The Story Darkens


It turns out that last week’s tag-team smear of a young Heritage Foundation economist, executed by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and his lackey Paul Krugman of the New York Times, was even worse than we knew.

As you’ll recall, Salim Furth of the Heritage Foundation testified before the Senate Budget Committee, accurately presenting data on economic policy changes in various countries for the years 2007-2012. Then Senator Whitehouse, cheered on by Paul Krugman, spent eight minutes excoriating Furth for inventing those numbers — the sort of accusation which, if it were taken seriously, would surely destroy Furth’s career. (As well it ought to, if it had contained a grain of truth.)

And what was Senator Whitehouse’s evidence for Furth’s “meretriciousness”, as he put it? Well, it was the fact that Whitehouse had gone to Furth’s source, looked for the numbers, and found them to be entirely different.

What Senator Whitehouse didn’t tell you was that he was “refuting” Furth’s accurate report of the historical record with projected numbers, which is to say pie-in-the-sky promises by politicians about what they’re going to do in the year 2016. It was, as I said last week, as if I’d announced plans to lose 30 pounds and then promptly gained 10. When Furth accurately reports my recent weight gain, Whitehouse calls him a liar because a 10 pound gain is not a 30 pound loss.

Paul Krugman, who must know better, cheered on this mendacity when he wrote:

a Heritage Foundation economist has been accused of presenting false, deliberately misleading data and analysis to the Senate Budget Committee.

What’s so shocking? Not the false, misleading data and analysis — that’s SOP at Heritage. … What’s shocking is that they got called on it, in real time.

Now it turns out that Senator Whitehouse’s numbers were even farther off base. Not only was were the numbers invented to begin with; he took those numbers for various years and added them up, even though they were already cumulative. It’s as if I’d announced plans to lose 30 pounds in 2013 and another 20 in 2014 — a total of 50 over two years. What Senator Whitehouse did was the equivalent of adding the initial 30 to the total of 50, and then announcing that my projected weight loss is 80 pounds. And then calling Furth a 90-pound liar for accurately reporting my 10 pound weight gain.

Now as Furth himself points out, Whitehouse’s travesty of addition might well have been an act of gross incompetence, as opposed to an additional layer of mendacity. But — though Furth is too polite to point this out — Paul Krugman doesn’t have that excuse. If you’ve actually been following this stuff (as I’m sure Paul Krugman has), the numbers were just too implausible.

In other words, there’s no way Paul Krugman actually swallowed Senator Whitehouse’s claim that Ireland has “announced fiscal consolidations” of 95% of GDP. (The correct projected number is 18%.) If he was paying any attention at all, he has to have known these numbers were garbage. Yet he endorsed them.

The only alternative theory is that he endorsed these numbers without paying any attention at all, just because they were integral to a partisan hack’s attempt to destroy the career of a good young scholar, and Krugman just couldn’t wait to check before using his megaphone to magnify the smear.

Share/Save

65 Responses to “The Story Darkens”


  1. 1 1 Bearce

    LOL ‘The Story Darkens.’ A tad melodramatic…

    It’s not uncommon for politicians to misread economic data they’re not familiar with; it is also fair you knock Krugman around for a hasty endorsement.

    Furth wasn’t being a ‘good scholar’ though. As stated earlier, he lumped 2007-2009 with his range of 2007-2012. That’s lying and trying surreptitiously to cover it up with statistics and graphs. He doesn’t present quarterly (or even annual) data within his time range or make an honest effort to dissect how much transfer payments are due to automatic stabilizers and an aging population, he only briefly mentions this point.

    Have fun with bashing Krugman and Whitehouse, but don’t pretend that your boy is being honest or that you don’t have a personal partisan stake in this too.

  2. 2 2 RPLong

    @Bearce:

    I challenge you to acknowledge the wrong-doing that Landsburg has highlighted WITHOUT taking a swipe at the opposing party.

    Why is it so hard for people to do this?

  3. 3 3 S

    “accurately reporting my 10 pound weight loss” should probably be “accurately reporting my 10 pound weight GAIN”.

