What qualities does Trump look for when staffing his administration?

(actual post at end)

Here’s Ross Douthat:

Not so Trump: All instinct and solipsism, he simply doesn’t care enough about Trumpism to find people who might carry his impulses forward once he’s gone. And so he’s bidding to do for monetary policy what he’s done in domestic policy and foreign policy already: Pursue a somewhat heterodox and populist agenda, but leave its implementation — and therefore to some extent its future — in the hands of men like Moore or John Bolton or Mick Mulvaney who represent the consensus that he once campaigned against.

Trump wants smart people. And Trump understands that this means they will view him in a negative light. Thus here’s Mulvaney:

Mick Mulvaney, President Trump’s pick to be acting White House chief of staff, described Mr. Trump in 2016 as a “terrible human being” 

And here’s Kudlow and Moore:

President Donald Trump’s pick to serve on the Federal Reserve Stephen Moore once criticized Trump’s positions on immigration, describing them as “extreme nativist” and calling them “crazy” and “dangerous.”

Moore made the comments in an August 2015 radio interview with Larry Kudlow, who now serves as the President’s top economic adviser. In that interview, Kudlow compared Trump’s immigration plans to the worst parts of World War II — in an apparent reference to the Holocaust — and said Trump’s only real supporters came from “the nativist fringe.”

Godwin’s Law again. What’s wrong with these people?

And it’s not just what they say before they work for Trump; his officials continue insulting him after they get the job, in anonymous comments to the press that invariably leak out.

[BTW, a few weeks ago my Trumpista commenters told me that press reports of Mueller dissatisfaction with the Barr letter was “fake news.” Hah! Living in an epistemic bubble must really suck.]

Douthat also recommends some options to replace Cain and Moore:

I have suggested Ponnuru as a possibility before; as a journalist he has a long paper trail of rigorous, mostly vindicated takes on monetary policy, and as a representative of the right’s intelligentsia he’s everything that Moore is not.

Another clever choice would be Karl Smith, another Bloomberg columnist, a former economics professor and a prolific economics blogger, who has also defended Trump’s much-criticized tax reform (in case that matters to anyone in the White House!). Alternatively, if Trump prefers someone with a current academic title, then he should tap Scott Sumner or David Beckworth from George Mason University, both of whom were elaborating the more dovish case back when Moore was still pitching the gold standard.

Of course because they’re serious people, that “dovish” case is far more sophisticated than the White House’s palpable desire for rate cuts as re-election stimulus. Also, Sumner recently called for Trump’s impeachment … so, yeah, he’s probably off the table.

Douthat doesn’t understand that not only does insulting Trump not disqualify me for a position in the Trump administration, it’s practically a requirement for the job. But I don’t expect to be picked right now. Rather the master plan is more subtle. Look for Trump to pick a few other people from the Douthat list, to stock the Fed with market monetarists.

I’m being held back for the position of Fed chair, when the spot opens up in a few years. Then there will be a complete MM takeover of the Fed, with NGDP level targeting adopted. This will assure an Australian-style infinite business cycle expansion, which will make Trump go down in history as the man who ended the business cycle forever.

The impeachment talk I engage in is just a ploy to reassure Democratic senators so that they don’t block my nomination. They won’t be able to accuse me of being a partisan hack.

How do I know all this? Kudlow tipped his hand back in 2013 with his list of possible replacements for Bernanke:

Among widespread speculation that Ben Bernanke will retire in January, Larry Kudlow named his top candidates for Federal Reserve Chairman.

“After much deep-thinking as well as phone calls to my hard-money friends, the answer is Former Governor and current Fed critic Kevin Warsh,” Kudlow said on CNBC. “He is my man to replace Bernanke.”

Kudlow said Warsh was his top pick to maintain the value of the dollar and help grow the economy. . . .

Kudlow’s list also includes Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher; Stanford Economics Professor John Taylor; Forbes Media Chairman and CEO Steve Forbes; Rep. Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin; and Bentley University Professor Scott Sumner.

That’s six names, so how do I know it will be me? In those days, Kudlow was looking for a hawk because Obama was President. Now he’s looking for a dove. That rules out the other 5 guys on the list. I’m the only one left. It’s logical.

Kudlow’s had his eye on me for a long time, and now is his chance to execute the master plan to create a supply-side miracle.

