It started with an op-ed. On March 13, a Republican pundit named Stephen Moore co-wrote an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, complaining that the Federal Reserve has prevented the economy from reaching new heights. The piece, which was built on a foundation of falsehoods, was largely forgettable and didn’t cause much of a stir.
It did, however, reach an important audience. Larry Kudlow, the director of Donald Trump’s National Economic Council, not only liked the op-ed, he proceeded to show it to the president. Whether Trump read the piece or not is unclear – let’s not guess – but either way, the Republican reportedly decided on the spot that appointing Moore to the Federal Reserve Board would be a good idea.
It is not.
The signs of trouble began almost immediately. Trump declared via Twitter, “It is my pleasure to announce that [Moore], a very respected Economist, will be nominated to serve on the Fed Board.” As many were quick to note, Moore is neither an economist nor very respected.
Soon after, Moore conceded that he knows very little about monetary policy, which is one of the core functions of the Federal Reserve.
“I’m kind of new to this game, frankly, so I’m going to be on a steep learning curve myself about how the Fed operates, how the Federal Reserve makes its decisions,” Moore, 59, said on BTV. “It’s hard for me to say even what my role will be there, assuming I get confirmed.”
Soon after, he was asked for his thoughts on the appropriate size of the Fed’s balance sheet. Moore was candid in his response:
“To be honest, I’m going to have to study up on this one,” he said.
In other words, Donald Trump’s new choice for the Fed board knows very little about the Fed, what the Fed does, and how the Fed works.
But that’s really just the tip of a ridiculous iceberg.
I can appreciate why this dynamic may seem familiar. After all, this president’s personnel decisions tend to be misguided – a Trump family wedding planner was given a powerful post at HUD, for example – and so tapping Stephen Moore for the Fed board may seem like little more than par for the course.
But I’d suggest not looking past this one too quickly. For one thing, even Trump is supposed to take the Federal Reserve more seriously. When he nominated the current Fed chair, Jerome Powell, many breathed a sigh of relief that he chose a competent and qualified individual. Indeed, it’s easy to imagine any Republican president choosing Powell for the position.
It suggested at the time that Trump realized there are still some limits to his worst instincts. The Fed is simply too important for this White House’s usual antics; the president had no choice but to be responsible with the independent monetary board.
All of which suggests Trump, by choosing Moore for the Fed board, is actually regressing.
But even putting that aside, Stephen Moore isn’t just another unfortunate selection for the amateur president. He is a uniquely ridiculous choice – quite possibly the least defensible of the Trump presidency to date.
To say it’s difficult to know where to start with Moore’s c.v. is to be quite literal. It matters, obviously, that he’s not an economist and knows very little about what the Federal Reserve does. But it also matters that Moore has been wrong about practically everything for many years. It matters that he appears to be a Trump sycophant. It matters that Moore has had a hand in some spectacular economic failures. It matters that Moore’s economic opinions tend to echo Republican talking points while “flying in the face of economic theory.”
It matters that Moore has a reputation for misstating basic factual details. It matters that his economic views tend to vary based on the party of the president at the time. It matters that the White House has made the finance industry nervous with this nomination. It matters that actual economists have been apoplectic about Trump’s selection of Moore, (One scholar argued, “This is truly an appalling appointment. An ideologue, charlatan, and hack. Frankly so bad the putatively serious economists in Trump administration should resign as matter of honor.”)
It matters that Moore has embarrassed himself on television over and over again. It matters that Moore, at the height of the Great Recession, turned to “Atlas Shrugged” as an economic guide. It matters that Moore’s own finances are a mess – why the White House refuses to vet its nominees in advance is a mystery – owing $75,000 in unpaid federal taxes, interest, and penalties.
Slate’s recent summary struck me as notable: “Stephen Moore is a living embodiment of the sucking intellectual void at the core of conservative economics, an inept pundit who has spent his career evangelizing the supply-side dogma that tax cuts pay for themselves while shilling for Republican officeholders, all from well-paid perches at think tanks and in the media.”
Trump has made some bad nominations, but this one belongs in its own category. Even Senate Republicans should recognize that the president has gone too far this time – but they probably won’t.
Postscript: Eight years ago, Barack Obama nominated Peter Diamond, a celebrated and accomplished economist with a Nobel Prize, for the Fed board. Senate Republicans blocked the nomination for over a year before ultimately killing it. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), among others, took the lead in questioning Diamond’s qualifications.
Many of the economist’s detractors, including Shelby, are still in the Senate. It will be worth watching to see if they go along with Stephen Moore’s nomination.