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February 23, 2005

What's Wrong with Resigning on Principle?

What's wrong with resigning on principle over this?

Jonathan Weisman reports:

Dropping Report's Iraq Chapter Was Unusual, Economists Say (washingtonpost.com): [T]he White House excised a full chapter on Iraq's economy from last week's Economic Report of the President, reasoning in part that the 'feel good' tone of the writing would ring hollow against the backdrop of continuing violence, according to White House officials. The decision to delete an entire chapter from the Council of Economic Advisers' annual report was highly unusual. Council members -- recruited from the top ranks of economic academia -- have long prided themselves on independence and intellectual integrity, and the Economic Report of the President is the council's primary showcase....

'This is extraordinary,' said William A. Niskanen, a CEA member in the Reagan White House and the chairman of the libertarian Cato Institute. 'The council has been unfortunately weakened.'... Administration officials and economists who read the chapter said that was only part of the story. Against a steady drumbeat of suicide bombings, assassinations, sabotage and mile-long gasoline lines, some White House staff members believed that such a positive take on the Iraqi reconstruction would undermine the White House's credibility.

There was also a basic turf battle. The National Security Council believed the Council of Economic Advisers strayed too far from its domain, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid the appearance of dissent within the White House. In fact, the Economic Report of the President almost always addresses international trade issues and has often dealt with the economic policies of other countries. The 2001 report, the Clinton White House's last, contained two sections on raising the economic performance of other countries and bolstering incomes in the developing world. The 2003 report, a product of the Bush administration, contained a section on economic 'Developments in the Rest of the World.' A section on 'Economic Freedoms' discussed at length economic policymaking from Chile to Austria, from India to Cote d'Ivoire....

Suspicions about this year's report emerged even before the volume was released last Thursday. The release was later than usual, and it did not occur on the morning of Feb. 14 as initially planned. The 188-page analytical section was 76 pages shorter than last year's and 85 pages shorter than the average since 1990, according to Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economic commentator. Council members said they were striving for brevity even before the Iraq chapter was removed. But the White House intervention heightened concern among some economists that the Bush administration does not value lengthy, reasoned analyses of its policies.

'They just don't seem to show that serious study is an important part of politics,' Bartlett said. 'It's a very casual, hands-off, almost lackadaisical approach to the policy process."

Posted by DeLong at February 23, 2005 11:09 AM