Friday, June 06, 2008

Yes, economists can teach at law schools, but not constitutional law

Doug Holtz-Eakin appears to be branching out a bit from his earlier public economics insights as a McCain adviser, such as in his statements that replacing depreciation with expensing has zero revenue cost and that you can pay for $5.7 trillion in tax cuts over ten years by cutting targeted tax benefits that amount to $30 billion per year.

As the New York Times reports, he is now branching out into constitutional law, at least in the sense of reporting on McCain's apparent constitutional view that the president has unfettered discretion to wiretap Americans, at least in their international communications, no matter what any statutes say or don't say. Holtz-Eakin suggests (though in fairness one could say that he is simply reporting what McCain ostensibly thinks) that only "the ACLU and trial lawyers" disagree with this.

I have supported several economists for appointment to the NYU law faculty, but not to teach constitutional law. This does not appear to be grounds for rethinking that limitation - though, then again, the views Doug reports on constitutional law are every bit as credible as what he has been saying about tax and budget policy lately.


Andrew said...

It's possible that Holtz-Eakin just reviewed and signed his name to a letter written by an advisor with some actual competence in the field. If so, that's somewhat more annoying and misleading than substantively worrisome. I would agree that if he's become the lead constitutional law adviser to McCain, something is rotten in Denmark.

McCain has a justice advisory team (admittedly, many of its members are more politicians than scholars, but there are also plenty of first-class scholars like Charles Fried, Thomas Merrill, etc). It is surprising and perhaps a bit telling that none of them were the ones to write, and sign, this letter.

I would be very concerned if either Holtz-Eakin or McCain think they are competent to make sweeping personal conclusions on constitutional issues of this magnitude without input from experts in the area. I don't think, however, that that is the case.

Daniel Shaviro said...

Interesting point, Andrew, that's what significant is not Holtz-Eakin's role but the fact that it wasn't someone else.

Is he a fall guy here? I have been giving him a rough time because I expect more from him. (I've met him and like/respect him, which is why I've found his performance so distressing).

All the more reason for him to consider what I think he ought to do, which is get out or at least pull back from saying things that are embarrassing, if they are using him as a fall guy.