Why Doesn’t America Have Liberal Hack Economists? (Obamacare Edition)

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

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