four top economists huddled round a lunch table: they were
surely going to regale me with talk of labor-market policy, global imbalances,
marginal tax rates.
My opener was an easy ball: how did they think President Obama had done? Sevin
Yeltekin, an expert on political economy, was the first to respond: "He hasn't
delivered on a lot of his promises, but he inherited a big mess. I'd give him a
I threw the same question to her neighbor and one of America's most renowned
rightwing economists, Allan Meltzer. He snapped: "A straight F: he took a mess
and made it even bigger." Then came Goldburg, now wearing the look of a hostess
whose guests are falling out: "Well, I'm concerned about welfare and poverty,
and Obama's tried hard on those issues." A tentative pause. "B-minus?"
Finally it was the turn of Bennett McCallum, author of such refined works as
in Monetary Policy Analysis. Surely he would bring the much-needed technical
ballast? Um, no. "D: he's trying to turn this country into France."
Some of these comments were surely made for the benefit of their audience: faced
with a mere scribbler, the scholars had evidently decided to hold the algebra,
and instead talk human. Even so, this was a remarkable row. Here were four
economists on the same faculty, who probably taught some of the same students;
yet Obama's reputation depended on entirely on who was doing the assessment. The
president was either B or F, good or a failure: opposite poles with no middle
ground, and not even a joint agreement of the judging criteria. ...
Posted by Mark Thoma on Tuesday, November 6, 2012 at 12:24 AM in Economics, Macroeconomics, Politics |