My Mellifluous Voice

by Don Boudreaux on September 2, 2008

in Complexity & Emergence, Myths and Fallacies, Podcast, Politics, Property Rights, Reality Is Not Optional

Here’s Norm Leahy’s 30-minute-long radio interview with me, taped earlier today.

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Charlie September 2, 2008 at 6:49 pm

I don't understand your notion of political economy at all. It is especially apparent in this podcast. You have so much anger at politicians, but shouldn't this anger really be placed at Americans? The political views of major candidates can't be reasonably viewed as exogenous to the fact that they are major candidates. The political process is certainly some sort of market where American voters get the politicians they demand. It's interesting to compare your view with Caplan's research that argues that we actually get better economic policies than voters actually demand, that politicians actually save us from ourselves.

I can think of two possible reasons that you would attack government and politicians rather than voters.

1. Your political views are naive.
2. You're just responding to market forces. People don't demand professors telling them how dumb they are. They'd rather hear how dumb politicians are.

But it seems either answer as you said, "calls into question your intelligence or your integrity."

kebko September 2, 2008 at 7:36 pm

Charlie, where did you get that impression? I didn't get the idea at all that Dr. Boudreaux's displeasure bypassed the voters? You can see the voters as the root of the problem, and still recognize that to earn their vote you'd have to be dumb or lying. The harshness of your post seems misplaced.

Charlie September 2, 2008 at 11:58 pm


I think it was statements like, "What serious person could look at these people and think now that's someone I want to trust with a very difficult task? They say ridiculous things, everybody knows they say ridiculous things." For the first part of the quote, note that Don is far far right of most "serious people" on the spectrum of serious people almost all of them want more government than Don does. So, the answer to his quote is "almost everyone."

The second part of his quote is actually very hard to show. The fact is the public is pretty dumb, most people think "drill here, drill now" for instance means that if we allowed more drilling the new oil would be available almost immediately. Most people think we compete with other countries for economic prosperity. Even among economists there is a lot of debate about what is ridiculous and what is not. Anyone who reads Paul Krugman and Martin Feldstein (two of the world's top economists) will realize that there is very little agreement about what is and is not ridiculous. Maybe for instance, people agree "politicians say ridiculous things," but it is meaningless because there is very little agreement on what those things are.

I thought some of the statements about politically active economists was pretty disrespectful and somewhat unfounded too. I doubt very much Goolsbee and Mankiw tell the candidate "just what they want to hear." I don't think there is even any evidence to support that. The whole interview came across as if he was totally naive to the political constraints that candidates face.


Don Boudreaux September 3, 2008 at 12:16 am

I don't mean to suggest that academic advisors to political campaigns change their tunes to suit the campaign. Rather, I mean that political campaigns choose advisors whom they — the campaign's executive decision-makers — are confident will say only things that the candidate is already comfortable with.

Charlie September 3, 2008 at 4:10 am


I guess I don't understand what you mean by comfortable. If it is don't find moraly objectionable, that is true. Obama wouldn't pick an economic advisor who thought inequality was unimportant and McCain wouldn't pick one that thought income redistribution was a major goal. But while economic advisors certainly will share ideological goals, I don't think there is much evidence that they only say things the candidate is comfortable with. It seems to contradict what every academic economists says about the process. Milton Friedman, for instance, advised at great length politicians that were uncomfortable with what he was telling them on a whole host of issues. Likewise, Mankiw tells wonderful stories about advising the president about a gas tax (which he was very uncomfortable with) and against steel tarriffs. It is almost just a fact of positive economics that someone will be uncomfortable with what an economist will tell them. Economics after all is about trade-offs and trade-offs are uncomfortable, especially for politicians. It seems much more accurate to say candidates choose good academic economists with similar ideological goals.

To put this in context to what I said earlier, this came up in response to the question, "why do we get such economic nonsense when both campaigns employ economists on their staffs?" You reply, "…Most economists don't think deeply enough about the tenets of basic economics…" I cut a lot out, but that is the jist. And unlike GMU economists, other economists are creationists. As if, were the GMU economics department to serve as advisor to the president, then all of a sudden our economic policies would be much better. I just don't see any evidence of that. Isn't the answer to the question posed a lot simpler, "it's not what voters want."


Gary September 3, 2008 at 9:28 am

"What serious person could look at these people and think now that's someone I want to trust with a very difficult task? They say ridiculous things, everybody knows they say ridiculous things."

For the record, I totally agree with that statement.


Do you seriously wake up in the morning, knowing that the top dog at the U.S. Military, FEMA, Department of State, and Department of Energy all report to a guy that was a C student, and can hardly talk, and say: "screw allstate, we're already in good hands?"

Do you honestly look at the $9 Trillion national debt, and think "thanks to our country's strong leadership, this only costs us $400 Bilion a year in interest!"

Who are the economists that argue that free trade is a bad thing? You know, the ones who dream up policy for candidates who want to tear up NAFTA.

Charlie September 3, 2008 at 1:23 pm


As I discussed, if you define serious even very narrowly, like having a phd in economics and teaching at a top department. You will find that there is very little agreement about what is ridiculous and what is not.

As far as economists that want to tear up NAFTA, how about author of "Has Globalization Gone Too Far" by Harvard economist Dani Rodrik? It is amazing how little policy agreement there is among "serious people" unless you define serious people as people who already agree with you.


Gary September 5, 2008 at 1:35 am

So you do think our country is run by the best of the best, and that it is the epitome of efficiency? You're confident that Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger were elected Governor because they were the most qualified residents of their states for the job?


Rodrik hardly argues that we need to revert to the days before… time… and stop trading.

David Peterson September 5, 2008 at 12:36 pm

Great interview. A pleasure to listen to.

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