Jonathan Gruber – “You never trust the people you cheat with; they will throw you under the bus.”

The Barometer knows many a professor just like MIT professor, Jonathan Gruber. They are professors who have theories that they believe (with the operative word being “believe”) will help businesses, government agency, and, on occasion, presidents. Full of desire to be something more than just being another college professor with a list of publications, they seek power. The goal is to become the architect of a major movement in business or government. And when they do get close to that brass ring, they are not prepared. Desire trumps discretion. Fame clouds judgment. And the consulting fees bump them up into a lifestyle they don’t want to surrender. So, for power, fame, fees, and fortune, they will do whatever it takes to stay in that inner circle. They toss aside basic principles of their field. They make unsupported assumptions and recommend courses of action that are folly.

Jonathan Gruber is an Internet sensation because of at least six videos that find him describing his critical role in the construction and passage of the Affordable Care Act. What most commentators have missed about the videos, in which Professor Gruber mocks the American public as stupid and touts his ability to game the political system, is the gleeful look on his face. He sees himself as the man, and the audience is with him ) the audience is a topic for another occasion.

Oh, but what he admits that he did. He talked about sensitive subjects such as redistribution of wealth via health care. Oh, and subsidization. And then there is his conclusion that transparency is no good in the political process – you have to obfuscate because it’s more important to pass the law. These thoughts are different from what emerged in the public eye as the ACA slogged through the legislative process. Costs will come down (despite the basic economic principle that you can’t lop 30 million more people into an already strained system and expect that health care will cost less). If you like your plan, you can keep your plan. Moral relativism carries its problems when exercised willy-nilly. When exercised by those in power to get what they want, it is fraud. There are no political sides on deception of the public by those in power– Deception of the public is wrong whether you are a Democrat, a Republican, an Independent, or a couldn’t-care-less constituent.

Professor Gruber is learning this difficult lesson: You never trust the people you cheat with for they will throw you under the bus when your mutual scheming becomes public. Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader in the house, claimed she had no idea who Professor Gruber is – until video emerged of Mrs. Pelosi praising Professor Gruber and her reliance on his figures for COB analysis of the ACA. When asked again in light of the video, Mrs. Pelosi told reporters to find Professor Gruber and talk to him. Likewise, the President and White House Officials issued their denials of Professor Gruber until records showed that Professor Gruber visited the White House 19 times, including a four-hour meeting with the President. And other records showed Professor Gruber was paid almost $400,000 for his work on ACA for the administration.

As noted, the Barometer knows many Professor Grubers. They have sad endings because of the fatal combination of hubris and insecurity. Being published and respected, and Professor Gruber was so with articles in the American Economic Review, health care policy journals, and the status of funded researched. However, when the speeches became public, the powerful abandoned him, but so also did the academic world. The University of Pennsylvania removed the video of Professor Gruber’s October 2013 panel appearance. In that discussion, he laughed about “the stupidity of the American voter.” Penn put the video back up after it received backlash. The University of Rhode Island removed a 2012 panel discussion in which Professor Gruber explains that the law was passed by “exploiting” the American voters’ “lack of economic understanding.”

So, there he sits, alone. The man who was once cited, quoted, and well compensated can’t find a friend or supporter. His role as a consultant is finished. In the academic world he will be viewed with suspicion because, by his own admissions on numerous videos, he revealed his ethical core. You do whatever it takes to do what you want to get done. Does the same standard apply to his research? Does he think reviewers are so stupid that you massage the results to give them what needs to get through and get it out in published form? The politicos who so willingly cited him when he could be used as a credible tool for hoisting duplicity onto the public have now thrown him under the bus.

We in the academic world would ordinarily come to the rescue of a politically discarded academic, but the trust issue causes us to doubt his standards. One more thing. The Barometer also knows a number of academics who, like Professor Gruber, get involved in government policy issues and debates. They testify. Some consult. But, they do not compromise the use of their research and knowledge. If they know that their recommendations mean a tax increase, they say so. If honorable academics know that what they are proposing is cross-subsidization, they say so. They are not partners with those who are advancing political battles by withholding information. Indeed, they would not exploit even the differing levels of knowledge of those affected in order to attain the goal. Deception is wrong, but so also is taking unfair advantage of another. For the academics who labor mightily for truth in their research, Jonathan Gruber is an affront. All of our work and efforts come under suspicion when one of our own behaves as Professor Gruber has. All are punished, thanks to the fatal conceit expressed via hubris resulting from insecurity.

About mmjdiary

Professor Marianne Jennings is an emeritus professor of legal and ethical studies from the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, retiring in 2011 after 35 years of teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in ethics and the legal environment of business. During her tenure at ASU, she served as director of the Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics from 1995-1999. In 2006, she was appointed faculty director for the W.P. Carey Executive MBA Program. She has done consulting work for businesses and professional groups including AICPA, Boeing, Dial Corporation, Edward Jones, Mattel, Motorola, CFA Institute, Southern California Edison, the Institute of Internal Auditors, AIMR, DuPont, AES, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Motorola, Hy-Vee Foods, IBM, Bell Helicopter, Amgen, Raytheon, and VIAD. The sixth edition of her textbook, Case Studies in Business Ethics, was published in February 2011. The ninth edition of her textbook, Business: lts Legal, Ethical and Global Environment was published in January 2011. The 23rd edition of her book, Business Law: Principles and Cases, will be published in January 2013. The tenth edition of her book, Real Estate Law, will also be published in January 2013. Her book, A Business Tale: A Story of Ethics, Choices, Success, and a Very Large Rabbit, a fable about business ethics, was chosen by Library Journal in 2004 as its business book of the year. A Business Tale was also a finalist for two other literary awards for 2004. In 2000 her book on corporate governance was published by the New York Times MBA Pocket Series. Her book on long-term success, Building a Business Through Good Times and Bad: Lessons from Fifteen Companies, Each With a Century of Dividends, was published in October 2002 and has been used by Booz, Allen, Hamilton for its work on business longevity. Her latest book, The Seven Signs of Ethical Collapse was published by St. Martin’s Press in July 2006 and has been a finalist for two book awards. Her weekly columns are syndicated around the country, and her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Chicago Tribune, the New York Times, Washington Post, and the Reader's Digest. A collection of her essays, Nobody Fixes Real Carrot Sticks Anymore, first published in 1994 is still being published. She has been a commentator on business issues on All Things Considered for National Public Radio. She has served on four boards of directors, including Arizona Public Service (1987-2000), Zealous Capital Corporation, and the Center for Children with Chronic Illness and Disability at the University of Minnesota. She was appointed to the board of advisors for the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators in 2004 and served on the board of trustees for Think Arizona, a public policy think tank. She has appeared on CNBC, CBS This Morning, the Today Show, and CBS Evening News. In 2010 she was named one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Business Ethics by Trust Across America. Her books have been translated into four different languages. She received the British Emerald award for authoring one of their top 50 articles in management publications, chosen from over 15,000 articles. Personal: Married since 1976 to Terry H. Jennings, Maricopa County Attorney’s Office Deputy County Attorney; five children: Sarah, Sam, and John, and the late Claire and Hannah Jennings.
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