Friday, November 28, 2008


by Bill McBride on 11/28/2008 12:09:00 AM

Earlier today, I saw Greg "Bush economist" Mankiw was a little touchy about a Krugman blog comment. My reaction was that Mankiw has some explaining to do. A key embarrassment for the economics profession in general, and Bush economists Greg Mankiw and Eddie Lazear in particular, is how they missed the biggest economic story of our times.

Sure, quite a few people got it right. But those that saw it coming were frequently marginalized. This was a typical response from the right (this is from a post by Professor Arnold Kling) in August 2006:

Apparently, the echo chamber of left-wing macro pundits has pronounced a recession to be imminent. For example, Nouriel Roubini writes,
Given the recent flow of dismal economic indicators, I now believe that the odds of a U.S. recession by year end have increased from 50% to 70%.
For these pundits, the most dismal indicator is that we have a Republican Administration. They have been gloomy for six years now.
Sure Roubini was early (I thought so at the time), but show me someone who has been more right!

And this brings me to Krugman's column: Lest We Forget
... Why did so many observers dismiss the obvious signs of a housing bubble, even though the 1990s dot-com bubble was fresh in our memories?

Why did so many people insist that our financial system was “resilient,” as Alan Greenspan put it, when in 1998 the collapse of a single hedge fund, Long-Term Capital Management, temporarily paralyzed credit markets around the world?

Why did almost everyone believe in the omnipotence of the Federal Reserve when its counterpart, the Bank of Japan, spent a decade trying and failing to jump-start a stalled economy?

One answer to these questions is that nobody likes a party pooper. ...

There’s also another reason the economic policy establishment failed to see the current crisis coming. The crises of the 1990s and the early years of this decade should have been seen as dire omens, as intimations of still worse troubles to come. But everyone was too busy celebrating our success in getting through those crises to notice.
Krugman goes on to argue that the Obama Administration should not put off financial reform; "The time to start preventing the next crisis is now."

I agree.

But in addition to looking forward, I think certain economists need to do some serious soul searching. Instead of leaving it to us to guess why their analysis was so flawed, I believe the time has come for Mankiw, Kling and many other economists to write a post titled "Why I was wrong".