Prestige Cross-Pollination

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I’ve complained a few times about the habit of distinguished economists using prestige acquired within their field to pass off sloppy work in other fields. Most recently, we saw Greg Mankiw take an interesting paper about the economics of taxing people based on height and turn it into some pretty half-assed moral philosophy. Something similar is going on with Martin Feldstein’s recent op-ed against the Waxman-Markey climate/energy bill.

As Dave Roberts explains, Feldstein’s characterization of the bill isn’t really correct and some of his economic analysis is debatable. But beyond that, the key point on which Feldstein’s argument turns actually has nothing whatsoever to do with economics. Instead, the key move is the observation that US emissions curbs will do little to save the world unless emissions are also curbed in the key developing economies.

This, however, is not a point that anyone disputes. Feldstein’s contribution is the hypothesis that it would be better to forestall any domestic US action until such time as an all-encompassing global agreement can be reached. Whether you think this is right or wrong, this is clearly a proposition about international relations and the domestic politics of China and India rather than a proposition about economic analysis of the Waxman-Markey bill. And it’s not a proposition that anyone actually working in the field of climate policy or diplomatic relations with China seems to agree with.

Obviously, as a blogger I’m not one to say that people should need to know what they’re talking about in order to speak. But real estate on the Washington Post op-ed page is a valuable commodity. Presumably the reason the Post is interested in Feldstein is his expertise in economics. So there’s no reason for them to be running an op-ed whose key contention has nothing to do with economics.