Five Best Wednesday Columns

Laurence Kotlikoff on economists as political hacks, Thomas Friedman on the need to meet in the middle, David Ignatius on negotiations with Iran, Alexander Cooley on the problems bordering Afghanistan, and Anne Applebaum on why Pussy Riot is Putin's greatest threat.

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Laurence Kotlikoff in Bloomberg View on economists as political hacks Economics as a science is undermined when trained economic academics endorse a candidate, like 500 did with Mitt Romney. In doing so, they deemed Romney's economic plan good and Obama's bad. "No impartial economist would make such blanket assertions," Kotlikoff says. It's part of a larger "professional rot," like when economists didn't disclose when they were being paid for opinions and the "increasingly nasty ope-d war" between people like Paul Krugman and Glenn Hubbard. "Economic facts aren’t a matter of choice," he says. "The 500 economists owe our profession a sincere apology."

Thomas Friedman in The New York Times on the need to meet in the middle The most troubling part about this campaign's declarations of "real" debate is the fact that we need more debate at all. "That's all we've been having," Friedman writes. "We need deals" on issues like government spending, growth, and immigration. The solution: "Conservatives" need to take back the Republican Party from the "radicals." If the GOP followed Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma on debt, who challenged "no-tax lunacy," or if the GOP listened to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg on immigration as economics--well, then maybe a deal could actually be reached.

David Ignatius in The Washington Post on negotiations with Iran Negotiations with Iran to prevent a war have been on recess during Ramadan, but even when they start up again, Ignatius doesn't hear "any hint of a breakthrough that would ease the war fever," he says. There's still "a significant gap" between Iran and P5+1 countries, the U.S., Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany. An interesting proposal: Iran could agree to a "zero stockpile" of low-enriched fuel and cap enrichment at 5 percent. Any uranium would be converted immediately into fuel rods and exported. "This intriguing proposal lacks official Iranian support, but it would address Israel’s biggest concern and would surely interest U.S. officials."

Alexander Cooley in The New York Times on the problems bordering Afghanistan The U.S. and NATO may get too involved in regional rivalries, local strongman politics, and competition with Russia and China in countries near Afghanistan. As the U.S. tries to leave the area, those countries will likely "increase their demands for tacit payoffs for cooperation," Cooley writes. And military sales to countries like Uzbekistan may feed into local rivalries. "After 11 years of pressing the Afghan government to improve its governance and create democratic institutions," Cooley writes, "Washington has failed to effectively promote these same goals in neighboring countries."

Anne Applebaum in Slate on why Pussy Riot is Putin's greatest threat ever The most dangerous publicity Putin has received thus far is from Madonna, not because she's a serious political figure but because she's not. "Although it is often assumed otherwise, Putin's regime has long permitted political dissent—so long as it appeals only to a small elite," Applebaum writes. But when pop culture comes into play, the audience is not so small anymore. "Global pop culture mutates and changes week by week, just as technology does," she says. "Modern dictatorships will have to make some fast decisions if they want to keep up."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.