It should come as no surprise that many economics professors are called upon to help with the development of public policy.
After all, despite its elegance and rigor, economics is a practical discipline, and economic models offer a great deal of insight into almost any policy.
The process typically involves using a mathematical model to better understand the effects of a proposed policy proposal. One example of such a model is a micro-simulation.
These are often used to explain the effects of a tax change on different groups such as households of different ages, sizes and incomes. A fairly simple example can be found on my center’s website (cberdata.org).
Over the years, I have done a fair bit of this myself, including work for three Democratic and four Republican governors. In no instance was I asked to help hide an effect of the law or to deceive voters. That brings us to the sad case of professor Jonathan Gruber.
Gruber is a well-regarded health economist who created a micro-simulation model that has been used to craft health care policy (also known as Obamacare).
But unlike most micro-simulation models that do something novel to explain policy, Gruber’s model is highly sought after because it replicates the version used by the U.S. Congressional Budget Office. Thus it can be used to outwit that organization’s candid assessment of the effects of a policy proposal.
We know this because professor Gruber has been explaining the value of his model to do just that. Over the past years at several events he described how the law was written in a “tortured way” to deceive budget office estimates because of the “stupidity of the American voter.”
It is not clear from his comments whether he thinks this is a good approach or is merely lamenting the experience. That clarification is his alone to make.
Once the messiah of
Obamacare, Gruber has been extensively denied by disciples of policy obfuscation. A man who frequented the White House and who was cited at length by Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and others, now finds himself carefully unremembered by all of the above.
That is to be expected because his truthiness is gravely damaging to the legacy of Obamacare. Without Obamacare, there is nothing to show for the past six years but public debt.
Disdain of the voting public is nothing new, and there is no better example than the passage of the Obamacare legislation. Recall it was rushed to a vote before a newly elected Massachusetts senator, who opposed the law, could be seated. It isn’t what Gruber said, but what Congress did, that has provoked such fury.
In the end, contempt for the will of voters is an unhelpful sentiment. If the public does not understand your ideas, the blame is not theirs.
Moreover frustrations with Obamacare are not due to stupidity, but rather because voters judged its architects to be untrustworthy. Gruber has done us all a great service by confirming the good judgment of voters.
Michael J. Hicks is the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research and the George and Francis Ball distinguished professor of economics in the Miller College of Business at Ball State University. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.