It’s worth noting that the completely unqualified kooks and crackpots driving Trump’s pandemic response are kooks and crackpots who…are members of the Republican establishment in fine standing, and either they or people like them would be advising Jeb! Bush right now.
On Saturday The Washington Post reported that in late March Trump was unhappy with epidemiological models suggesting a death toll over 100,000 — which, by the way, now seems highly likely. So the White House created its own team led by Kevin Hassett, whom The Post describes as “a former chairman of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers with no background in infectious diseases.” And this team produced an analysis Trump aides interpreted as implying a much lower death toll.
What The Post didn’t say was that aside from not having any background in epidemiology, Hassett has an, um, interesting record as an economist.
He first attracted widespread attention as co-author of a 1999 book claiming that stocks were greatly undervalued, and that the Dow should be 36,000 (which would be around 55,000 today, adjusting for inflation). It quickly became clear that there were major conceptual errors in that book; but Hassett never admitted error.
In the mid-2000s Hassett denied that there was a housing bubble, suggesting that only liberals believed that there was.
In 2010 Hassett was part of a group of conservative economists and pundits who warned in an open letter that the Federal Reserve’s efforts to rescue the economy would lead to currency debasement and inflation. Four years later Bloomberg News tried to reach signatories to ask why that inflation never materialized; not one was willing to admit having been wrong.
You might think that an economist would pay some professional penalty for this kind of track record — not simply one of making bad predictions, which everyone does, but of both being wrong at every important juncture and refusing to admit or learn from mistakes.
But no: Hassett remains, as I said, a pillar of the modern conservative establishment, and Trump called on him to second-guess experts in epidemiology, a field in which he has no background.
And Hassett isn’t even uniquely bad. Unlike, say, Stephen Moore, who Trump tried to put on the Federal Reserve Board, he does not, as far as I know, have a history of simply getting basic numbers and facts wrong.