"In serious consideration for ambassador to Belarus." That's the role John McCain joked that former senator Phil Gramm might have in a McCain administration. Gramm is McCain's most senior economic adviser, the one best qualified to lead the finance team of a McCain presidency. Now, however, Gramm faces political exile because he made the mistake of telling the truth.
What prompted the abrupt demotion? The short answer is what might be called Campaign Econ. Campaign Econ says the American economy is a certain way because Americans think it is. Campaign Econ competes with real economics and often wins -- with damage that extends way beyond, say, the political career of either Phil Gramm or John McCain.
Consider what happened this week. While speaking with the Washington Times, Gramm said that the country was not in a true recession but a "mental recession." He also said, "We have sort of become a nation of whiners" and "You just hear this constant whining, complaining about a loss of competitiveness, America in decline."
Gramm was right about the recession and stood by his recession comments on Thursday. A recession is two consecutive quarters in which the economy shrinks, and last quarter it grew. But no matter. Voters feel they are in a recession, and so they are, at least according to Campaign Econ.
"Who's to blame for the biggest financial catastrophe of our time? There are plenty of culprits, but one candidate for lead perp is former Sen. Phil Gramm. Eight years ago, as part of a decades-long anti-regulatory crusade, Gramm pulled a sly legislative maneuver that greased the way to the multibillion-dollar subprime meltdown. Yet has Gramm been banished from the corridors of power? Reviled as the villain who bankrupted Middle America? Hardly. Now a well-paid executive at a Swiss bank, Gramm cochairs Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign and advises the Republican candidate on economic matters. He's been mentioned as a possible Treasury secretary should McCain win. That's right: A guy who helped screw up the global financial system could end up in charge of US economic policy. Talk about a market failure."