Jul 27, 2008

A Tale of Two Douglases

If I remember correctly, in my first microeconomics textbook, The Theory of Price by George Stigler, there was a box about Paul Douglas, whom most economists associate primarily with the Cobb-Douglas production (and later also utility) function. Never missing a chance to jab a liberal, Stigler described Douglas as an economist who was "later reduced to a U.S. Senator". Although I never agreed with Stigler's opinion, I've always found his way of expressing it quite amusing.

Unfortunately, we are now witnessing a reduction of another fine economist named Douglas. This time, however, Douglas is his first name, and he is being reduced not to an elected official, but to a campaign hack. And this case is not amusing, but sad. I know Douglas Holtz-Eakin, or at least knew him when he used to put professional and personal integrity before partisan politics. He used to say, I think only half in jest, that his job was to give honest advice to politicians who would ignore it. But since he became McCain's adviser, he's been more and more an expedient damage-control spokesman who couldn't care less about the truth.

Honesty is obviously overrated: it's a win-win situation for Holtz-Eakin. If his boss wins, he will probably be the next Secretary of the Treasury (and eventually probably hailed as one of the rare competent people in that administration), and otherwise he'll get a comfortable position in a conservative think tank.

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