Yesterday's Public Finance Free Lunch Seminar (PFFLS - pronounced piffles) at Michigan featured the "Economist Mom", Diane Lim Rogers, presently chief economist at the Concord Coalition, successful blogger on (mostly) fiscal policy and also UM undergraduate economics alum.
Her academically upgraded version of what she called a "chart talk" was a pleasant and interesting change from the usual menu of graduate student and faculty presentations of work in progress. I guess "chart talk" is beltway speak for a talk without a backdrop consisting of pictures of children, old people, soldiers and flags.
I think that the Concord Coalition is surely doing a fine thing by trying to educate people about the deficit and about the real costs of various ways of reducing it, and Diane was very balanced in terms of talking about tax increases and spending cuts. I don't think education or moral suasion alone is likely to really change how things play out in DC and so asked about the Concord Coalition's position on institutional changes aimed at accomplishing the same thing. That is not, apparently, a focus of their efforts, which I think is too bad.
I also would have liked a bit more micro-economics, recognizing that different kinds of taxes have different efficiency effects as do different kinds of spending. It is not all about the totals or about the totals plus the distributional effects. A touch more reality would have been nice as well. Diane was awfully kind, for example, regarding the current health care spending bills. It is not that we are uncertain about whether they will be budget neutral or not, we know they will not be.
One point I did like was her emphasis, based on the Concord Coalition's interactions with real people outside the beltway, that there is probably a market for serious reforms that is presently not being tapped due to lack of leadership. Whether anyone in DC in either party is capable of stepping in to fill this gap is, of course, an open question.
Who was my favorite student this term?
10 months ago