Jonathan Gruber, a health economist at MIT and the main “independent” analyst the Obama administration has relied on to put numbers on its health reform proposals, was paid almost $400,000 last year by the government to do this—but the payments were kept hidden until Marcy Wheeler of Firedoglake broke the story. A small firestorm has raged over this episode: see this and this and this.
Aside from what it says about the commitment of team Obama to open, honest government, it also casts a light on a lesser-known fact about the economics profession: economists never have to disclose their funding sources to the public. They don’t have to say who’s paying them when they publish a journal article. They don’t have to say who’s paying when they write op-eds or make presentations at academic gatherings. Unlike medical researchers, who have gone through a process of soul-searching over their financial relationship to pharmaceutical companies and other interested parties, economists never discuss, and apparently never think about, the potential for money to corrupt.
Obviously, incentives are important for everyone but them.