Why You Shouldn't Trust Speaker Boehner's "150 Economists"

May 20, 2011 3:07 pm ET

Over the last three months, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has repeatedly touted a letter he sent to President Obama in February signed by 150 American economists opposed to the administration's economic policies. The list of economists seems to suggest that experts in the field agree with Boehner. But a closer inspection reveals that many have made baseless predictions in the past, some endorse fringe economic ideas, many are employed by entities that receive funding from the Koch brothers, and others have used extreme partisan rhetoric to attack President Obama and other Democrats. Worse, 43 of the 150 economists previously signed a letter stating President Bush's tax cuts were "fiscally responsible." Boehner was hoping for credibility, but many of these economists are just not credible, even by the standards of conservative economics.

Boehner Repeatedly Touts Economists' Letter

February: Meet the Press. On the February 13 edition of MSNBC's Meet the Press, Speaker Boehner stated: "This morning, I sent a letter to President Obama signed by 150 economists that say that cutting spending now will help create a better environment so that we can begin to create jobs in our country. This is a critically important step if we're going to end the uncertainty and start to give investors and small business people the confidence to invest in our economy." [Meet the Press, 2/13/11]

March: The Kudlow Report. On the March 14 edition of CNBC's The Kudlow Report, Speaker Boehner stated: "I gave the President a letter signed by 150 economists over a month ago that said that cutting federal spending will lead to a better environment for job creation in America. Businesses and, I used to be a small business man understand that you can't continue to borrow 40 cents for every dollar the federal government spends." [The Kudlow Report, 3/14/11]

April: Blog Post. From an April 5 blog post on the speaker's website: "This is all about jobs.  As Speaker Boehner said earlier today, 'Failing to make real cuts will send a signal to job creators that Washington is still not serious about getting government spending under control.'  Failing to make real cuts would only mean more uncertainty for small businesses and further erode confidence in our economy.  Earlier this year, a group of 150 economists signed a statement arguing for immediate action 'to begin to slow government spending, reduce uncertainty and support the creation of new private-sector jobs.'" [Speaker.gov, 4/5/11, emphasis original."

May: Press Release. From a May 16, 2011 press release from Speaker Boehner's office: "Earlier this year, Speaker Boehner sent a statement signed by 150 economists to President Obama making clear that 'to support real economic growth and support the creation of private-sector jobs, immediate action is needed to rein in federal spending.' As several economists have confirmed, the sea of red ink coming out of Washington only portends higher taxes in the future - making it all but impossible for small business owners to plan, grow and hire new workers." [Boehner press release, 5/16/11, emphasis original]

Just Plain Wrong

43 Economists From Boehner List Signed 2003 Letter Calling 2003 Bush Tax Cuts "Fiscally Responsible." The following economists signed both John Boehner's letter and a letter to George W. Bush calling the Bush tax cuts "fiscally responsible":

Stacie Beck

Allen M. Feathersome

June O'Neill

Bruce Bender

Dave Garthoff

Tomas J. Philipson

Michael Boskin

Earl L. Grinols

Barry W. Poulson

Donald R. Booth

Stephen Happel

Edward C. Prescott

Phillip Bryson

Kevin Hassett

Christine P. Ries

James L. Butkiewicz

Steven N. Kaplan

Raul H. Rubin

Lawrence R. Cima

Robert Krol

Mike Schuyler

J.R. Clark

Art Laffer

William Shughart II

John Cogan

Lawrence W. Lovik

James F. Smith

Roy Cordato

Richard D. Marcus

Robert Tamura

John P. Cochran

Michael L. Marlow

Richard Vedder

Ronnie H. Davis

Allan Meltzer

Gary Wolfram

A. Edward Day

James C. Miller III

Benjamin Zycher

Michael A. Ellis

John E. Murray

 

Frank Falero

Lee Ohanian

   

[Speaker Boehner letter, 2/13/11; The White House, 2/12/03]

Read more about the failure of the Bush tax cuts HERE.

