Streetwise Professor

November 26, 2007

Harry Reid Hits Bottom, Breaks Out New Drill

Filed under: Economics,Politics — The Professor @ 10:29 am

I yield to no man (or woman) in my utter contempt and disdain for Sen. Harry Reid. To find historical precedent for his disgraceful conduct regarding Iraq as Senate Majority Leader you would have to go back to the extremes of the Peace Democrat (not to say Copperhead) faction during the Civil War.

If you had asked me Thursday (Turkey Day, appropriately) whether it was possible for me to hold a lower opinion of Reid, I would have answered with a resounding “NO!” On Friday, I would have had to admit that my Thursday answer was wrong, for after reading a Wall Street Journal editorial describing why Reid is pulling petty stunts to prevent recess appointments, my already subterranean opinion of Reid tested record depths:

Incredibly, the negotiations broke down over two nominees for the President’s Council of Economic Advisers. Mr. Reid put his foot down over Dennis W. Carlton, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, and Donald B. Marron, formerly of the Congressional Budget Office. They were named to these positions over the summer, and ought to be shoo-ins.

I have known Dennis Carlton for over 25 years. He was on my thesis committee at Chicago, and I worked for him at Lexecon. Dennis is a brilliant economist, and a first rate gentleman. He is a formidable intellect, and incredibly open minded. He bases his conclusions on rigorous logic and theory, and on the empirical evidence. He goes where economic logic and empirical evidence lead him. He is no slave to ideology. He is genuinely curious about a wide variety of economic issues, and is willing to entertain and engage diverse perspectives on these issues. He is has a knack for explaining complicated concepts to lay audiences. I know attorneys who have been opposite him during cases who have nothing but the deepest respect for his intelligence and integrity.

Moreover, unlike many people of his stature, accomplishment, and caliber, Dennis is not arrogant or condescending. He is friendly, helpful, affable, respectful. In debate he is relentless, but never mean or belittling. The economics profession could use a lot more Dennis Carltons.

In short, Dennis Carlton is exactly the kind of person you would want advising the President and engaging with policy makers throughout the government. But of course Harry Reid can’t have that, can he? So he pulls petty stunts to prevent Dennis (and some other folks) from serving in the position to which he has been appointed.

I could hazard a guess as to why Reid opposes Dennis. I presume it has something to do with Dennis’s UC connection, and the belief that Chicago is an iniquitous den of free market ideologues. This was never true before–even in the Friedman-Stigler days–and certainly isn’t true now. And even if it were, people should be judged as individuals–and although Dennis is certainly a believer in markets, he is not a Panglossian knee jerk free market sock puppet. He knows that markets can fail–but he also knows that government can fail too.

Reid’s behavior is exactly the kind of thing that deters good, public spirited people from serving in government. It feeds cynicism and deepens partisan rancor. It is a petty, pointless, and poisonous exercise of power by a very small man.

Intellectually, there is a yawning gap between Harry Reid and Dennis Carlton. As men, the divide is even more vast.

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