Greg Mankiw writes in defense of impracticality. And I wholeheartedly agree—I think it’s great for well-informed people to write about abstract policy ideals. At the same time, if you’re going to comment on public affairs, it seems worthwhile to comment on what’s actually happening. There are, right now, four ideas that have substantial support in congress. There’s the House stimulus bill, the Senate stimulus bill, the Jim DeMint alternative that consists of large permanent tax cuts, and there’s the idea of doing nothing. I agree with Mankiw—and with Paul Krugman, and with everyone else—that none of these options represents ideal policy. But given that fiscal stimulus is done through congress and these are the ideas congress is taking seriously, I would say that my preferences are, in rank order:
- The House bill.
- The Senate bill.
- Do nothing.
- The DeMint alternative.
Based on what his ideal policy would be, it seems to me that Mankiw probably, like me, prefers the Democratic bills to doing nothing and prefers nothing to the DeMint plan. But Mankiw hasn’t come out and said that. Instead, he’s blogged about his ideal bill and linked-without-comment to lots and lots of stimulus opponents. And I haven’t seen him offer any commentary or links on the main Republican alternative. One interpretation is that this is Mankiw being loyal to the abstract purity of the economics discipline. But it’s unlikely that anyone so committed to the abstract purity of the discipline that he wouldn’t offer an opinion on legislative options would have served as Chairman of the CEA. More plausibly, as a former CEA Chair who hopes to work again in Republican Party politics, Mankiw is hesitant to offer an honest opinion of the congressional GOP’s legislation or the relative merits of their ideas and the congressional Democrats’ ideas.