PS. Sam Bowman recently posted a few tweets that spoofed everything from utilitarianism to paternalism to moral hazard. The Times did an article that assumed Sam was serious. Seriously.  So do I have to ruin everything by pointing out that this entire post is an April fool’s joke, arriving one month late?

I guess I do.

PPS. I guess I should say something more serious, so here is my actual post:

It’s naive to believe that you change monetary policy by getting the right people placed on the Board. That’s not how things work. You change policy by changing the conversation. So while it’s certainly good news that Douthat is recommending David Beckworth, the even better news is that his column helps to bring us to the attention of the conservative community. Liberals are already sort of on board with NGDP targeting. If we can also convince conservatives, then it will eventually happen. History is moved by ideas, not staffing decisions.



11 Responses to “What qualities does Trump look for when staffing his administration?”

  1. Gravatar of policy_wank policy_wank
    2. May 2019 at 17:45

    You always say stuff like this (last paragraph), but do you really believe it or have you just succumbed to the soft bigotry of low expectations? Just as you are almost always too soft on Bernanke, his actual performance, not the unshackled man making proposals today. There always seem to be vacancies on the Fed Board. I’m not sure what the official term length is but people must resign early, so each President gets to appoint the Fed Chair and maybe 3 or so Governors per term. That is enough for regime change for a sufficiently committed President who has a Senate that will rubber stamp his picks. You may need a Chair with sufficient force of personality to roll the permanent staff. Are there any MMs that fit the bill? Beckworth is a bit meek. Some other guy says he just wants to enjoy retirement and watch a lot of films…

  2. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    3. May 2019 at 04:33

    Certainly a bold post, Sumner, I can find nothing where I disagree here. One question: where does the importance of “the right people” come in. After all, you care a lot about Trump and Congress, so I was wondering why you do and what other personnel decisions you care about.

  3. Gravatar of XVO XVO
    3. May 2019 at 05:16

    Looking forward to your nomination and the supply side miracle!

    Your criticism of Trump has always been so transparently unintelligent that it makes sense this has been the plan all along.

  4. Gravatar of Bob Bob
    3. May 2019 at 05:43

    Did Kudlow really want to nominate Paul Ryan? That’s frightening. I agree that the only way to change things is through consensus, and history is moved by ideas, but I’d add that ideas are moved by retirements and funerals.

  5. Gravatar of Michael Sandifer Michael Sandifer
    3. May 2019 at 08:20

    I wonder if Scott derived his opinion about the “right people” from Milton Friedman. Friedman used to say it was a mistake to obsess over electing the “right people” to public office, saying that with the proper incentives, the wrong people would do the right things.

  6. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    3. May 2019 at 10:02

    PW, Policy follows the zeitgeist. The Fed would probably raise the inflation target to 3% tomorrow if Congress said it was happy with that change. We need to get both the Dems and the GOP to buy into reforms, then it will happen. Both parties accepted inflation targeting in the 1990s.

    I’m not saying personnel doesn’t matter at all, but it’s not the primary factor.

    Harding, I believe Trump is our worst president ever. But I also care much less about Trump than do most other people. Don’t confuse the two. Unlike most people, I believe the US president has very little impact on how the country is doing. I strongly oppose Trumpism, as it’s banana republic politics. If the US became a banana republic with hundreds of banana republic type politicians, then we would be in trouble. Let’s nip it in the bud by “overreacting” to Trump.

    If I say my plumber is an idiot, it doesn’t mean I believe he is wrecking the country.

  7. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    5. May 2019 at 14:52

    It may be worth noting that on April 23, we got this rather odd post asking the question, “Is it better to have something instead of nothing?” and adducing Thoreau’s peppy “lives of quiet desperation” adage.

    Of course at that time we had the perfect “something” vs. “nothing” analogy playing out in a real-world venue dear (as we all know) to the blogger’s heart: the first round of the NBA playoffs. In the Western Conference, actual playoff-caliber NBA teams were playing actual NBA playoff games, which is certainly something, while in the Eastern Conference there was … nothing. (Charles Barkley said something like, if you were watching those games, you had no life).

    Now on May 2, just two days after Milwaukee finally – finally! – wins a real playoff game, by 21 points no less, we get this giddy, wacky post.

