Ten Miles Square


May 08, 2013 9:20 AM Why Doesn’t America Have Liberal Hack Economists? (Obamacare Edition)

By Jonathan Bernstein

To return to an oldie but goody: it’s still striking to me that no one has jumped up to fill what appears to be a market opening for hack economists on the liberal side. This comes to mind this time from the reaction of economists, including liberal economists, to the sudden decrease in health care inflation over the last few years. As Annie Lowrey reports:

Major new studies from researchers at Harvard University, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and elsewhere have concurred that at least some of the slowdown is unrelated to the recession, and might persist as the economy recovers. 

Not, that is, “Obamacare is slashing health care inflation!” Lowrey does have some relatively optimistic quotes from David Cutler, health care economist, but they’re still very tempered.

What we don’t have, and haven’t anywhere that I’ve seen it, are liberal economists claiming that the entire slowdown in costs has been ACA-related, or even the bulk of it (the bulk is in fact, economists tell us, recession-related, and of the rest it’s not altogether clear where it came from).

Just as we didn’t see any liberal economists last year arguing that the economy was in fact way more healthy than people thought. If anything, in the lead-up to an election with a Democrat in the White House, most prominent liberal economists stressed the weaknesses of the economy.

There are plenty of liberal hack pundits; there’s nothing about being a liberal that prevents people from embracing convenient arguments, even if they’re barely plausible. And there are conservative hack economists, so there’s nothing about being an economist that prevents lame spin. But for whatever reason, there aren’t any liberal economists who function as party apologists. That doesn’t mean that liberal economists are always right about everything; it also doesn’t mean that there’s no biases involved in their work (more, perhaps, in choice of projects, for example). It just means that, as far as I can see, they tend strongly to call them as they see them, rather than adapting their analysis and talking points to whatever the Democratic Party happens to need at the time.

And I’m not saying that there should be liberal hack economists. I don’t think liberals are worse off because of this gap, at all. I just think it’s odd that either there’s no demand for it, or there’s no one willing to fill the demand.

[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.


  • KenZ on May 08, 2013 11:45 AM:

    Jonathan, This is true for most of science. The fact based community is becoming more and more Democratic because the other side is moving away from facts. Vocal conservative scientists were outed as hacks in the 90's and 00's. This now happening for conservative economists who are becoming less and less credible as economists. A similar but slower path is now even happening in journalism.

  • John Breithaupt on May 09, 2013 5:45 AM:

    It may be that curiosity about how things work -- the mental quality that makes a person become a scientist -- is also the mental quality that makes a person become an economist. Conservatives seem to have less of this curiosity than liberals, hence, most scientists are liberals, and also most economists who allow a disinterested play of curiosity to guide their researches.

    Most engineers, on the other hand, are conservatives. An engineer works from, and applies, an already established set of facts. He goes by the book, as he should.

    In politics, we see the same mental divide. Long ago, Adlai Stevenson said that the Republicans wanted to interpret life by applying "the child's guide to good and evil". Going by the book, plain and simple.

  • Anonymous on May 13, 2013 3:42 AM:

    Is that right, Ken? Well then would you care to explain which side tends to embrace such scientifically sound concepts as homeopathic medicine, vaccination avoidance, health-related gmo claims, obesity as health-neutral (see "adipositivity" movement), and men and women being psychologically indistinguishable (see "gender essentialism" used as a derisive term)?

    And don't even get me started on how far away from objective the left is in the social sciences. They keep it that way with illegal hiring practices, too. http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/aug/1/liberal-majority-on-campus-yes-were-biased/

    Why is it that non-partisan organizations such as Thefire.org have their hands full doing legal battle with liberal college administrators instituting draconian censorship codes and selectively enforcing them against conservative students? Why is it that any conservative group on any campus in the country can tell you a story of when their newspapers or posters were stolen or defaced or thrown into a bonfire at night by their liberal counterparts?

    If the truth so obviously favors the left and the tide is turning as you describe, why on earth would the left need to resort to censorship in the style of their hero, Marcuse, in order to win debates? Hint: It's not. Go ahead, read that article and then go to the Fire website and look at a few of those cases.