Economic improv

October 15, 2016 03:00 PM

What are you reading now?

“Hall of Mirrors” by Barry Eichengreen and “Kissinger” by Niall Ferguson.

Your essential book on economics?

Economics is more about articles than books, but for the definitive textbook, I highly recommend “Microeconomic” by Goolsbee, Levitt and Syverson (2nd edition).

What about those Austrian economists?

No thanks.

Which economist has had the greatest impact on your thinking?

Paul Volcker.

As Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, you were the youngest member of the Cabinet. How did President Obama come to appoint you to that role?

In high school I was named middle linebacker on the freshman football team and captain of the defense, despite being scrawny. I wanted it to be because I was the toughest S.O.B. alive. But really it was because the coach said the captain calls out the plays so he needed to know who was the loudest. Everybody pointed at me.

What would you consider to be the biggest success of the Obama administration?

We had no repeat of the Great Depression despite having a bigger hit to the economy than the one in 1929.

Its biggest failure?

We can argue about who is at fault but to me it is that we never got out of the partisan battle lines that have been going for the last 20 years. 

What aspect of Bernie Sanders’ platform resonated the most with you?

That we should view community college as the new high school.

What is your take on Donald Trump?


What question would you like to see asked of Trump during the debate?

I would like to see this answered—not just asked.: Tell the American people what policies you want to enact as president.

How did it come to be that this election is between the two most disliked presidential candidates in modern history?

Turns out that if you trash your opponent, they get less popular. 

But Presidential candidates have always trashed each other and this time around the general electorate clearly dislikes both candidates. What is different this time?

I disagree. There hasn’t been anything as personal as this for years.

What is your general election outcome prediction?

Hillary Clinton. I hope by a lot. I know our system has problems but even diehard Republicans will admit, in their heart of hearts, they recognize Donald Trump does not really have solutions and there are some to be had.

What about the House and Senate?

Senate D. House R, but with a smaller margin.

How would the market respond to a Trump victory?

Pretty badly. People would suddenly have to figure out what the man actually intends to do and some things he has said are downright insane. 

What’s wrong with NAFTA?

NAFTA seems to have become the scapegoat/garbage bag for anything some people object to in the world: Globalization, immigration, technology change, you name it. The actual evidence on NAFTA shows it had modest effects overall and they have been net positive on consumers and the U.S. economy. Manufacturing with access to NAFTA markets has done better than industries that didn’t have NAFTA. Confusing trend declines in manufacturing employment over the last 50 years with the impact of a trade deal enacted 20 years ago doesn’t help anyone.

What should the federal minimum wage be?

Tied to inflation and integrated with the Earned Income Tax Credit.

What should the highest federal personal income tax bracket be?

Can’t answer that until you decide what the government has to pay for and what other tax rates are.

What two political reforms would you enact if you could?

Have every citizen go out for a meal and be friends with at least one person who has very different politics from themselves. End secret holds by senators on presidential appointments.

Earlier in your career, you were very much opposed to Internet taxation. Has your position evolved?

Taxes on Internet access are a bad idea. Regarding sales taxes, though, my early research showed that not paying sales tax drives a large number of consumers to change their online buying behavior and in the years since that, a lot more research has verified that. The current system doesn’t make sense.

What’s wrong with the idea of a gold standard?

What’s right about it? It’s a terrible idea. The world tried it and it failed. That’s why it doesn’t exist anymore. Three of the biggest problems are:

1. When you go into crisis, it forces you to tighten monetary policy when you should be loosening it. Many believe this was a key factor in creating the Great Depression.

2. It means that the money supply gets determined by the technological productivity in the gold mining industry—instead of the Fed deciding to expand the monetary base because conditions warrant it, now it happens when a guy invents a new fracking technology for gold.

3. Have you seen who has the gold deposits and who has the gold reserves? Not a fun group of countries. You open the door to a form of economic blackmail/terrorism that is not smart. If a country like Russia decided to horde gold for years and then flood the market some specific day, they could wreak a terrible havoc on the U.S. economy. Why give them the chance?

Favorite musical artists, living and dead?

Chuck Berry, Brad Paisley, Muddy Waters.

What website do you check the most each day?

Memorandum or Google news.

You are a regular contributor on FOX News. In your opinion, is the channel as a whole fair and balanced?

Compared to what?

How about O’Reilly?

The three folks I know are Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Megyn Kelly. I know Sean the best. I would say they have very different approaches from one another but each is tough but fair…most of the time.

Back in college, you were a member of an improv comedy troupe. What is your favorite joke about economists?

The people in that improv group were truly hilarious people. One later became the head writer for The Daily Show. One is showrunner for Samantha Bee. Watching them, I could see how hard it is to really be funny. So I opted for an area where people don’t even try. There’s much less pressure. 

You are known to be a practical joker, once having given Rahm Emanuel a dead fish when he left the White House. What was your best practical joke?

That was #1. 

It was a dead carp that had been his obsession since the invasive species has been threatening to come into the great lakes via Chicago. I made it out to be like nice going away present from the whole policy team to “thank” him for our time working together. He let down his guard while opening it and then erupted “This is a *&^$% dead fish!” One time, I tried messing with the President when briefing him for the jobs numbers. After months of recession, the numbers were finally good. 

I acted somber and asked if he wanted the good news or the bad news first. After a couple minutes of moping around, 
I started laughing and told him there actually wasn’t any bad news that month and I was just playing. I never did that again.

In 1991, you and your partner defeated Ted Cruz to win the National Debate Team of the Year. Did Cruz have political ambitions back then? What was your take on his run for the GOP nomination?

Definitely. Even then, everyone thought he would run for President. I used to be able to get under his skin pretty well. But I have told my Democrat friend for years that they underestimate Ted at their peril. I thought he would find a way to get the nomination but he didn’t. His problem was always convincing people to like him. Watching him getting booed by a big crowd of people at the RNC convention took me back to our old college debates.

The majority of our readers are males over the age of 40. In 2010, named you among the 15 “Sexiest Men of the Year.” What’s your secret?

Exactly! And who even knew had a braille edition?

About the Author

Jeff Joseph is the CEO of The Alpha Pages, the parent company of Modern Trader magazine.
E-mail him at or find him on Twitter @alphapagesceo and @venturepopulist.