    Obviously NGDP, or its forecast, is a or the key economic indicator the Fed should pay attention to. Similarly, at least this Spring, the fortunes of the Milwaukee Bucks should be the key indicator that TMI readers should be looking at. It boggles the mind to imagine what kind of post we might get should Milwaukee go down 3-1 against Toronto in the next round. Some sort of pseudo-literate “long dark night of the soul” post is probably half-written in the subconscious already….

    Having said all that, I know the idea of this post is to deride the idea of Sumner on the Fed, but wouldn’t it be brilliant? David Byrne described his “True Stories” project as “60 minutes on acid.” I believe Byrne, were he versed in the intricacies of monetary policy and its debate both within the blogosphere and the profession itself, might refer to Sumner being on the Fed as “Lars E. O. Svensson on the Riksbank, on acid.”

    If Larry Kudlow – let’s say it’s a 1000-1 shot, fine – reaches out to Sumner, no doubt Sumner would say something like, “No, no, no, I’d be a terrible choice, let me live out my life of quiet desperation here in Orange County – don’t embarrass me.” Understandable, as maybe Sumner being nominated to the Fed would be like “Herman Cain being nominated to the Fed, on acid.”

    Yet still, we can dream, can’t we? It would be entertaining as hell. What about the sheer enjoyment and wonderment of long-time TMI readers? Shouldn’t that be taken into account? Where is the effing “utilitarian” tilt of this blog when you really need it?

    “History is moved by ideas, not staffing decisions.” There’s some truth to this, but it’s really mostly fluff. Sumner would or could really be brilliant in this role. Who else could better “instantiate,” or whatever, into FOMC proceedings the incorporation of both (1) sharper historical memory (I imagine Sumner piping up with things like, “let me read you something from these minutes from 1962”); and (2) a larger role for both NGDP and NGDP forecasts? From my reading of this blog in particular over the years, I often wonder if (1) isn’t a bigger problem than (2). (Not that my reading is always very adept, of course).

    I think Sumner would be especially good if it wasn’t just him
    on the FOMC with his level of a clue; what if someone with a little more institutional “gravitas,” or whatever, a Kecherlakata type, was added at the same time? Kudlow just needs to find that guy or gal, pair him or her with Sumner, and we’re away! Let the half-assed implementation and bureaucratic undermining of Sumner’s ideas get started!

    Then we could get back to more important things, like being only 12 games away from the long-awaited “Connaughton’s Revenge” playoff series. Which raises the question, when/if the Economics profession, as well as the politicians and public, discovers that we’ve been doing Fed policy all wrong all these years, will that be more or less of a shock than the NBA and its media and its fans suddenly discovering that there are franchises located in Portland AND Milwaukee? The world needs more of these “how did this happen, and how can we fix it” kind of moments….

  8. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    5. May 2019 at 16:47

    anon/portly. You are right that I am a lifelong Bucks fan, indeed probably the only person in Orange County who was already a Bucks fan before Lew Alcindor got there in 1969.

    But I’m a bit puzzled by the way you link my obsession with the Bucks with existential despair. The Bucks just won 60 games, and have won 6 of their first 7 playoff games. This has been a dream season. Why would I be depressed? (Yes, the first four were against weak competition, but how did the Warriors do against the Clippers?) And other than the Warriors, is the West really that much better? The 9th best team in the West would have also failed to make the playoffs in the East—something not true in past years. The Bucks didn’t just have the best point differential, they had the best point differential against the West.

    As for losing 3-1 to the Raptors, get serious. The Bucks beat them 3-1 in the regular season, and the Raptors have looked awful against Philly—even in today’s win. I’m more concerned with Boston and Philly. If they do go down 3-1 to the Craptors, then I won’t be writing any morose posts; I’ll be curled up in a fetal position in bed, unable to function. Anyway, Ben Thompson can explain why this could never happen, it’s mathematically impossible.

    As far as utilitarianism, I’ve already told readers that I’m too selfish to live by that exacting ethical system. Do you really think I’d sit in a Senate hearing room explaining to our representatives why “inflation is a meaningless concept, which doesn’t matter at all”, or 100 other whacky things I said in this blog? If there is going to be a MM on the Fed, it’s going to be David Beckworth, as it should be.

    And finally, if the Bucks do somehow get to the finals, they won’t be playing Connaughton, as Brogdon will be back by then.

    Bonus prediction. In a few years, the Pelicans will regret not trading Davis for all the Laker young guys. One of them will turn out as good as Tatum.