John Cogan: "It's Wrong To Allow Surpluses." According to the New York Times: "John F. Cogan, a Hoover fellow, was a top official in the Office of Management and Budget in the Reagan and first Bush administrations and probably could have been the current president's budget director if he had wanted the job. He put the case this way: 'It is wrong to allow surpluses because these surpluses invariably lead to higher spending. Governments simply cannot hang onto money.'"[New York Times, 2/9/03]

Kevin Hassett: Author Of Book Predicting Dow Jones Industrial To Climb To 36,000. As reported by the Wall Street Journal:

Kevin Hassett, co-author of the 1999 book "Dow 36,000: The New Strategy for Profiting From the Coming Rise in the Stock Market," says criticism of his book isn't something he's lost a lot of sleep over. He is now an economics adviser to Republican presidential candidate John McCain. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed yesterday at 11230.73.

"I think that it's important for public discourse for people to be willing to take clear positions," he says. "You can be negative and be wrong year after year and somehow it doesn't create angry critics, but if you're optimistic and incorrect the response is much more vocal." [Wall Street Journal, 9/10/08]

Allan H. Meltzer: "Investment Banks Don't Need The [Federal Reserve] To Regulate Them." In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Meltzer wrote: "Investment banks don't need the Fed to regulate them. Some clear rules on capitalization would suffice." [Wall Street Journal, 7/16/08, via American Enterprise Institute]

Art Laffer: Despite Concerns From Economists, Laffer Predicted That The Economy Was In Good Shape And Bet That There Would Not Be A Crash. In a segment on CNBC, Laffer argued with economist Peter Schiff, telling him, "Peter, I'll bet with you on this one. I'll bet you a penny on this one that if you'll sign a letter saying if you're wrong, you'll sign a letter that you were wrong to me in this, but you are just way off base. There is nothing out there that tells us--we're going to have a nice slowdown but it's not going to be a crash." [CNBC, 8/28/06, transcript via Lexis]

Luke Froeb: "It All Comes Down To Whether You Trust Markets Or You Don't Trust Markets." According to an article in Investor's Business Daily: "On the campaign trail, Bush vowed a 'less intrusive' government. But it took months to name a regulatory team. And just when everyone was in place, the Sept. 11 attack came. Now scholars see changes. 'It all comes down to whether you trust markets or you don't trust markets,' said Luke Froeb, antitrust expert at Vanderbilt University and former Federal Trade Commission official under President Reagan. 'President Bush has indicated that he has a much better trust in markets than the Clinton administration did.'" [Investor's Business Daily, 1/2/02, via Lexis]

KOCHonomists

38 Economists Work For Or Are Affiliated With Organizations That Have Received Money From The Koch Brothers. According to the database Conservative Transparency, the following individuals work for entities that have received contributions from the Koch brothers:

Hoover Institution
Michael Boskin
John Taylor
James C. Miller III

American Enterprise Institute
Alex Brill
Kevin Hassett
Allan H. Meltzer
June O'Neill
Tomas J. Philipson
Tom Miller

Independent Institute
Edgar K. Browning
Adam Gifford Jr.
Richard Vedder
Barry W. Poulson
Paul H. Rubin
William Shughart II

Mercatus Center
Antony Davies
Thomas Carl Rustici
Anthony B. Sanders

Tax Foundation
Douglas Holtz-Eakin
John A. Tatom

Hudson Institute
Diana Furchtgott-Roth
[also with Manhattan Institute]

Cato Institute

Larry Ebenstein
William Poole
Dr. Judy Shelton
Richard W. Rhan

John Locke Foundation
Roy Cordato

Competitive Enterprise Institute
Clyde Wayne Crews, Jr.
Stan Liebowitz
Gary Wolfram

Property And Environmental Research Center
Terry L. Anderson
Roger Meiners

Institute for Research on Economics of Taxation
Mike Schuyler

Beacon Hill Institute via State Policy Network
David G. Tuerck

Foundation for Economic Education
Charles W. Baird
Ivan Pongracic, Jr.

