City Paper is not for tourists.
I am a member of George Mason University’s Board of Visitors and am familiar with the work of the Mercatus Center. I also know the major characters you dissected in your cover story (“Bull Market,” 3/8). I have known Dr. Wendy Gramm for over a quarter of a century.
An evenhanded writer would have taken the same facts—even those in the story—and written a much different piece. Rather than skewering everything about Mercatus and its leadership, an objective writer would have lauded its accomplishments.
Mercatus is part of one of the major academic institutions in the area, and the people associated with it have distinguished records. For example, the author lampoons former “socialist sympathizer” Vernon Smith’s work, then later mentions that he is the father of experimental economics and a possible Nobel Prize candidate. (The only other Nobel Prize winner associated with any university in the area is George Mason economist James M. Buchanan.)
Your author takes particular relish in condemning Mercatus’ involvement with public policy. It is true that several of its notable staff have held important positions in government. Gramm, for example, has held leadership posts at the Federal Trade Commission, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Commodities Futures Trading Commission. Maurice McTigue, as noted, is a former minister in the government of New Zealand, where he led changes that significantly raised the country’s standard of living. Is there something wrong with having served in government? Cannot a person have more than one career? Would you
dismiss out of hand academic policymakers such as Henry Kissinger, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Larry Summers?
Your article takes issue with Mercatus because of some who help fund the organization—as if it is some lackey for the energy industry (Enron and Koch). First, as a matter of science, it matters not who funds research. The question is the quality of the research. Second, the Smith group’s recruitment to George Mason was, indeed, enabled by a grant from the Koch Foundation. Can you please tell me again what the energy industry might expect to get out of a group of academics involved in the most esoteric of research into experimental economics—experiments that utilize magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and, for that reason apparently, your author is surprised that anyone takes seriously?
Your piece ridicules other ideas the author thinks will sound odd, but doesn’t have the objectivity to address directly. Might it just possibly be the case that the Environmental Protection Agency’s ozone standard is based on faulty reasoning? Or that its arsenic standard will produce very little benefit in comparison with other uses of the money? Or that many other regulations, by many other agencies, that sound good might actually be bad—or might be improved in some way? To dismiss such questions out of hand is ideology, not science.
George Mason University encourages its faculty and staff to pursue truth wherever they find it. The Mercatus Center, in particular, includes people with a diversity of viewpoints, as evidenced by your writer’s interlude on Dr. Tyler Cowan. To condemn this institution, and by association the university, because the ideas of some of its leaders do not conform to some template the author thinks is politically correct is a terrible disservice to the community. While I recognize and honor your right to publish whatever vitriol you wish, I hope you will show respect to your readers by publishing this letter and perhaps other communications that paint a more accurate picture of this fine organization and its people.