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Monday, March 03, 2003

Gift-Wrapped For TAPPED

We have been following the TAPPED discussion on "what is an economist", and one things seems clear - if you laid one thousand TAPPED writers end to end, they wouldn't reach a sensible conclusion.

TAPPED reprises and restates their argument, and we are puzzled by their big finish:

"So: Perhaps the 250 people who signed the White House letter are right, and the 450 who signed the opposing letter are wrong. But then why play the game at all? If Lawrence Kudlow is such a damn good economic forecaster, why not put that on the letter? Our point is, if you're going to play the game, as the White House clearly wanted to do -- "Hey, we have economists on our team, too!" -- you have to at least be consistent. "

Now, in their original post, TAPPED said this:

Now, one needn't be a credentialed economist to have an opinion on the Bush budget. But traditionally, you don't get to call yourself an economist without that sheepskin. If the White House wants to play a credentialing game to even out the P.R. battle...

Here we have two references to some credentialing "game" being played by the White House, so evidently TAPPED considers it to be a point worth repeating. But just what is their point? Did the White House question the credentials of some of the 450 economists who signed the letter opposing the Bush tax cut? Did the Administration attempt to disqualify some of the 450 signatories to the opposing statement? Does the Economic Policy Institute, sponsor of this letter, define an economist? Some of their signatories are not associated with academic positions - did the White House question their credentials? Has TAPPED attempted to verify them?

My strong impression is that the EPI did not require their signatories to have a PhD in Economics. Donald Vial appears as a signatory from California. Mr. Vial has an admirable resume, but no PhD. Since one example makes the point, I have given up, but let's note that "California" appears near the top of the list, and my search was far from exhaustive. (I am still scratching my head over "Marshall Pomer of California, BTW)

And I am sure you want to know a bit about the Economic Policy Institute, whose founders include Robert Kuttner of TAP.

TAPPED points out that, although they have provided a definition of "economist", Mr. Luskin has not. Neither, apparently, has the White House, nor, as noted, the EPI. However, the WaPo described the letter supporting the Bush plan as "a letter from more than 200 academic, think-tank and corporate economists", which seems to be accurate.

In this complicated world, perhaps being an economist is like pornography - I can't define it, but I know it when I see it.

So, points for TAPPED to ponder - by their definition, neither John Maynard Keynes, Alan Greenspan, nor Robert Rubin would have been qualified to sign either letter - they are, respectively (and respectfully) a mathematician, an "all but thesis" grad, and a smart guy.

Next point - the TAPPED criteria were not articulated or employed by either the EPI or the White House.

More for TAPPED: A list of speakers at the 2002 National Association of Business Economists meeting. Roughly half of the folks have a PhD in economics. I see some with a PhD, but they are coy about the underlying subject. And I see some with different credentials. Not economists? I am sure TAPPED would deplore sexism, so let's check this resume:

Sheila Smith
Senior Economist, Office of the Actuary
Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services

Sheila Smith is a Senior Economist with the Office of the Actuary at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). She holds primary responsibility for model development for CMS' econometric model of the health sector (the NHE Projections Model) , and plays a key role in the forecasting process associated with CMS annual ten-year projections of national health expenditures (NHE)....

Ms. Smith holds a B.A. in economics from Wellesley College, and an M.A. in economics from the University of Virginia.

And, last point (I promise!): in an earlier post I linked to the the American Economic Association, and checked their job openings, on a page subtitled "Job Openings for Economists". Well, they don't define "economist" either, but I found numerous examples of openings for non-PhD economists.

Give it up, TAPPED.

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