Do Jonathan Gruber’s ‘tortured’ numbers fail MIT’s undergrad ethics test?

By M.D. Kittle | Watchdog.org

Jonathan Gruber’s on-camera confessions about “tortured” numbers and gaming the system for political victory may be acceptable for the Obamacare-loving crowd.

But the Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist’s boasting of such deceptive, politically driven practices would seem to stand counter to the ethical codes and standards this Obamacare architect has been bound by throughout his professional life.

Could Gruber pass the ethics test at his own prestigious academic institution? Maybe not.

“All members of the MIT research community, including students, are expected to conduct research according to the highest ethical and professional scientific standards. Central to these standards are shared values including honesty, fairness, accuracy, objectivity, openness, and respect for others,” states MIT’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program guidelines.

THE ARCHITECT: MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, the man who helped sell America Obamacare, may have some ‘splainin’ to do in the research community.

As the guide notes, there is no single source for scientific standards. But Gruber and the Obama administration have taken a lot of heat in recent weeks for the economics professor’s candid admissions.

In a now-viral video of Gruber’s frank discussion last year at the University of Pennsylvania, the economist declared that the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, would not be here today if Democrats had been truthful about the income-redistribution policies buried in the health care law. He said the bill was “written in a tortured way to make sure CBO (the Congressional Budget Office) did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies.”

Ironically, the health care law eventually survived a Supreme Court challenge because of taxes, or at least the idea that the individual mandate could be construed as a taxing power of Congress.

As the Wall Street Journal editorial page put it, Gruber discussed how he and Democrats wrote the law to win CBO scoring approval and achieve goals that otherwise would have been “politically impossible.” He did call the gimmickry a “sad statement about budget politics in the U.S.”

Gruber did play by the political rules in play.

But in doing so, did this Ford Professor of Economics at MIT, where he has taught for more than two decades, run afoul of the ethics codes by which academic researchers live?

Gruber didn’t want to talk about it.

“(T)hanks for writing. But I have no comments at this time,” he said in an email request for comment from Watchdog.org.

MIT didn’t have anything to say, either.

The institution did not return five requests for comment this week.

Nobody from the many research-driven organizations he leads or serves on returned Watchdog.org’s calls seeking comment. Some said they would, but did not, including the American Society of Health Economists, of which Gruber is president-elect.

According to his biography, Gruber is the director of the Health Care Program at the National Bureau of Economic Research, where he is research associate. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Social Insurance.

He has published more than 150 research articles, has edited six research volumes and is the author of Public Finance and Public Policy, a leading undergraduate text, and Health Care Reform, a graphic novel, brags the professor’s resume.

Of course, Gruber served as a “technical consultant” to the Obama administration and worked with both the administration and Congress to “help craft” the Affordable Care Act. While the administration and Democratic Party leadership once boasted of Gruber’s intricately involved role in the creation of Obamacare, they have in recent weeks seemed to have forgotten the MIT professor’s name and face.

Perhaps Gruber is getting the silent treatment from his old pals because he called the American voter stupid. Pols don’t care to be around people who say in public what they often chortle about in private.

More likely it’s the liberal intellectual’s unabashed honesty about the games played to drive Obamacare that seems to have rattled Washington’s game players. As the Wall Street Journal put it, rarely has the left-leaning intellectual set been as “full frontal as Mr. Gruber about the accounting fraud ingrained in Obamacare.”

Antony Davies, associate professor of economics at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, said whether Gruber has run afoul of ethical standards in the research community depends on the motivation behind the now-infamous statements. To catch manipulation of data demands heavy scrutiny. Try scrutinizing a federal health care law that is tens of thousands of pages and growing.

“In Gruber’s defense, when you pass a law to regulate something as monstrously complex as a health care system, it is not possible to make the law intelligible to anyone, even the people who are voting on it,” Davies said.

That’s why then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi advised in 2010 that “we have to pass the (health care) bill so that you can find out what’s in it.”

Davies said, unfortunately, Pelosi was absolutely right. There was no way of knowing exactly what Obamacare had in store until Congress passed it, and then the administration went about the business of tweaking it to fit its needs.

“Most economists will tell you that there was no way that something that complex released on a modern economy was going to make things better,” Davies said.

And it hasn’t, he added, pointing to the many who have seen their insurance premiums rise and those who lost their health insurance because of the market forces driving the law.

Most economists might have told you to watch out for the massiveness and the complexity of the government program, but not Gruber. Not the architect.

In the end, Davies said, the Democrats and Obamacare supporters had a willing participant in their big-government health care dream. If not Gruber, it could have been someone else, like those four out of five dentists who recommend a certain toothpaste or dental floss.

“Most of what happened was political, not economic,” Davies said.

Would the data behind Obamacare pass research peer review?

“I can confidently say, absolutely not,” the Duquesne economics professor said, “if for no other reason that no one could sit down and read the darn thing.”

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

Top