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. Lately, the man has remade himself as a sycophantic hype-man for Donald Trump’s economic program, after advising the president on tax policy during his campaign.
And now, he may be headed to the Federal Reserve. Trump announced on Twitter Friday that he would nominate Moore for a spot on the central bank’s Board of Governors, which would give him a say over its monetary policy decisions.
Moore has bounced around elite GOP circles over the decades as a sort of economic apparatchik and hack-for-hire. In 1999 he co-founded the Club for Growth, a conservative advocacy group that pushes for tax cuts, and served as its president until an angry group of board members booted him from the organization. He landed at the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board and later became “chief economist” at the Heritage Foundation, despite his lack of a Ph.D. (These days, he’s a “distinguished visiting fellow” there.) Through his years of preaching tax cuts and deregulation as the one true path to growth, he’s acquired a reputation among economists a bit of a “clown,“ as Paul Krugman’s put it—predicting that Bill Clinton’s tax hikes would bring disaster (they didn’t), that George W. Bush’s tax cuts would bring prosperity (they didn’t), and that Barack Obama’s policies were setting us up for ’70s-style stagflation (they didn’t). In one amusing incident, he managed to get banned from the pages of the Kansas City Star after one of his syndicated columns turned out to be factually impaired. He and supply-side guru Art Laffer were also key advisers behind Kansas’ fiscally and politically disastrous tax cuts. In spite of his own track record of failed predictions, he has disparaged Keynesian macroeconomics as “witchcraft.” Moore is, in other words, a bog-standard Republican commentator whose actual forays into policy have been a hash.
He was not always a Trumpist, however. Early in the 2016 Republican primary, he and fellow supply-side media celebrity Larry Kudlow, then a CNBC host, wrote a National Review article attacking Trump’s immigration and trade policies, which clashed with old conservative orthodoxy. Later on, however, the two of them were drafted to help rewrite Trump’s tax plan, and the pair became converts. Recently, Moore has co-written a book about the glories of the president’s policies titled Trumponomics and served as a pro–White House talking head on CNN.
If he is confirmed to the Fed, Moore will almost certainly act as a reliable toady for the president. He has spent much of his energy recently echoing Trump’s own complaints about the central bank, savaging it for raising interests and claiming, incorrectly, that it has created widespread deflation, while blaming it for putting a damper on Trump’s “booming” economy. He has gone so far as to suggest the Fed should be fired for “economic malpractice.” (Unsurprisingly, Trump reportedly offered Moore the Fed job after reading one of his recent op-eds thrashing the central bank.)
“Donald Trump wanted to drain the swamp,” he said in a recent interview with John Catsimatidis. “Well, John, the Fed is the swamp. The big question now that’s been debated about is whether Donald Trump has the authority as president to replace the Federal Reserve Chairman. The law says he can replace the Federal Reserve Chairman for cause. I would say, well, the cause is that he’s wrecking our economy.” (Note: Trump can’t actually do that).
This is all, unsurprisingly, a bit of a reversal for Moore, who spent much of the Obama years worrying that monetary policy was too loose. He told Glenn Beck that the Fed’s money printing could lead to Zimbabwe-style hyperinflation and called the bank’s bond-buying program—known as quantitative easing—“crack cocaine” for Wall Street. “When other nations have tried to print their way to prosperity, the story hasn’t had a happy ending. For Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico and others, easy money policies have crashed state economies and ended in misery,” he wrote. He also chastised the Federal Reserve for not raising interest rates in September 2015, suggesting that Janet Yellen was setting the stage for another financial crisis. Fast-forward a few years, and he’s sweatily demanding that the Fed put more liquidity into the economy for the sake of a Republican president.
How much harm could Moore do at the Fed? Probably not much, for now. His dovish instincts, like Trump’s, are directionally correct, even if his talk about deflation is mostly nonsense. The Fed itself recently paused its interest rate hikes. And while Moore’s specific recommendations on monetary policy are a little frightening—he wants to peg interest rates to a basket of commodities, which among other things would mean China’s demand for raw goods would help determine our macroeconomic policies—the man will be just one vote out of 12 on the Federal Open Market Committee, which makes interest rate calls. Moore is also not the only Republican to suddenly lose his devotion to hard money after spending the Obama years calling for it. Heck, he’s not the only potential conservative Fed nominee to reverse himself on it. When it comes to monetary policy, hypocrisy is the party line for the GOP. What is a bit disconcerting is that Moore could be around for the next Democratic president, at which point we can probably count on him to push for decisions that sabotage growth.
But while Moore might be an irredeemable hack, Trump’s decision to offer him this job actually does say something positive about his own intellectual growth as a president. For more than a year now, Trump has raged about the Fed’s hawkishness on inflation while failing to nominate candidates who actually share his views about easy money. Now, finally, he seems to have realized that the best way to influence the central bank isn’t to tweet angrily about it. It’s to nominate people to it who will do absolutely whatever he wants.
Update, March 22, 2019: This piece originally referred to a Wall Street Journal report saying that Moore would be nominated. Trump confirmed the report via twitter.