  4. 4 4 Steve Landsburg

    Bearce:

    As stated earlier, he lumped 2007-2009 with his range of 2007-2012. That’s lying and trying surreptitiously to cover it up with statistics and graphs.

    All of Furth’s graphs were clearly labeled “2007-2012″. You might or might not think it would have been more interesting to look at some other time period. (Personally, I think 2007-2012 was the right choice, but there are certainly arguments to be made to the contrary.)

    But to suggest that because somebody made a different choice than you would have and then told you clearly and upfront what choice he had made, that this person was “lying and trying surreptitiously to cover it up” is an outrageous libel. Your comments are no longer welcome here.

  5. 5 5 Steve Landsburg

    S: Thanks for the catch. I’m fixing this.

  6. 6 6 F.F. Wiley

    I recently wrote an article on U.S. debt comparing both 2007 and 2009 to 2012, and I also argued the 2007 comparison is more relevant. It tells you where we stand today versus the last time the global economy was growing normally, instead of comparing to the depth of the crisis when emergency spending was near its peak. So I agree that both are relevant but 2007 may be more so.

    In any case, kudos again for setting the record straight(er) on Whitehouse’s and Krugman’s McCarthyisms (great pic!). If anyone’s interested in more on Krugman’s contradictions, I also posted a part 2 of a Krugman critique today:

    http://www.cyniconomics.com/2013/06/10/testing-krugmans-debt-reduction-strategy/

  7. 7 7 Ken B

    Bearce: “he lumped 2007-2009 with his range of 2007-2012. That’s lying and trying surreptitiously to cover it up ”

    I don’t see how that can be lying if it’s labelled correctly.
    I don’t see how that can be surreptitious if it’s labelled clearly.
    It was labelled clearly and correctly.

    Bearce, regular readers will recall, spilt vast amounts of ink rudely insisting to me there were no Jim Crow laws segregating southern buses or lunch counters.

  8. 8 8 CC

    But to suggest that because somebody made a different choice than you would have and then told you clearly and upfront what choice he had made, that this person was “lying and trying surreptitiously to cover it up” is an outrageous libel. Your comments are no longer welcome here.

    SL, you’re overreacting here. This is my favorite blog in the world, but you really seem to lose your temper in the comments sometimes.

    It’s almost as if he made an offensive statement about axioms of arithmetic. :)

  9. 9 9 Ken B

    re 4, 7
    I see Steve, not for the first time, has beat me to the punch.

  10. 10 10 Neil

    It’s Bayes’ law. The Heritage Foundation more often than not plays fast and loose with statistics to back their ideological stance. Krugman can be forgiven for mistakenly thinking this was just another case.

  11. 11 11 Steve Landsburg

    Neil: The Heritage Foundation more often than not plays fast and loose with statistics

    There’s always room for dispute about what counts as playing “fast and loose” with statistics. But please provide an example — any example — of a Heritage Foundation scholar inventing numbers out of whole cloth, as was alleged here.

  12. 12 12 Daniel

    As I stated before, I think Krugman should apologize in this case but just one example of where Heritage played “fast and loose” with statistical projections was here. Yes, it’s a link to Paul Krugman, but Heritage took it down, when they realized it’s projections were ridiculous. Maybe this whole thing is a lesson against using projections unless you’re an expert time series econometrician.

    http://www.princeton.edu/~pkrugman/heritage1.pdf

    On another note, why would 2007-2012 be the correct time span? I’m going to weave some logical assumptions here to prove a point of why 2007-2012 would not be a good starting point.

    Let’s say that in 2007 we were at full employment, we’ll call our Real GDP index in this time period 100. Now let’s say that we had a shock to Real GDP in which overall GDP drops by 7%, and now we’re at 93. The government crafts inadequately sized policies to deal with this problem. Let’s say that these policies have a multiplier of approximately 1.2 and are sized at a full employment GDP index of 3%. Now we’re back to 96.6. Doing better but not recovered. Notice though that government expenditures have expanded by 3% of the initial real GDP and a larger fraction of current GDP even though total GDP has fallen. Let’s say that this is where we find ourselves in 2010 with an index of 96.6. Should we see what happens to Real GDP from this point, where the shock to Real GDP has clearly already occured as we raise or lower GDP, or should we use the initial point as our starting point? To me it makes sense to start from where we know the shock has already occurred and look at variation between countries across time in a panel going forward. This is what Larry Summers did and I think he had the best data in the congressional discussion.

