A big story among the dismal science set has been the Romney campaign's white paper on economic policy, which represents a concerted effort by three economists — Glenn Hubbard, Greg Mankiw and John Taylor — to destroy their own reputations. (Yes, there was a fourth author, Kevin Hassett. But the co-author of "Dow 36,000" doesn't exactly have a reputation to destroy.)
And when I talk about destroying reputations, I don't just mean that these three say things I disagree with. I mean flat-out, undeniable, professional malpractice.
It's one thing for them to make shaky or even demonstrably wrong arguments. It's something else when they cite the work of other economists, claiming that it supports their position, when it does no such thing. And don't take my word for it — listen to the protests of the cited economists.
By the way, this isn't obscure stuff. To take one example from their paper: the work of Atif Mian and Amir Sufi on household debt and the slump has been playing a big role in making the case for a demand-driven depression, which is exactly the kind of situation in which stimulus makes sense — so you have to be completely out of it and/or unscrupulous to cite some of their work and claim that it refutes the case for stimulus. Or to take another example, anyone following the debate knows that a paper written by Scott Baker, Nicholas Bloom and Stephen Davis claiming to show that uncertainty is holding back recovery clearly identifies the relevant uncertainty as arising from things like the Republican Party's brinksmanship over the debt ceiling — not things like Obamacare.
Can Mr. Hubbard, Mr. Mankiw and Mr. Taylor really be that out of it? I don't think so. They just believe that they can pull one over on the rubes and pay no professional price. Let's hope they're wrong.
Simon Wren-Lewis, an economist at Oxford, wonders what could have possessed Mr. Mankiw and Mr. Taylor to sell their souls this way: "This is sad, because it tells us as much about economics as an academic discipline as it does about the individuals concerned," he wrote in a recent blog post.
I won't pretend to have a full answer. But surely part of it is simply that they have gotten caught up in the vortex of the broader Romney campaign — a campaign that has made fraudulence part of its standard operating procedure.
Remember, Mitt Romney spent months castigating President Obama because he "apologizes for America" — something Mr. Obama has never, in fact, actually done. Then he spent weeks declaring that Mr. Obama has denigrated small business by claiming that businessmen didn't actually build their own firms — all based on a remark that was clearly about infrastructure.
Meanwhile, Mr. Romney's tax plan is now a demonstrated fraud — big tax cuts for the rich that he claims would be offset by closing loopholes, when the Tax Policy Center has demonstrated that the arithmetic can't possibly work. He turns out to have been dishonest about when he really left Bain Capital. And on and on.
So this is a campaign that's all about faking it — fake claims about Mr. Obama, fake claims about policy, fake claims about Mr. Romney's personal history.
Is it really surprising, then, that the economists who have decided to lend their names to the campaign have been caught up in this culture of fraud? Maybe some of them were initially reluctant, or thought they could support the campaign with selective renderings of the truth. But the pressure was on to be team players, to give the campaign material it could use — and so, one day, they all ended up putting their names to a report that is just plain dishonest, in ways that can be and have been easily documented.
This would be a terrible thing even if it were in a defensible cause. It's even worse when the goal is to elect a man who seems to have no core, no purpose save personal ambition.