The Less Than Prophetic Martin Feldstein

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Sunday, 18 September 2011 13:40

The Washington Post business section ran a piece today titled, "a fiscal prophet shapes debt debate." The prophet being referred to in the headline is Harvard economics professor Martin Feldstein, who served at one time as President Reagan's chief economist.

Some of us know Mr. Feldstein for some less than prophetic work. For example, in the spring of 1993, when Congress was debating the Clinton tax increase, he wrote a column in the Wall Street Journal that claimed the Clinton tax increases will raise little, if any, revenue. His argument was that the disincentive of the higher tax rates would more than offset the impact of the higher rates themselves.

Feldstein also gained notoriety early in his career for publishing an article that purported to show the Social Security reduced private savings. It turned out that his results were driven by a computer programming error. When the error was corrected his results were statistically insignificant.

He updated this study in 1995 and claimed that with the additional years of data, his original results were now shown to be correct. However, it turned out that once the Commerce Department revised the savings data, his results were again insignificant.