    I’d like to hear the arguments for why starting pre-shock is the way to go? I know that this is not what the post is about but Steve you’ve said now that personally you find this starting point a better one and I’m interested to know why?

  13. 13 13 Daniel

    “Should we see what happens to Real GDP from this point, where the shock to Real GDP has clearly already occured as we raise or lower GDP*”

    government expenditures

  14. 14 14 Neil

    Documenting Heritage’s misuse of statistics would be a full time job. But here is an example–can’t remember the exact figures, but their poverty study claimed that something like 50% of poor families have cable, 50% have a video game consol, and 50% have a cell phone. They then concluded that “the typical poor family has cable, a video game, and a cell phone” when of course only about 13% are likely to have all three.

  15. 15 15 JohnW

    Neil:

    How do you figure? It seems you are assuming that those probabilities are independent, but it seems likely to me that they are highly correlated.

    While it is probably incorrect to say that 50% have all three if the data only says that 50% have each, it is surely also incorrect to assume that only (50%)^3 have all three. In fact, I’d wager the correct number is closer to 50% than to your claimed 13%.

  16. 16 16 Neil

    That is the point. They provided zero evidence of correlation. So I can assume they are independent. The fact that “it seems to you that they are highly correlated” is not evidence that they are. And that is how statistics is misused, not just by heritage, but by nearly all advocacy groups.

  17. 17 17 Ken

    Bearce,

    As stated earlier, he lumped 2007-2009 with his range of 2007-2012. That’s lying and trying surreptitiously to cover it up with statistics and graphs.

    As Steve pointed out, all of Furth’s graphs were clearly labelled as being from 2007-2009. That you think the analysis should have been done over another time frame doesn’t make Furth a liar. But that you accuse him of being a liar for doing nothing other than choosing a time frame you find inconvenient only shows what an shameful hack you are.

  18. 18 18 Guy

    I had to laugh at McCarthy next to Krugman, but we should be fair. Senator Joe McCarthy was far from partisan. He didn’t play the Washington game and he paid for it. His name is almost synonymous with Hitler now but history tells a different story, and it isn’t fair to lump him in with everything denounced as “McCarthyism”. That itself would be McCarthyism. It is ironic because McCarthy has probably been the greatest victim of McCarthyism out of any historical figure I can think of. Most textbooks literally say he defamed innocent people for fun, “and by the way he was a drunken idiot whose only good was drinking himself to death.” Fortunately there is better scholarship than that, which, to bring it all together, is the point of this whole thing.

  19. 19 19 S

    Knock yourself out, Neil: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2011/07/what-is-poverty.

    Read the section entitled “Amenities in the Median Poor Household” and apologize.

  20. 20 20 Ken

    Neil,

    But here is an example–can’t remember the exact figures

    You are not providing an example if you are only giving remembered impressions on a study that you don’t even remember, much less cite.

    Also, assuming independence (.5*.5*.5 = 0.125) is definitively not a solid methodology.

    The reason you should cite the actual studies is so you are familiar with them and won’t make fallacious claims. The linked study shows 79% of “poor” households having cable/satellite TV, 76% having cell phones, and 31% having a game console.

    Further, I could not find a single statement that said “the typical poor family has cable, a video game, and a cell phone”. The only statements at this link that contain “the typical poor family” are:

    “The home of the typical poor family was not overcrowded and was in good repair.”

    “Of course, the typical poor family could have a host of modern conveniences and still live in dilapidated, overcrowded housing.”

    “By contrast, a realistic portrayal of the living conditions of the typical poor family in America would not make compelling viewing.”

