I was really depressed when I saw John Cochrane’s OpEd in The Wall Street Journal Monday, An Autopsy for the Keynesians. It wasn’t because it was totally wrong. But it is that. Ask Paul Krugman, Commies Like Me. Or Dean Baker, John Cochrane Versus the Keynesians, #23,127. Or Brad DeLong, If You Had Told Me Twenty Years Ago That the People The Wall Street Journal Put on Its Op-Ed Page Would Only Get Less Hinged as Time Passed… Or Noah Smith, Commie Commie Commie Commie Commie K-Keynesian. Or Frances Coppola, The Gullible Economist. Or Barkley Rosser, More Piling On Cochrane. I’m used to Cochrane writing absolutely stupid things.
What depressed me was that his article was so entirely typical of what we get from conservative economists who have done good work in the past. Or at least I think they’ve done good work in the past. People who know about such things certainly seem to think so. I don’t much pay attention to Cochrane. I’m much more focused on Greg Mankiw — probably because I better understand his economic work. But none of it matters because when they start talking policy, all their knowledge goes out the window. Earlier this year, Mankiw was arguing that of course the rich deserve everything they can because Robert Downey Jr starred in Iron Man 3. More recently, Cochrane was making the argument that inequality doesn’t matter because… single motherhood or something. When these jokers make policy arguments, they aren’t doing economics. They are simply pushing extremely tired arguments in favor the aristocracy that have been made for hundreds of years.
What bothers me is that none of these people ever pays a professional price for being out pushing the interests of the power elite. People will still look back on work they did in their 20s or 30s and note how professional it was. Sure, the economics blogs will attack them if they are pushing their vile apologetics in a venue that has a high enough profile. But there won’t be any good dinner parties they will miss because of this behavior. In fact, it will likely be the opposite. And no one will snub them at a conference and no one will fire them and no one will refuse to publish their books.
Of even greater concern is that these people will be eagerly sought in the next Republican administration. We know that of Mankiw. And we also know that his policy beliefs are entirely dependent upon who is in the White House. So if President Cruz calls him for economic advice, I’m know that Mankiw will be a Keynesian. And I’m sure that Cochrane will do the same thing. Because regardless of what he may rant around in The Wall Street Journal, he will do what they all do when it comes to practical matters: he will turn to Keynes.
So we are left with a situation where writing total blather in major newspapers makes these guys much more likely to go into government. And once there, they will be forced to grapple with actual practical economics. They will, of course, push the usual supply side nonsense loved by conservatives everywhere. But they will also have to admit that, yes, Keynes was right — not that they will say so in public. Because when it comes to the conservative audience — most especially including the politicians — Keynes isn’t an economist to be argued about; he’s the boogeyman.