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Review Essay

Snake-Oil Economics

The Bad Math Behind Trump’s Policies

In This Review

Trumponomics: Inside the America First Plan to Revive Our Economy
Trumponomics: Inside the America First Plan to Revive Our Economy
By Stephen Moore and Arthur B. Laffer
All Points Books, 2018, 304 pp. Purchase

When economists write, they can decide among three possible voices to convey their message. The choice is crucial, because it affects how readers receive their work.

The first voice might be called the textbook authority. Here, economists act as ambassadors for their profession. They faithfully present the wide range of views professional economists hold, acknowledging the pros and cons of each. These authors do their best to hide their personal biases and admit that there is still plenty that economists do not know. According to this perspective, reasonable people can disagree; it is the author’s job to explain the basis for that disagreement and help readers make an informed judgment.

The second voice is that of the nuanced advocate. In this case, economists advance a point of view while recognizing the diversity of thought among reasonable people. They use state-of-the-art theory and evidence to try to persuade the undecided and shake the faith of those who disagree. They take a stand without pretending to be omniscient. They acknowledge that their intellectual opponents have some serious arguments and respond to them calmly and without vitriol. 

The third voice is that of the rah-rah partisan. Rah-rah partisans do not build their analysis on the foundation of professional consensus or serious studies from peer-reviewed journals. They deny that people who disagree with them may have some logical points and that there may be weaknesses in their own arguments. In their view, the world is simple, and the opposition is just wrong, wrong, wrong. Rah-rah partisans do not aim to persuade the undecided. They aim to rally the faithful.

Unfortunately, this last voice is the one the economists Stephen Moore and Arthur Laffer chose in writing their new book, Trumponomics. The book’s over-the-top enthusiasm for U.S. President Donald Trump’s sketchy economic agenda is not likely to convince anyone not already sporting a “Make America Great Again” hat. 

ECONOMIC TRIBALISM

Moore and Laffer served as economic advisers to Trump during his campaign and after

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