Pacific Research Institute
Lawrence J. McQuillan
Benjamin Zycher
Phillip J. Romero

Extreme Political Rhetoric

Benjamin Zycher: Michelle Obama Is The Product Of "Affirmative-Action Coddling." In a post on National Review's blog The Corner, Zycher wrote: "Now, let me be blunt: Michelle Obama, the product of lifelong affirmative-action coddling, is an intellectual lightweight who fancies herself a serious thinker. Just read her Princeton senior thesis, an intermittently coherent stream-of-consciousness pile of leftist jargon, campus pseudo-seriousness, and racial-identity babble. Can there be any doubt that the Princeton administrators accepted it only because of her skin color?" [National Review, 8/17/09]

Thomas C. Rustici: "In November We Will Kick Your Asses Out And Save This Republic From Your Socialistic Tyranny." Speaking at a Tea Party rally, Rustici said: "I swear on my life, with God as my witness, we are going to hold them to account for this disaster. If you're a politician and disrespect the Constitution, individual liberty, and the American people; heed my words: this, I swear before God almighty right here right now, we're coming after you. In November we will kick your asses out and save this Republic from your socialist tyranny." [TomRustici.Angelfire.com, 4/10/10]

Yuri N. Maltsev: Calls For "Unity" And "Fairness" Look Like "Germany of 1932" And "Mugabe's Zimbabwe." On libertarian website LewRockwell.com, Maltsev wrote: "The thought scene in the US today resembles that of Russia in 1917, Cuba in 1959 or China in 1948. Incessant calls for 'unity' and 'fairness,' attacks on 'divisive,' 'toxic' and 'hateful' language are nothing new - they resemble Germany of 1932 and Venezuela of 1996, today's Putin's Russia and Mugabe's Zimbabwe. Listening to the NPR tirades against freedom of speech, famous George Washington's dictum comes to mind: 'It will be found unjust and unwise jealousy to deprive a man of his natural liberty upon the supposition he may abuse it.' We witness another kind of spirit in the city named after him - of praise and adoration of the new beloved leader." [LewRockwell.com, 11/17/08]

David G. Tuerck: Obama Embraces Marxism "In His Heart Of Hearts." In a blog post on his personal website, The Asylum, David G. Tuerck wrote:

Those words will come from the public Obama of last year's election, the cool, pragmatist Obama.  But the person uttering those words will be the person who has always identified with, and felt most comfortable around, the likes of Jeremiah Wright, William Ayres and Van Jones.  What the Van Jones appointment, in particular, has shown is that people with the power to shape our country's most fundamental values and institutions can never escape the pull of their personal ideology and can be expected to push toward the implementation of that ideology once given the chance.  Obama wants to socialize medical care and will do all he can to get what he wants as soon as he gets the power he needs to move us in that direction.  

When a reporter asked candidate Joe Biden if he thought Obama was a Marxist, Biden dismissed the reporter's question as ridiculous.  It appears now that what was ridiculous is that the reporter thought it necessary to ask the question in the first place.  As hard as it is to find anyone nowadays who openly embraces Marxism as a philosophy, Barack Obama managed to give a high-level appointment to someone who does.  What more evidence do we need to know what philosophy Obama embraces in his own heart of hearts? [The Asylum, 9/7/09]

Dave Garthoff: Obama Punishes Our Friends And Kisses Up To Our Enemies. In a letter to the editor printed in the West Side Leader, Gartoff wrote: "I almost feel sorry for my Left-Liberal friends who whole-heartedly support the now obviously failing Obama administration. It must be painful to them to watch as their program for 'change' staggers down the slippery slope toward collapse as initiative after initiative backfires. To name a few: [...] The punishment of our friends and the kissing up to our enemies in international affairs." [West Side Leader, 10/15/09]

Michael Boskin: Obama Is "Returning To Jimmy Carter's Higher Taxes And Mr. Clinton's Draconian Defense Drawdown." In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Roskin wrote: "The illusion that Barack Obama will lead from the economic center has quickly come to an end. Instead of combining the best policies of past Democratic presidents -- John Kennedy on taxes, Bill Clinton on welfare reform and a balanced budget, for instance -- President Obama is returning to Jimmy Carter's higher taxes and Mr. Clinton's draconian defense drawdown." [Wall Street Journal, 3/6/09]

