As Mitt Romney’s prospects of winning the White House have greatly improved in recent weeks—with debate watchers favoring his stance on job creation—his top economic advisers are coming under increased scrutiny.
Until now, Glenn Hubbard, John Taylor and other economists who are the chief advocates of Romney’s policies have pretty much operated below the political radar. They’ve penned editorials, issued policy papers, and, occasionally, surfaced on television.
But over the past week, their analyses have been attacked as lightweight and misleading. And Hubbard—quite possibly the next Treasury Secretary or chairman of the Federal Reserve —has been singled out for his lucrative coziness with Wall Street.
When we elect a president, the country gets an entire presidency—hundreds of high-level staffers who influence the policies and priorities of an administration. President Obama has taken considerable heat for early projections by his own economics team that the 2009 stimulus would keep the unemployment rate below 8 percent, when in fact it peaked at 10 percent. The federal rescue of major banks, the deficit spending, and “shovel-ready” jobs pushed by his team have all drawn scorn from Republicans for the sluggish sub-2 percent economic growth that has followed.
Much of the intellectual backbone for that criticism came from the economists in Romney’s stable—who now face equally harsh microscopic examinations. If you get beyond the politics, these criticisms are important because they suggest this elite group has misdiagnosed the country’s financial woes and approved a mathematically impossible tax plan and budget.
The Romney campaign noted that this election is about the candidate, not his coterie that’s been attracting so much attention recently.
“Mitt Romney has assembled a diverse group of highly respected policy thinkers,” said campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “He fields their opinions, evaluates them, and ultimately makes his own decisions on policy.”
If the former Massachusetts governor is elected, Hubbard is viewed by many as having the inside track to succeed Timothy Geithner as Treasury Secretary or Ben Bernanke as Fed chairman.
Hubbard, the dean of Columbia University’s Business School and former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers for President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2003, developed Romney’s plan to create 12 million new private sector jobs in four years and served as a campaign mouthpiece in the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal and on television. But detractors are quick to portray him as a high-priced hired gun for the financial community.
“He’s one of Gov. Romney’s most trusted friends and advisers and now that Gov. Romney is surging ahead, his opponents are attacking everyone associated with him,” Kevin Hassett, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and a Romney adviser who has worked with Hubbard, told The Fiscal Times Thursday. “That’s the normal circle of life in politics.”
As The New York Times noted in an extensive profile of Hubbard last weekend, the very smart and glib economist also brings a certain amount of baggage. He appeared briefly in “Inside Job,” http://www.businessinsider.com/glenn-hubbard-inside-job-2011-2 the Academy Award-winning 2010 documentary about the financial crisis. The highly critical film dealt in part with professors like Hubbard who endorsed many of the financial instruments that led to the 2008 financial meltdown and housing crisis.
Hubbard has been amply compensated for research and viewpoints that back up the positions of the corporate interests that are paying him, raising not just questions but in some instances, condemnation.
John P. Freeman, emeritus professor of business and professional ethics at the University of South Carolina School of Law, a long time critic of Hubbard’s scholarship as an academic for hire, says, “Dean Hubbard is a mercenary.”