Alan Beattie

The World Bank has a new chief economist: Kaushik Basu, currently chief economic adviser to the Indian finance ministry and otherwise a professor at Cornell. He follows China’s Justin Lin, another high-profile appointment from the Brics.

With the Bank playing a smaller role than formerly in financing development, its views on economics also carry less weight. The flagship World Development Report used to host some fierce ideological disputes, one of which a decade ago caused another Cornell economist to quit as head of the report (and produce a remarkably illuminating paper describing the unnecessarily polarised debate within the discipline).

But the Bank still has the capacity to start debates, and one particular idea of Basu’s seems a likely candidate. He created a stir by publishing a proposal on the highly charged (particularly in India) question of corruption, suggesting that giving bribes be legalised and only bribe-takers prosecuted. There are sound incentive-based reasons for this – it encourages those asked for bribes to report them to the police – but one can imagine why it might be controversial to let bribers go free. 

Gideon Rachman

Mitt Romney in Ohio on August 14 (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Earlier this week, the Romney camp released a warm letter of endorsement signed by scores of prominent economists, which began:

We enthusiastically endorse Governor Mitt Romney’s economic plan to create jobs and restore economic growth while returning America to its tradition of economic freedom. The plan is based on proven principles: a more contained and less intrusive federal government, a greater reliance on the private sector, a broad expansion of opportunity without government favors for special interests, and respect for the rule of law including the decision-making authority of states and localities.

Aside from the predictably conservative content, several things struck me about the economists’ letter.