Roy Cordato: Obama Is The "Junk Scientist In Chief." In a post at the John Locke Foundation blog The Locker Room, Cordato wrote: "Over the past 30 years ground level ozone has declined quite dramatically while at the same time children with asthma (per 100,000) have increased. And while correlation does not prove causation, lack of correlation does prove lack of causation. What's even nuttier is that Obama, proving himself to be the 'junk scientist in chief,' actually suggested that one of the 'pollutants' causing asthma is CO2 (that's right, we are apparently causing asthma among our neighbors' kids by exhaling)." [John Locke Foundation, 4/20/11]

Right-Wing Ideologues

Timothy P. Roth: "Virtually Everything The Federal Government Does Is Unconstitutional." In an interview with El Paso Inc., Timothy P. Roth stated: "Virtually everything the federal government does, including the housing initiative that got us into this mess, is unconstitutional." [El Paso Inc., 1/4/09]

Lanny Ebenstein: Wants To Eliminate Public Employee Unions. According to the Santa Barbara Independent: "Lanny Ebenstein is hoping to qualify a ballot initiative for the 2012 statewide elections that would go much further than Walker dared to tread. Walker took pains to maintain at least a fig leaf of an illusion that he wasn't busting public employee unions outright. Under his proposal, unions might not be able to do much, but they could still exist. Ebenstein is shopping around an idea that would effectively decertify all public employee unions in the state. They couldn't bargain anything." [Santa Barbara Independent, 2/24/11, italics original]

William F. Shughart II: Making Abortions More Costly Is A Way To Reduce Them Because "Women Can Also Choose Whether Or Not To Risk Becoming Pregnant." In an article in the Cato Journal, William Shughart II wrote:

But few abortions are in fact performed to save the life of the mother; even fewer are performed to terminate pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. In modern society, the procedure of abortion is simply used to terminate unwanted pregnancies for many women. Bitter opposition to any proposal that would restrict in any way a woman's ''right to choose'' suggests that this is so. And if many abortion- minded women are in fact searching for an inexpensive way of disposing of an unwanted child-using abortion as a kind of foolproof birth control device-laws that make abortions less [sic] costly should reduce the number of abortions and, perhaps, the number of unwanted pregnancies as well. (Although the abortion debate focuses exclusively on a woman's decision to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, women can also choose whether or not to risk becoming pregnant in the first place.) [...]

Our analysis suggests that abortion rates have fallen because fewer women are choosing to become pregnant and, among those who do, fewer are choosing to have abortions. Hence, if, in President Clinton's words, one wants abortions to be ''safe, legal, and rare,'' laws making them more costly are a way of promoting that goal. [Cato Journal, Vol. 18, No. 1, Spring/Summer 1998]

Judy Shelton: "Now Is The Time To Challenge The Exclusive Monopoly Of Federal Reserve Notes As Currency." Shelton wrote in the Wall Street Journal: "Now is the time to challenge the exclusive monopoly of Federal Reserve notes as currency. Buyers and sellers, by mutual consent, should have access to an alternate means for settling accounts; they should be able to do business using a monetary unit of account defined in terms of gold. The existence of parallel currencies operating side-by-side on an equal legal footing would make it clear whether people had more confidence in fiat money or money redeemable in gold. If the gold-based system is preferred, it means that people fully understand that the purpose of money is to facilitate commerce, not to camouflage fiscal mismanagement." [Wall Street Journal, 2/11/09]

Charles W. Baird: Unionizing Will Send Public University Into "Academic Mediocrity Or Worse." In an article posted on the Foundation for Economic Education blog The Freeman, Baird wrote: "The faculty at Montana State University in Bozeman will soon vote on whether to unionize. If a majority vote yes, the school will gradually descend into academic mediocrity or worse." [Foundation for Economic Education, 6/1/08]

James C. Miller III: Homelessness Not The Problem Of The Federal Government. According to the New York Times:

The director of the Office of Management and Budget said today that the homeless of America were a problem for state and local governments, not for the Federal government.

