Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Economists (?) for Edwards

This is not really a serious knock on Edwards, but there are two problems with his "30 Leading Economists Endorse John Edwards for President" list.

First, they're not all economists. The widely recognized entry card for the profession is a Ph.D. Manuel Castells, who's on the Edwards list, is a great thinker and one of the most important sociologists of all time (and has a doctorate in sociology), but he's clearly not an economist. Likewise, Harley Shaiken, also on the list, is a professor of education and geography with just a B.A. If Shaiken's an economist, I'm a ballet dancer.

Second, most of the economists are not "leading" by any stretch. The economists whose names I recognize are James Galbraith at UT's LBJ School, Deirdre McCloskey at UIC, and Edward Wolff at NYU.

I'm sure the others on the list are nice people, and many have done fine work in their particular fields, but it's a stretch to call them "leading economists" if a typical member of the profession doesn't know who they are.

Who's Edwards trying to fool here? It looks like Galbraith put this list together, and he's a savvy political adviser. I'm sure he saw value in convincing some political reporters that although he's running a populist campaign, Edwards is still mainstream enough to have the support of some "leading economists." He figured (probably correctly) that reporters are not going to look to closely at the list.

I haven't yet seen any similar list from Obama or Clinton. Please e-mail me if you see such a list.

Galbraith writes in comments "Let me put it this way: if Manuel Castells had wanted to join your group, would you have turned him down?"

Good point. Still, I think this should have been "29 Economists and One of the Most Visionary Thinkers Alive Endorse Edwards."

Colin Danby in comments also leads me to this post, which explains that Galbraith put together the list in less than a week after reading an article that implied that Galbraith was the only high-profile economist to support Edwards.

The subtext to this is basically trade policy. The main reason his economist list is a bit thin is that he argues loudly that most leading economists are wrong on his key campaign issue.

It's worth noting, however, that in recent years views on trade have become nuanced among many "leading economists." Based on their recent work, Alan Blinder and Dani Rodrik, for example, are at least sympathetic to people concerned about the effects of trade on wages, even if they don't support Edwards.

In any case, no offense meant to any of the people on Edwards' list!


James Galbraith said...

Let me put it this way: if Manuel Castells had wanted to join your group, would you have turned him down?

That was an easy call.

Regards, James Galbraith

Colin Danby said...

I recognize 25 of the 30 names, though that's probably because I've been active in progressive policy circles for the last couple decades. Given that from what
says Jamie Galbraith assembled it in a week it's a fine list with some important names; I expect someone who made a more extended trawl could come up with more.

I write as an Obama supporter (and econ Ph.D. FWLIW) -- but I think it would be better to engage these folks in conversation than to go after Edwards campaign press releases.