Casey Mulligan – You’re Hired!: Untold Successes and Failures of a Populist President (Alexandria, VA: Republic Book Publishers, 2020).
Mulligan was the Chief Economist of President Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers. He is much kinder to Trump than most economists are. While Mulligan pulls a lot of his punches and has some of the unconvincing persecution complex that many Republicans have, he offers credible insights into how Trump and his White House worked. Despite its restraint, You’re Hired has lessons for policy advisers of any political persuasion. Personality matters in politics. Advisers who do not account for that will not get sound policies enacted.
While President Trump is not knowledgeable about policy, he is also not as dumb as many of his critics allege. For example, when he would tweet out good economic news, he would often exaggerate it on purpose, knowing that media reports would instantly go about correcting him—and unintentionally spreading good news they might otherwise have ignored.
Mulligan also praises Trump’s tendency during meetings to intuit many mostly correct economic conclusions even when it is clear he is approaching a given issue for the first time. Mulligan is likely either selective or exaggerating, though, considering Trump’s long pre-presidency track record on issues such as trade, immigration, and industrial policy.
On the negative side, Mulligan’s treatment of opiate policy is at best incomplete. This was one of his primary issues during his CEA tenure; for the most part, Mulligan’s book focuses on issues he personally worked on. On one hand, Mulligan is correct that subsidizing opiates has had negative unintended consequences, and he offers sound policy fixes. On the other hand, Mulligan dismisses ending the criminalization of recreational users or prescribing doctors.
Mulligan is also ok with Washington interfering in doctor-patient relationships involving chronic pain patients—one of whom was my late grandfather, who suffered a great deal of unnecessary pain because of federal policies such as Mulligan endorses.
He also does not address the larger criminal justice problems created by federal drug policy. Mulligan is so narrowly focused on price controls, that while his analysis is correct as far as it goes, he dismisses larger—and politically possible—fixes that lie outside of formal price theory.
While Mulligan writes well, his consistent capitalization is “Federal” is an off-putting stylistic decision. Government documents use the same device. Mulligan’s use of the same honorific does not help his desire to appear independent, even though this is an example of style, not substance.
His lengthy tangent on the lack of collusion in President Trump’s Russia scandal feels out of place, both in they way it copies Trump’s terminology, and because Mulligan had nothing to do with the scandal; “collusion” was not a legal term at issue in the case.
You’re Hired is a useful counter to Trump Derangement Syndrome, which can be almost as harmful as Trumpism. But Mulligan is too sanguine about the administration’s illiberalism. The administration’s policy successes on regulation, education, environmental policy, and assorted other issues do not excuse its deficit spending, its expansive view of executive power, its immigration policies, its poor COVID response, its embarrassing personality cult, embrace of fringe figures and conspiracy theories, its ill-timed stress-testing of liberal political institutions, and its divisive impact on American culture. The administration was neither wholly good nor wholly bad. It had elements of both. Neither should be overlooked.
Mulligan offers pointed criticisms and telling stories of trade adviser Peter Navarro, with whom he crossed paths several times. Since Mulligan also writes at length about immigration policy in the book, he should have done the same to immigration adviser Stephen Miller, who pushed the Trump administration’s family separation policies, casually uses slang terms drawn from white nationalism, frequently cites its literature, and has several personal and online connections to that world. History will not look kindly on Miller; neither should Mulligan.
Mulligan is credible, unlike trashy reality-tv personalities who have surrounded Trump, such as Omarosa Manigault and Michael Cohen. He is also not sycophantic like Sen. Lindsey Graham, Rep. Matt Gaetz, or large swathes of conservative media are. He is also a skilled economist and an unusually clear writer for an academic economist. But Mulligan’s omissions and kid-glove treatments give the impression that he’s holding a lot back.
As fear of a Trump tweet-storm recedes, hopefully Mulligan will be more forthcoming in the future. Future administrations’ policy teams would benefit from this, especially if Trump’s personality and populism remain part of the GOP going forward.
See also a CEI book forum featuring Mulligan. Reading this review over, it is a bit harsh for a book I have a positive opinion of. The book forum balances that out a bit while still asking some pointed questions.