AEI's Muzzled Scholars: An Apology and Clarification
I wrote this morning that I would apologize to the American Enterprise Institute if it turned out that I misheard or misunderstood something I said that David Frum told me about its scholars not being allowed to publicly comment on elements of Obama’s health plan with which they agreed. Since then David has had this to say about our conversation:
Did AEI muzzle healthcare scholars? I fear that in reproducing in print a private conversation from some months ago, Bruce Bartlett made a transmission error. I did not report as fact that scholars were laboring under any restrictions. What I did say was that AEI was punching way below its weight in the healthcare debate. I wondered, not alleged, wondered, whether AEI scholars were constrained by fear of saying something that might get them into trouble. To repeat: this was something I asked many months ago in private conversation, not something I allege today in public debate.
Some rebuttals of the claim that AEI could have been muzzling its healthcare scholars note that, for example, [Columbia University economist] Glenn Hubbard has frequently and recently opined in print about healthcare reform. But, while Glenn has a long history of writing about healthcare in relation to the fiscal system, he would not have been among the people Frum would have had in mind. I won't name AEI's healthcare specialists here, but you can find their names on the AEI website, and I don't think they've had much to say publicly on the topic in the last couple of years, which is interesting and indeed surprising.
I'd also note that (a) when I met and talked with these individuals in connection with my Medicare book, it was clear they are serious people and straight shooters, not political hacks, (b) I would be surprised if they were NOT sympathetic to the approach of mandating health insurance coverage, given this idea's deep roots in (without restriction to) conservative, Republican, and generally pro-market circles, along with the fundamental argument in support of the mandate as a response to adverse selection (a central problem in promoting the general availability of adequate medical treatment).
In short, I see a compelling circumstantial case in favor of the claim of muzzling that Bartlett reports. (Emphasis added)
Was the firing political? Obviously I cannot enter into people’s minds, and at my termination lunch AEI President Arthur Brooks insisted that politics had nothing to do with the decision. So let’s just follow the time line. Waterloo piece is posted Sunday March 22. Wall Street Journal editorial denouncing me appears March 23. Summons to lunch arrives mid-morning of March 23. At lunch I am told that AEI wishes to terminate my salary, office, benefits, and research assistance. I am however at liberty to continue to consider myself part of the AEI family. I declined that offer and wrote a letter of resignation.Was the firing in response to donor pressure? At lunch, Arthur Brooks explained that AEI was facing a new kind of donor environment, in which donors were becoming much more specific about where they wanted their money to go. Arthur expressed extreme personal distress at having to terminate me. It’s possible that those words were pro forma, and that my own affection for Arthur led me to attach more weight to them than I should have. It’s very strange that Charles Murray would denounce me as a liar because I wished to think better of my former boss!