    As well as one in the conclusion, which is a duplicate of the first statement above:

    “In 2005, the typical household defined as poor by the government had a car and air conditioning. For entertainment, the household had two color televisions, cable or satellite TV, a DVD player, and a VCR. If there were children, especially boys, in the home, the family had a game system, such as an Xbox or PlayStation. In the kitchen, the household had a refrigerator, an oven and stove, and a microwave. Other household conveniences included a clothes washer, a clothes dryer, ceiling fans, a cordless phone, and a coffee maker.

    The home of the typical poor family was not overcrowded and was in good repair. The family was able to obtain medical care when needed. By its own report, the family was not hungry and had sufficient funds during the past year to meet all essential needs.”

    I’m assuming that you are referring to the first paragraph. The quoted portion of your comment isn’t contained in that paragraph or any other part of the link. If the above link is not the one to which you refer, then to which study do you refer? If you are referring to the linked study, why be so dishonest and use a quote for a statement that does not actually exist?

    But what I find most interesting is that you focus on cable TV, video games, and cell phones, none of which could be considered essential and not having these things certainly isn’t cause to say someone lives in poverty. That is the very point of the Heritage study. The typical “poor” household does indeed have cable TV and cell phones. Those with children, particularly boys do have game consoles. That the typical poor households do have these things does indicate that poverty is overstated and that the words “poverty” and “poor” are used by politicians to mean something other than what the typical person takes them to mean, namely the hardship of consistently finding food, clothing, and shelter.

  21. 21 21 Neil

    If you like their poverty study, then look instead at their new immigration study that claims amnesty will cost $6.3 trillion.

  22. 22 22 Bill

    Nice photos, Tail-Gunner Paul strikes again.

  23. 23 23 Daniel

    Still haven’t heard a good reason why to start in 2007? So far we’ve only addressed the fact that Furth indeed was being honest, not that it was a competent analysis. Starting in 2007 entangles the shock with increases in government spending in the form of stimulus. Why not start in 2009 or 2010 when the effects of the shock are not as prominent and thus less likely to interfere with causative arguments?

  24. 24 24 Gordon L.

    Could someone please be so kind as to help me out here:

    1. Is Furth simply comparing his metric(s) related to austerity for 2007 vs. 2012, disregarding years between?

    2. Is part of the difference in perspective here (along with Whitehouse using projections and making an analytical error) that Furth is simply starting from a baseline year(s) with tighter fiscal policy vis a vis his metric(s) — i.e., closer to “austerity” — than the baseline year Whitehouse is using (particularly lower deficits as percent of GDP, and also lower spending vis a vis Furth’s spending metrics)? In other words, is part of the problem that Furth is using a baseline pre-recession or prior to the automatic and policy-driven increases in spending, reductions in revenues, and increases in deficits that accompanied the recession — making 2012 deficits and spending seem less austere than would a comparison of 2012 to 2009, the latter being Whitehouse’s baseline year?

  25. 25 25 Il Falcone

    Admittedly, I know very (very!) little about how these numbers are computed, but I was confused when Sen. Whitehouse started by saying “Here’s what the numbers actually are according to the OECD: Slovenia, 100% spending cuts….”

    I assumed he meant they cut the growth rate 100%? But now I’m thinking he implied they cut spending 100%. Either way, very unfortunate to see his treatment of Furth.

  26. 26 26 Steve Landsburg

    Gordon L:

    is part of the problem that Furth is using a baseline pre-recession or prior to the automatic and policy-driven increases in spending, reductions in revenues, and increases in deficits that accompanied the recession — making 2012 deficits and spending seem less austere than would a comparison of 2012 to 2009, the latter being Whitehouse’s baseline year?

    The minor (and legitimate) reason for the difference is that Furth wants to start in 2007 and Whitehouse in 2009, with the issues being exactly as you’ve described them. But the major reason for the difference is that Furth wants to compare the baseline year to current actual policy, whereas Whitehouse wants to compare the baseline year to somebody’s made-up numbers for future policy.