In testimony before the House Budget Committee, James C. Miller 3d, the budget director, added that ''there are a number of grants we have'' to help local governments with programs for the homeless. But when he named one, the Community Services Block Grant, he was told by a Democratic member of the committee that the Reagan Administration had proposed eliminating this grant in its budget for the fiscal year 1987, which was prepared under Mr. Miller's supervision.

Before now, statements by President Reagan and his aides, have fueled criticism of the Administration attitude toward the homeless. The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated in May 1984 that 250,000 to 350,000 people were homeless in America, a figure critics said was low. [New York Times, 2/19/86, via Lexis]

Lawrence J. McQuillan: Minimum Wage Laws Are A Tool Of Apartheid. In a piece on National Review Online, Lawrence J. McQuillan wrote: "In their simplistic morality play, those who support the wage hike are compassionate advocates for the poor. Those who oppose it are heartless capitalists. Did compassion motivate white Afrikaners in apartheid South Africa to endorse minimum-wage hikes? Of course not. They understood it killed jobs for low-income blacks, preventing them from acquiring work experience and skills needed for self-sufficiency." [National Review Online, 5/27/03]

Paul H. Rubin: Nothing Wrong With Drug Companies Giving Gifts To Doctors (But "I Consult For The Drug Industry"). In Forbes, Rubin wrote:

What's the matter with Americans? They think there is something incestuous about the connection between drug companies and doctors.

Politicians tell them that the drugmakers wine and dine physicians while pushing the latest antibiotic or statin. Utterly corrupted, doctors impose those medications on patients, whether or not the drugs are better than cheaper alternatives.

A pending U.S. Senate bill would require drug companies to report gifts to doctors of more than $25; the House is investigating marketing practices. New York State's legislature plans to hold hearings this year on the relationship between doctors and drug companies. One congressional critic has even compared the drug industry with the tobacco industry, and Senator John McCain has called drugmakers the "bad guys."

What drugs are these legislators taking? Drug company reps offer overworked doctors useful, lifesaving information in an efficient manner. The drug companies are of course motivated by profit, but economists have known since Adam Smith that the profit motive is the best way to induce someone to do something useful. (Disclosure: I consult for the drug industry from time to time, most recently for Pfizer. ...) [Forbes, 2/25/08]

Tom Lehman, Author Of Op-Ed "Extolling Payday Loans," Received Money From Payday Loan Industry: According to Bloomberg Businessweek: "The latest example BusinessWeek has unearthed: The Hill, a Washington newspaper read closely in Congress, published an opinion piece last June extolling "payday loans." Readers weren't told that the author, Tom Lehman, a professor at Indiana Wesleyan University, had taken money from the industry that pushes these controversial high-interest loans." [Businessweek, 1/30/06]

King Banaian Is A Republican Member Of Minnesota Legislature Who Believes Stem Cell Research Is "Human Cloning." As the Washington Independent reported:

A ban on somatic cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), a technique used in some forms of stem cell research, passed the House and Senate floors on Tuesday evening in a pair of higher education budget bills. The bills would prohibit state or federal funding from going toward SCNT stem cell research. The two bills are headed to conference committee, where the two bodies will hash out the parts of the bills that differ. Gov. Mark Dayton indicated in a letter to legislators that he would veto a bill that contained the stem cell bans, citing them as policy issues that don't belong in budget bills.

In the House, Rep, King Banaian (R-St. Cloud) moved to amend the higher education bill with language banning SCNT, calling it "human cloning." "This is simply concerned with the funding of research into this. It is not an outright ban," he said on the floor. "It does not ban a state institution doing it if it was able to find private funding to do so." [Washington Independent, 3/30/11]

Non-Economists

Christopher R. Inama: Not An Economist. According to Inama's profile on the Golden Gate University website, his education is limited to the following:

BA, University of California, Santa Barbara
MA (economics--austrian school concentration), California State University, Hayward
JD, University of California, Hastings College of the Law
LLM, Golden Gate University [GGU.edu, accessed 5/19/11]

Thomas P. Miller: Lawyer, Not An Economist. Miller's profile at the American Enterprise Institute indicates his education is limited to a J.D from Duke University Law School and a B.A. in political science from New York University. [American Enterprise Institute, accessed 5/18/11]

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