Romney advisor Mankiw attempts to distance himself from Romney—argues that advisors are responsible only for their advice

“For two years, I worked as an adviser to George Bush. Now I work as an occasional, unpaid adviser to Mitt Romney,” writes Harvard Professor Greg Mankiw in an hysterically funny and risibly transparent attempt to ward off the richly deserved stigma of associating with Willard Milton Romney, preposterously titled On the Ethics of Advising.

To my constant surprise, some letter writers and some commenters on this blog presume that I must agree with, or be responsible for, every position they take. That is a deeply silly assumption. [emphasis ours]

Note the nearly impossible standard that Mankiw sets. Question: Must one presume that Mankiw agrees with everything, or is responsible for every position that an advisee takes, to question Mankiw’s judgment for issuing advice to a figure as morally or ethically questionable as e.g. Willard Milton Romney?—answer: no, certainly not.

Back to Mankiw’s apologia:

Presidents and candidates have to make decisions on a multitude of issues. It is unreasonable to expect any adviser to agree on every single issue. Indeed, politicians listen to many advisers with different points of view. An adviser cannot resign in protest every time a decision fails to go the way he advised. The system could not function if people acted in such a self-centered way.

Consider: Should an economist who believes abortion is murder refuse to advise Barack Obama on tax reform? If this economist chooses to become an Obama adviser and Obama wins, is she then complicit in all the abortions that result from President Obama’s pro-choice policies? If her advice on tax reform is only partially followed, should she resign her position as adviser? If she continues as an Obama adviser, is she then responsible for all policy positions that Obama takes? Is she even responsible for Obama’s tax-reform proposal?

My answers are NO, NO, NO, NO, and NO. In my book, the adviser is responsible for the advice she gives, and Obama is responsible for the positions he takes.

Maybe I am being too easy on economic advisers, like Milton Friedman, myself, and my hypothetical Obama adviser. But I worry about what happens when sanctimony leads people to put too high of a moral “tax” on advisers from academia. Most academics avoid politics altogether, preferring the relative comfort and better compensation of life in the ivory tower. The uglier the world of politics becomes, the fewer academics will venture forth with their input, and the poorer everyone will be as a resultmore

Comment: We certainly understand the good professor’s discomfort with being associated with Willard Milton Romney. But it is overwrought to compare himself to Milton Friedman, or to argue that to not advise a figure like Romney would somehow mean that fewer academics would “venture forth with their input.” (Please, professor; simply take responsibility for your actions—however ill-advised—and carry on. Allow dignity to be your standard.) That the professor has any misgivings at all speaks volumes—please note the all-caps NO, NO, NO, NO

yours &c.
dr. g.d.


  1. 1 Anna Marie Cox: “Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Barlart are McCain supporters and deny that they’ve ever advised Romney” « who is willard milton romney?

    […] OTOH, it is probable that Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Barlart did advise Romney and that the two are too embarrassed to admit it. The ignominy of advising a figure like Romney can be too much for more delicate souls. Take for instance this hapless Harvard professor: Romney advisor Mankiw attempts to distance himself from Romney—argues that advisors are responsibl… […]

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