Dr. Boks, alas, is indisposed. He got up this morning, saw Fruit Loops and Cocoa Puffs on his cabinet shelf, and couldn't decide which to have for breakfast. All day long, he's been trying to take derivatives of the infinite sum of his instantaneous utilities, but hasn't yet found the optimum. (He tells me he's getting pretty damned hungry, too).
It's been a tough month for economists in the popular press. Paul O'Neill always seemed a sensible guy. After all, he quit his post, rather than espouse policies he didn't believe in. A principled economist. (They're as common as Dodo birds). But somehow he managed to make us forget all that by spouting vindictive tripe and self-serving drivel in a forthcoming book (The Price of Loyalty, by Ron Suskind), and then regretting it. (See here for a description).
And why's O'Neill talking about pre 9-11 plans for regime change about Iraq? (As if that were news). Do we care what he thinks about Iraq. Asking an economist to tell you what to do in Iraq is like asking a violin prodigy to coach your rugby team.
He's right to comment on economics. The fiscal policies of the Bush administration are easy to attack and deserve to be criticized. Some economists still believe in Ricardian equivalence, which says that deficits don't matter: Consumers realize that deficits will have to be paid for and so they save in anticipation of future tax increases. But spending does appear to matter. Fiscal policies that impose large costs on future generations seem unwise, particualrly in the current setting. (Even if we do practice fiscal discipline, budget troubles are liklely to arise when Baby Boomers retire and start collecting Social Security). It's easy to criticize Bush's policies. Simply, clearly. Without screaming or misrepresenting the facts. Without pretending to be holier than Mother Theresa.
But vanity keeps getting in the way.
You'd think these guys were.... academics.