    And of course above and beyond this, the really major issue is Whitehouse’s perfidious suggestion that these differences render Furth a liar.

  27. 27 27 Gordon L.

    Steve #26,

    Thanks for your helpful answer.

    I agree that Whitehouse’s attack on Furth’s integrity was uncalled for.

    That said, if I may humbly offer two cents on something FWIW (with the preface that I greatly appreciate this unique, outstanding blog, and a second premise that I don’t know whether or not there is any relevant commenting history of the commenter in question), it seems you’ve at least disinvited and perhaps banned the commenter “Bearce” for his/her comment #1. Obviously it’s your blog and your call, but I hate to see someone get banned from a blog (if that’s what happened) if there’s a reasonable chance he/she isn’t being a jerk (let alone an incorrigible jerk).

    It seems his/her assertion was that Furth had been deliberately deceptive by choosing his baseline (etc.) so as to engineer his conclusion to fit his agenda rather than to conduct and present good-faith analysis. Such behavior (generically speaking) isn’t lying (lying requires deliberate presentation of information the presenter knows to be untrue, and apparently Furth’s information wasn’t even untrue), but it is deceptive, lacking in integrity, and “meretricious”. If one can reasonably conclude (even if others can reasonably disagree) that Furth appears to be guilty of such deception, then calling it “lying”, while inartful and somewhat unfair hyperbole, does not seem to me such a stretch as to be a ban-worthy transgression, particularly on a blog so characterized and made so excellent by vigorous debate/discussion.

    If you banned him/her, I wish instead you had given him/her a chance to reply to your response, which perhaps could have started with his/her accepting the distinction you made, but then proceeded to a discussion of the merits of the charge that Furth’s analsyis was misleading (and perhaps deliberately so) per the aforementioned reasoning re: years chosen.

    Again, I don’t know if there’s some relevant history, and in any case I’m just offering my two cents, which I hope doesn’t come across as presumptuous or otherwise out of line.

  28. 28 28 Tristan

    @Gordon

    Chiming in with support for Bearce. Doesn’t matter whether I even agree with B, Landsburg’s reaction is something he should apologize for. Telling someone they’re not welcome on your blog just because they have a different interpretation of events and articulate it using a bit of the ol’ hyperbole is a really good way to scare off thoughtful debate. As it stands, the next time I flatly disagree with Landsburg (which doesn’t happen very often at all) I’ll think twice, since I know I may get accused of libel and invited to show myself out.

  29. 29 29 Mike H

    Off-topic and irrelevant:

    “I tossed a coin, and 50% of the time it came up heads. Therefore, a typical coin toss shows heads”

    “I tossed a coin. 50% of the time it came up heads, and 50% it came up tails. Therefore, a typical coin toss shows heads and tails simultaneously”

  30. 30 30 Bennett Haselton

    Regarding the “ban” in Bearce, I assume it’s just a symbolic statement since you can’t “ban” a user if they re-post without logging in, unless you ban them by IP address, and even then it would be easy for them to use another one.

    I admit I was surprised to see SL say that Bearce’s comments were “no longer welcome”.

  31. 31 31 Harold

    Re Heritage study on poverty. They say “Exaggeration and misinformation about poverty obscure the nature, extent, and causes of real material deprivation, thereby hampering the development of well-targeted, effective programs to reduce the problem.” Yet the definition of poverty is clearly defined and publicised, much like the dates on Furth’s graphs. If the Heritage foundation wants to use its own definition, which as they say is closer to destitution than poverty, they can. But to accuse others of using clearly defined terms as “exageration and misinformation” is itself misinformation.

    Statements like ““The poorest Americans today live a better life than all but the richest persons a hundred years ago.”[3]” are completely meaningless. One may be able to say they have a higher standard of living, but to equate that with a “better life” is absurd. This is not a trivial point.

    Are we really surprised to discover that poor families have cookers, fridges, telephones and ceiling fans?

