A while ago, I wondered why newspapers bother to have editorial opinions at all. Today's New York Times reminds us why this question is still relevant, with "The Next Alan Greenspan." The relevant paragraphs:
The four names circulating around Washington are Martin Feldstein, a Bush adviser on Social Security and an economics professor at Harvard; Glenn Hubbard, Mr. Bush's former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and now dean of Columbia University Business School; Lawrence Lindsey, the former director of the White House National Economic Council; and Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.An exceptional piece of creative writing, on many levels.
Two of them - Mr. Bernanke and Mr. Feldstein - come with some independent credentials. Mr. Bernanke is deeply conservative, economists say, but respected for independent thinking and not inclined to wear that conservatism on his sleeve. Mr. Feldstein has pushed for Social Security privatization, but in the past criticized deficits run up by Ronald Reagan, for whom he was working at the time, to the everlasting ire of many Republicans. That hardly makes him a shoo-in for the job, but those are exactly the independent traits that Mr. Bush should be looking for if he is indeed serious about appointing a Fed chairman who isn't politically beholden to the White House.
Hopes die hard, so we strongly encourage Mr. Bush to put his money where his mouth is this time around. This job is too important for another taste of cronyism.
First, I'll take exception to the phrasing of "deeply conservative ... but respected for independent thinking." There is nothing about the words "deeply conservative" that merits the word "but" to connect them to the words "respected for independent thinking."
Second, I'll take exception to the analogous phrasing with regard to Feldstein and Social Security reform. Feldstein has been advocating Social Security reform for over 30 years. (Read this WSJ op-ed from November 1997 to convince yourself that this pre-dates any association of President Bush with the issue.) The Times has confused cause and effect: it would be more accurate to say that the White House is interested in Social Security reform because Feldstein has been advocating for it.
Third, I'll take exception to the insinuation that nominating Glenn Hubbard and Larry Lindsey would be evidence of cronyism. The definition of "cronyism" is:
Favoritism shown to old friends without regard for their qualifications, as in political appointments to office.Note the phrase "without regard for their qualifications." It's not optional in the definition. So are we to infer that Hubbard and Lindsey have no qualifications, but for the fact that they served as economic principals in the Bush administration? This is easily put to the test. Here is Lindsey's bio. It reports that he was a Governor of the Federal Reserve System for 6 years, after seriving as a Special Assistant to the President in the first Bush White House and a senior staff economist at the CEA. All of this occurred before he served as a principal in the current administration. He seems qualified to me. That doesn't mean I endorse him, or that I think he's the best one for the job. It just means that the Times editorial page is way off base with its insinuation.
Now let's look at Glenn Hubbard's bio and cv. We observe that prior to being CEA chairman in the current administration, he was the author of a leading textbook on financial markets and a deputy assistant secretary at the Treasury. His current position as Dean of Columbia's Business School was foreshadowed by his service as a senior vice dean from 1994-1997. His scholarship is also exceptional, with his 1988 Brookings Paper spawning and entire literature about financial constraints and investment. (I am also a huge fan of his 1999 Journal of Financial Economics article on managerial ownership and firm performance and his 1995 Journal of Political Economy article on precautionary saving and social insurance.) Translation for those at the Times: he's qualified, even if he's not your (or my) first choice.
Perhaps someone should tell the editorial page editors at the Times about Google and what a free and fantastic tool it can be for preventing them from embarrassing themselves with drivel like this. Failing that, perhaps we could ask that they place such exceptional opinion pieces like this behind the Times Select veil of secrecy.