  9. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    8. May 2019 at 00:10

    Many many things in this last comment give me nothing but puzzlement.

    “…you’re right that I am a lifelong Bucks fan….”

    I think you’re unaware how much of your personal biography and likes/dislikes long-time TMI readers have assimilated. Obviously we all know you’re a Bucks fan, come on.

    We know you love The Zim too. And Kubrick (and not just his lesser films, but Barry Lyndon, finally). And so on.

    Yes, we know all about you, while you know nothing about us. But then we’re blog commenters, there’s nothing to know about us anyway. We are simply sand under the shoes of the bloggers.

    “But I’m a bit puzzled by the way you link my obsession with the Bucks with existential despair.”

    No, I was trying to be clever with linking the Nothingness of the Bucks first round playoff games with your earlier Something/Nothing post and then linking the giddiness of Bucks fans after the first win over Boston with the giddiness of this post.

    As always, too clever, or too clever by half. Oh well.

    “And other than the Warriors, is the West really that much better? The 9th best team in the West would have also failed to make the playoffs in the East—something not true in past years.”

    Hmm, the 9th best team in the West had fewer wins (39) than the 8th best tam in the East (41). Well, the West still went 252-198 against the East collectively, so I’d say they were better. Not only that, if the 9th best team in the West, Sacramento, had been in the East, maybe they’d have beaten out one of the three weak playoff teams in the East – they were 30-27 at the All Star break, then went 9-16, finishing 9 games out of the playoffs in the West, but only 3 games out of the #6 seed in the East, while of course playing a tougher schedule than the East teams.

    For matter maybe even say Dallas, the #14 seed in the West, would have exerted themselves a bit more had they been in the East – they were only half a point worse by SRS (mentioned below) than Brooklyn, the #6 seed in the East.

    “I’m more concerned with Boston and Philly. If they do go down 3-1 to the Craptors….”

    Basketball-reference dot com SRS (point differential adjusted for schedule strength) for this year:

    1. Milwaukee 8.0
    2. GS 6.4
    3. Toronto 5.5
    4. Utah 5.3
    5. Houston 5.0
    6. Portland 4.4
    7. Denver 4.2
    8. Boston 3.9
    9. OKC 3.6
    10. Indiana 2.8
    11. Philadelphia 2.3
    12. San Antonio 1.8
    13. LAC 1.1
    14. Orlanoo 0.3

    Those are all the positive ones.

    We all know points, generally, predict future success better than wins, but whether you look at points or wins, Toronto on paper was better than Boston and much better than Philadelphia this year. I can’t say I really know better, not really knowing anything about these teams, but it seems odd to be more worried about the #11 team in the league than the #3. I figured the only team Milwaukee fans might be worried about before the finals was Toronto, and maybe Boston, if only because Boston wasn’t far from making the finals last year.

    Philadelphia did add Tobias Harris, there’s that. But looking at their “Game Results” chart at basketball reference dot com, they don’t seem to have played any better as the year went along.

    If Oladipo doesn’t go down would Philly have had much chance at the 3 seed? Then you’d be worried about the 4 and 5 seeds from the weak half of the league. If you can’t beat Boston or Philly, you’re sure not winning the finals anyway….

    “Do you really think I’d sit in a Senate hearing room explaining to our representatives why “inflation is a meaningless concept, which doesn’t matter at all”, or 100 other whacky things I said in this blog?”

    What, you have something better to do? You’ve dealt with college administration people, how much worse can Congress really be?

    “And finally, if the Bucks do somehow get to the finals, they won’t be playing Connaughton, as Brogdon will be back by then.”

    This is the most puzzling one. Connaughton played 61 games and 21 minutes per game, regular season. Hill and Ilyasova and Mirotic and Brown also played about 20 minutes a game or so.

    Now Connaughton’s minutes have gone up, compared to those guys, but he’s the one that’s going to lose out when Brogdon comes back? Over the last two games, Milwaukee’s two somewhat close games in the playoffs so far, Connaughton is third in minutes, ahead of Bledsoe even.

    I was thinking Brogdon and Hill were “point guards.” But now that I look at Milwaukee’s season stats, I see it isn’t so, the leading assisters are the leading scores – Giannis, Middleton, Bledsoe. Hill and Brogdon and Connaughton are all between 3.5 and 4.0 assists per 36 minutes. So Hill and Brogdon (and Lopez and Mirotic and Connaughton and Ilyasova) are used more as catch-and-shoot 3 guys, more or less, I guess….

