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Giving Credence to the Wrong People

Paul Krugman: Just because someone was appointed to a policy position doesn’t mean they’re an expert.

Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, is feeling dyspeptic — not for the first time — over a Washington Post article published earlier this month suggesting that slow growth is the new normal in the United States. In a recent online post, Mr. Baker wondered why we should listen to people who have been wrong about everything so far. But it’s actually worse than he said.

In the Washington Post article, the case for slow growth forever is mainly made by quoting Kevin Warsh, a former governor at the Federal Reserve.

And Mr. Warsh is indeed someone who has been wrong about everything; a bubble denier who spoke of strong capital markets before the crash, a hawk who has been warning about the risk of inflation for three years, an invoker of invisible bond vigilantes who somehow managed to describe the supposed threat from these vigilantes as somehow both a certainty and unknowable.

If there is a special distinction to those of Mr. Warsh’s speeches and articles I’ve read, it’s this: he has had a habit of saying and writing things that are supposed to be profound, but say nothing at all.

But wait: who is Kevin Warsh, anyway? Well, he’s a lawyer turned investment banker turned George W. Bush appointee to the Fed turned Hoover Institution fellow — not an economist at all.

Now, I hate credentialism: there are plenty of fools with Ph.D.s, some fools with fancy prizes and a fair number of first-rate economic thinkers without formal qualifications.

Still, if someone is going to make pronouncements about how the whole nature of the business cycle has changed, you’d like some sign that somewhere in his life he has thought hard about, well, anything.

So why pay any attention at all to this guy on these matters?

I guess it’s a different kind of credentialism — the notion that because somebody was once appointed to a policy position, he must be an expert. But that is, of course, ridiculous — and people at The Washington Post, who get to see former officials all the time, surely must know better.

From the Department of Things That Are Just Too Perfect

Jonathan Chait, a commentator at New York magazine, recently found James K. Glassman, co-author of “Dow 36,000” — a 1999 book that argued, based on some creative double-counting and other innovations, that 36,000 was the actual value of the Dow at the time of publication — claiming that the recent Dow record vindicates his ideas. But that’s not what’s so perfect.

No, what caught my eye was where Mr. Glassman went on the strength of his bold prediction. And the answer is, he’s the founding executive director of the George W. Bush Institute. All is well with the world.