I have been hard on Megan McArdle in the past.* But I totally agree with her here, concerning the nomination of Austan Goolsbee:
There’s going to be some inevitable accusations of hypocrisy here, but I think that in general it’s not very helpful to throw the academic work of presidential advisors up against them. It’s great for scoring political points, but the fact is that economic advisors cannot run around saying that presidential policies are a bad idea. Presidents are naturally going to do a bunch of things that are economically sub-optimal, politics being what it is. If you pillory good economists for giving cover to those economic policies, the result will be that the president will only get hack advisors who will give him terrible, ideologically-driven advice. This does not sound like a better outcome, unless you are an ideologically-driven hack who doesn’t really care whether the president is in touch with reality, as long as he’s serving your ends.
I was disappointed when people who should have known better did this sort of thing to Mankiw and Hubbard, and I feel the same way now about Goolsbee and Romer. I would much rather have them in office, making awkward public statements in favor of policies I’m quite sure they don’t fully support, and giving the president excellent advice, than to have them in the ivory tower, maintaining their intellectual purity while political hacks drive policy.
If we want appointees to have no opinions but those of whom they serve, then we will have only bad nominees. In the real world, there are lots of smart people who still work for other people, and aren’t accused of selling their soul for doing so. I’m a pretty opinionated guy, but there are plenty of people above my pay grade in at work, and I seriously can’t count the number of times that I’ve had to do or say things that weren’t my first choice. It’s part of succeeding in the workplace. Heck, it’s part of succeeding as a person.
We shouldn’t hold nominees to a ridiculous standard. Good on McArdle for saying so.
*I am not linking to any of those posts in this one. It would detract from the good intentions I have here.