  10. Gravatar of anon/portly anon/portly
    9. May 2019 at 12:43

    Note: when you search this site using “Barry Lyndon,” there’s a 2013 post where you do give it some credit (and I respond in the comments), but I think there was a post a few years earlier where you claimed not to think much of it. Since it’s my fave Kubrick film by far, I remember all this. I’m sure my allusion to this is completely unintelligible though….

    Second note: I don’t really have a point there about Connaughton, obviously. Not having watched the Bucks much, until just recently, it’s kind of hard to make sense of them – they seem like Houston, only instead of two guards (Harden & Paul) initiating everything, while the other 3 spot up on the perimeter, it’s two frontcourt guys (Giannis and Middleton) that have the ball. But also the Bucks seem to be more democratic and to rely on being able to throw in a greater variety of players. George Hill actually seems to be the PJ Tucker type, the savvy vet who can’t shoot the three that well but is still worth having for his all-around game.

    While the rest of my points may be weak, I think my point about Philadelphia and Boston is pretty good – why are those teams so scary? For that matter, why isn’t Milwaukee considered more scary? Everyone seems to have this “great teams turn it on in the playoffs” idea (i.e. Golden State is going to win it all, yawn) but I think for the most part that idea falls apart under any minimal amount of empirical scrutiny; Boston and Philadelphia (and GS maybe too) just weren’t that good this year, and there’s no “switch” they can turn on to make themselves suddenly better now.

    The only such “switch” I know of is the “hey, the other team is coached by George Karl” switch – that can turn a mediocre group into a powerhouse, if only for the one round. But generally speaking, it seems like the team you are in the regular season is the team you are in the postseason. A Philadelphia beating a Milwaukee – again, if we assume GK isn’t involved – happens very, very rarely.

    You might say, “but aha, there was one just last year, when 50 win, SRS 0.6 Cleveland swept 59 win, SRS 7.3 in round two.” But no, this falls under the “GK” rubric since Dwane Casey was a longtime Karl assistant. He learned how to screw up the playoffs at the foot of the master.

    Cleveland last year may also be a logical sort of exception to the rule in four other (predictable?) ways: (1) dominant star; (2)veteran and/or savvy players; (3) player turnover or churn during the regular season; (4) past success. See: 1995 Rockets, another okay regular season team that was good enough in the playoffs to win a couple of coin-flip series and get another title.

    Boston had some quantity of those 4 things I mention above, so I can some sort of argument there, but Philadelphia, the only thing I can see is maybe the third one. But maybe they will suddenly turn 95 Rocketsish and start winning a lot of close games….

  11. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    9. May 2019 at 13:30

    Anon, I agree with much of what you say. Point differential is more predictive than W/L, and the Bucks were number one in that department. Betting odds are probably even more predictive, and the Bucks trail only the Warriors in that department.

    My point about fearing Boston and Philly more was misunderstood. The Bucks are better than all three, and should beat any of them if everything goes according to form. But while Toronto is better than Philly and Boston, on average, the latter two teams have more upside, and hence are more of a threat to the Bucks. Think variance, not just mean. If all goes according to average performance, the Bucks beat any of them.

    It’s tough to judge players with a small sample, and Connaughton has recently played above his true ability, whereas Lopez and Sterling Brown have played below their ability. Small sample bias. Giannis, Middleton, Bledsoe have been about at their ability. Getting Brogdan back could be important in the finals, and the Bucks match up better against the Warriors than most other teams. Not saying they’d win, but the oddsmakers currently give the Bucks about a 35% chance of a title, which is way more than earlier in the year. They would be one of the toughest opponents the Warriors have faced in 5 years.

    Skim a week of “No Tech Ben” twitter if you want to learn more about the Bucks. Brogdan is not a point guard, but Hill is. Hill’s been one of the keys this year. When he and Giannis both play, their record is superb. The elite points guards of the other team must face 48 minutes of two of the best defenders in the league (Hill and Bledsoe). Eventually our defense breaks teams down. Sort of like the 2004 Pistons (who surprised the league by beating a team full of superstars.)

    The Bucks have had several other teams good enough to win it all (in the 70s and 80s), and lose out due to bad breaks, so I’m naturally pessimistic. But objectively they look really good right now.

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