    They list the number of amenities and give one point per amenity. This is obviously very limited since it counts all amenities as equal value. They then looked at the median score (14 for poor families) and counted which 14 items occured most frequently. This seems to be what they base their “typical poor family” statement on. There is one discrepancy. There is no mention a car in the 14 most frequent items, yet it is included in the list. There does not seem to be any mention of car at all in the data, so the origin of this is obscure.

    They do not seeem to have just added up the amenities, but it is still a rubbish report.

  32. 32 32 Lio
  33. 33 33 db

    Why did Furth not just flop his source out onto the table?

  34. 34 34 Jack

    Neil #21, yeh I could be wrong, but I imagine Steven landsburg was upset when heritage focused on the trillions of dollars that immegration supposedly “costs” and not also mentioning the benefits.

    But of course that’s besides the point here somewhat. Landsburg doesn’t have to mention every heritage study he disagrees with and one of the reasons I trust him way more than krugman is because he would if asked probably bash the study or at least after reviewing it if he felt it deserved it would do so.

  35. 35 35 CC

    I trust [SL] way more than krugman is because he would if asked probably bash the study or at least after reviewing it if he felt it deserved it would do so.

    Good point. I’m reminded of the chapter (in Armchair Economist?) when he cited an article and claimed it had the worst economic reasoning ever. The best part was that SL actually agreed with the conclusion (that the war on drugs was on net harmful), but SL was still eager to show how terrible the argument was.

  36. 36 36 Ken B

    Tristan on Bearce:
    “Telling someone they’re not welcome on your blog just because they have a different interpretation of events and articulate it using a bit of the ol’ hyperbole …”

    Except that’s not what Bearce did. He made a straight up accusation of lying, and he did it on the basis of no evidence at all. Your characterization would describe Neil and his knee-jerk attacks on Heritage, but then Neil wasn’t banned.

  37. 37 37 Ken B

    @Harold 31
    I believe the Heritage position is that the definition is a misleading one, because the technical meaning varies widely from the common meaning and its connotations. It’s like me saying you do very little work in your job and citing force * displacement when you dispute it.
    Most people equate poverty with penury; the statistics do not.

  38. 38 38 J Mann

    Neil, do you agree that you were wrong about your poverty example?

    So far, Heritage’s analysis on that issue looks better to me than yours.

  39. 39 39 Harold

    #37.”It’s like me saying you do very little work in your job and citing force * displacement when you dispute it.”
    Who says I would dispute it?

    We have definitions of penury and poverty – why not just point out the difference? Not sure about your analogy. You cite two different definitions of the same word, whereas they are talking about people mixing up the definitions of two words. Perhaps it is more like me saying your answer was precise, and you mis-interpreting that as me thinking your answer was accurate.

    Anyway, it is still a rubbish paper – the methodology of counting objects to come up with a score is very misleading. Does an iphone count more than a cheap mobile phone for $10? Not in that system. My ceiling fan counts the same points as your hot-tub, and my cordless phone(cost about $20? -not cell phone) counts as much as your top of the range computer. Why not just use money as a measure? Then we can talk about poverty in terms of how much money someone has compared to everyone else and everyone can understand it clearly.

  40. 40 40 Ken

    Neil,

    If you like their poverty study, then look instead at their new immigration study that claims amnesty will cost $6.3 trillion.

    To which you don’t link and standard practice of the dishonest – moving the goal posts. I haven’t looked at the immigration study, but with your track record, the false quote and the inability to properly read studies, I don’t have any reason to believe you on that one either. Nor do you bring any specific charge, just a generic accusation from which you can retreat if you’re found to be falsely accusing this study as well.

  41. 41 41 Ken

    Daniel,

    Still haven’t heard a good reason why to start in 2007?

    Because it’s not relevant to the point of the post. You’re simply trying to change the subject so you can get into an argument.

    The post is not about why choosing 2007 as a starting point is a good one. The point is that Whitehouse and Krugman didn’t like the starting point of 2007 either, but instead of trying to say why this isn’t a good starting point, they lied and claimed Furth was lying because his 2007-2012 data set didn’t equal Whitehouse’s 2009-2016 (which cannot contain actual data for the years 2013-2016). Anybody can easily explain why data collated on the years 2007-2012 will not be the same as 2009-2016. But instead of acknowledging that Whitehouse and Krugman lied about Furth.

