John Sides links to this quote from Barney Frank:
Not for the first time, as a — a — an elected official, I envy economists. Economists have available to them, in an analytical approach, the counterfactual. Economists can explain that a given decision was the best one that could be made, because they can show what would have happened in the counterfactual situation. They can contrast what happened to what would have happened.
No one has ever gotten reelected where the bumper sticker said, “It would have been worse without me.” You probably can get tenure with that. But you can’t win office.
I have two thoughts on this. First, I think Frank is a bit too confident in economists’ ability to “show what would have happened in the counterfactual situation.” Maybe “estimate” or “guess” or “hypothesize” would be a bit stronger than “show.” Recall this notorious graph, which shows the unintentional counterfactual of some economic predictions:
Second, I don’t know how Frank can say that about “no one has ever gotten reelected . . .” In Frank’s district in Massachusetts, it would take a lot–a lot–for a Democrat to not get reelected.