How to interpret an economist

By Megan McArdle

Arnold Kling David Henderson parses the locutions of the brilliant economist stuck in a politcal job:

I'm not sure if Larry is being disingenuous. What I'm pretty sure of, which is why I wrote my original statement, is that he probably doesn't much like the "stimulus" bill. Notice that I used the word "doubt," rather than claiming that I know. I haven't talked to Larry since 1993 or 1994. How could I claim to know what he thinks?

In response to Charlie, I wrote:

Have you noticed that we haven't heard any strong endorsement of the bill by Summers? The standard way a political appointee deals with the situation when he/she doesn't like what his/her boss is doing is to be quiet or, if asked his/her opinion, to say, "the President believes."

Responding to me, Charlie wrote:

I don't recall seeing the "the president believes quotes" from Romer and Summers either.

Take a look at the transcript of Larry Summers's appearance on "This Week" yesterday. Countless times, Larry talks about the President's wants and beliefs. When he states an opinion as his own, it's typically about the state of the economy, not the merits of the "stimulus" bill.

One sample:

There are crucial areas, support for higher education, that are things that are in the House bill that are very, very important to the president.

Another:

There are certain priorities -- education, health care, infrastructure investment -- that the president is certainly not going to want to lose sight of.

I'm actually surprised by how deftly Obama's advisors have managed to avoid personally endorsing things they do not believe to be correct.  Not entirely, of course, but the degree of deniability is nonetheless impressive.  It will be interesting to see how much longer they can keep it up.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2009/02/how-to-interpret-an-economist/511/