  42. 42 42 Ken

    Tristan,

    Landsburg’s reaction is something he should apologize for

    Of course, this is non-sense. Bearce claimed that Furth was lying, which of course is provably false. Bearce would have preferred a starting point of 2009, rather than 2007. Every presentation Furth gave clearly stated that his time period of study was 2007-2012. Since this wasn’t Bearce’s preferred time period of study, he simply claimed Furth was lying, rather than using actual analytic thought.

    Base accusations should never be welcome. Your approval of Bearce’s obvious dishonesty is strange at best.

  43. 43 43 Ken

    Harold,

    But to accuse others of using clearly defined terms as “exageration and misinformation” is itself misinformation.

    The point is that very few people are aware of the technical definition that the Census Bureau uses to define poverty. Politicians know this and exploit the fact that what people think of as poverty is completely different from that technical definition.

    It’s like redifining left to mean right, and right to mean left, then giving someone directions. Then after they get lost due to poor directions, you give them the excuse that “Hey, I redefined what right and left mean. It’s not my fault you didn’t have the smarts to look on my website to make sure I had not done this.”

    It’s incredibly important to know that the Census Bureau’s technical definition of poverty is a relative measure, ensuring that poverty will never be reduced. To say that other’s are simply stupid or lazy for not knowing this is ridiculous.

    Statements like ““The poorest Americans today live a better life than all but the richest persons a hundred years ago.”[3]” are completely meaningless. One may be able to say they have a higher standard of living, but to equate that with a “better life” is absurd.

    This is an odd statement in the extreme. This is the very point of economic progress, that all people are materially better off today than just a brief period ago. Are you really claiming that the poorest Americans today do not live a better life than the richest person 100 years ago? If so why? Material comfort, despite your protestations, does in fact make people’s lives better.

    This is obviously very limited since it counts all amenities as equal value.

    So?

  44. 44 44 Daniel

    Ken,
    I’ve already said that I think Krugman should apologize. I don’t think Krugman lied however, I think he let his biases take him in a careless direction. I don’t really care about Whitehouse’s opinion in the least because he’s just another politician and politicians lie frequently to further their own viewpoint. Not to mention the fact that as a non-economist he probably just didn’t understand what was going on and thought he had caught Salim Furth in a gotcha position, but rather made himself look very silly and stupid.

    But this is why I think the starting point is still relevant to this discussion anyway. The only options weren’t between 2007-2012 and 2009-2016. They could have picked any possible combination of years. I think either 2010-2013 or 2009-2012 would be the best starting points for the reasons many have pointed to above. If there’s no good reason for Salim Furth to have started in 2007 instead of 2009 or 2010, I know only two reasons for why he would have chosen 2007 for his starting point.

    1. He did not think about the issues involved in his analysis very carefully before presenting them to a congressional hearing. (This just makes him not a very good macro-economist in this instance, not someone who lied)

    2. He knew about the troubles with this starting point and decided to present them anyway because it made his point stronger. If this is the case than can’t we say that he was being dishonest if not lying?

    Unless there’s a good reason to start in 2007, is there any other possible explanation for starting in 2007? Hence, why I’d like to hear from all you guys what the reason for starting in 2007 may be?

  45. 45 45 Martin-2

    Daniel – Furth justifies his choice of time frame here.

  46. 46 46 Daniel

    @Martin-2

    Okay, now I understand why he started in 2007. I disagree with it because it entangles causation with the effects of the shock, but at-least I know that he had a reason. If I wanted to answer the question who has increased spending since the start of the recession, than Furth’s method is valid. But, if I want to answer the question of does increases in government spending help pull us out of a liquidity trap type recession than his method is invalid because there’s no way of disentangling increases in spending with the shock.

  47. 47 47 Ken B

    @Harold 39
    You realize you just argued that “poverty” and “poverty” are different words?

