We all agree that the presidential economic advisory council shouldn’t just be a talking shop. It is less clear whether it should directly challenge the conventional assumptions of the president and his ministers, or instead accept — and merely refine — the prevailing ideas of those in power.

Cynics have long embraced a general rule about the role of ideas in political life. Politicians do not dispassionately seek out the truth or, indeed, consistently recall that such a concept exists. Instead, they search for theories — and academic advisers — that tell them what they want to hear...

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