Searching for an Honest Debate on Economics
Glen Hubbard's column in today's Financial Times detracts from meaningful academic debate by ignoring counter-arguments and citing discredited research (when he cites evidence at all).
Glenn Hubbard, an economic adviser to Mitt Romney, and more relevant to this commentary, dean of the Columbia Business School, has published a column in today’s Financial Times so devoid of basic academic credibility that it is fair to call it disingenuous. Hubbard claims research shows that reducing debt levels will create more rapid growth. Any such research is highly controversial. You wouldn’t know it to read Hubbard. He does not deal with counter-arguments at all.
He cites Harvard economist Alberto Alesina who claims that the way to get debt-to-GDP ratios down is to reduce social transfer spending. He does not note how profoundly the Alesina research has been discredited by researchers at the decidedly neo-classical IMF. Austerity has rarely - if ever - worked to generate growth.
He cites work by the conservative Hoover Institution that reducing federal spending to GDP to pre-crisis rates would increase GDP. The crisis was caused by a collapse in tax revenues - not by too much spending. Few would agree that reducing such spending so drastically in the near- or medium-term would generate growth. Again, austerity. And the economy performed poorly at those debt levels anway, failing to create adequate jobs or raise wages.
He claims that the tax system discourages work. One would have liked more detail here, but he wants reduced marginal tax rates. The evidence is abundantly clear that there is no serious academic evidence to support his claim.
On our website, you can find work by Peter Lindert and Jon Bakija, which thoroughly refute these claims. But more to the point, Lindert and Bakija, both serious academics, look at the research of others, they just don’t ignore it, as does Hubbard in this FT piece. They confront it and show where the research fails.
Is this the job of academics? Is this what Hubbard teaches his students? Small-government economists might counter that public economists must be given more leeway. But in truth, Pauk Krugman, the focus of so much right wing criticism, usually deals explicitly with counter-arguments in his blog and often in his column; he does not simply does cite evidence to support his case without a broader context.
We intend our web site to offer broad, honest argument, to enrich the public discussion, not to narrow it.