  48. 48 48 Ken B

    Hmmmm. In 47 I accidentally stumbled on the solution to the boxcar debate. I wrote

    @Harold 39
    You realize you just argued that “poverty” and “poverty” are different words?

    Neil and Brian are right after all: they have been using the word “motionless” differently!

  49. 49 49 Jack PQ

    @Daniel (12): The Heritage projections suggesting 2.8 percent unemployment in 2021 are implausible, but not outrageous. How is this different from any other projection calculated by a partisan group, whether the Obama team’s “jobs created or saved” (rubbish, but not lies) or any report from the left-leaning EPI, say.

    Like any other partisan think-tank, Heritage presents information to defend its cases. They say a given economic plan will reduce unemployment by 2.4 percentage points over 10 years. I say it’s not the most plausible case, but it’s not dishonest.

  50. 50 50 One who knows

    The 2.8 percent unemployment rate was a typo or coding error that didn’t get caught until after publication. Heritage’s authors stood behind the corrected number (which was something boring, like 4 or 5%), and didn’t stand behind the 2.8% goof.

  51. 51 51 Harry

    Professor,

    The miserable Messrs. Whitehouse and Krugman are deserving of and invite multiple ad hominem attacks for stupidity. I am more interested in the Keynsean idea of the multiplier, to which some of your learned commentators alluded, and worshipped by professor Krugman and Senator Whitehouse from different altars of the Progressive Church.

    My question is: is there any evidence that the multiplier has been greater than 1?

    Yes, I know all about loose standards, et cetera. And the laws of physics. Therefore, how is it possible to throw five or so trillion dollars, plus an extra 85 billion of assorted hog parts per month into the federal meat grinder and come out with seven trillion of beef tenderloin?

  52. 52 52 David

    So, do we have any word from Krugman on this? It looks like he has left his original attack up without edits, and he hasn’t apologized.

  53. 53 53 Patrick R. Sullivan

    Using a picture of Joseph McCarthy is rather ironic. Can you give me even one example of McCarthy attacking someone using bogus data?

  54. 54 54 Henri Hein

    Bearce’s comment is symptomatic of alarmist parochialism that severely obfuscates the debate, at best. If you are concerned with veracity, this kind of intellectual vandalism should disturb you. I understand the professor’s reaction.

  55. 55 55 Henri Hein

    Harold @39:

    “Why not just use money as a measure? Then we can talk about poverty in terms of how much money someone has compared to everyone else and everyone can understand it clearly.”

    I agree to some extent with your larger point that aggregating stats is problematic. Which is sort of interesting in a thread indirectly related to Keynesianism, whose practioners exceed at that, but I digress. Your suggestion has its own problems. Amenities tend to improve marginally at exponential cost. To take your example, the practical difference between a $10 commodity phone and a $500 iPhone is not a factor 50. (OK, not to most people. Those addicted to Angry Birds excepted.)

  56. 56 56 Harold

    #47 – I presume you are talking about my analogy. I say we have two words – say penury and poverty. Officials or experts use poverty and other people think they mean penury. They are getting the definitions mixed up. Similarly people often equate precise with accurate. I am not sure how I have argued “poverty” and “poverty” are different words. Not to say I haven’t, just can’t see it. Even so, words often have more than one meaning.

    Ken: “This is an odd statement in the extreme. This is the very point of economic progress, that all people are materially better off today than just a brief period ago. Are you really claiming that the poorest Americans today do not live a better life than the richest person 100 years ago? ”
    I have no idea. I do know that you cannot decide by counting ceiling fans. “Better life” does not mean the same as “more things”. “Better” contains a value component that cannot be determined by possesions.

    I don’t quite buy your left/right analogy. I still think my accurate/precise is better. I do not disagree that “experts” and politicians should avoid deliberately using a technical term so that it will be deliberately misunderstood. The technical meaning of poverty is not hidden, but those using it should try to ensure it is understood. The Heritage Foundation report remains a very poor effort (Oh no- that word again!) to elucidate or clarify.

  57. 57 57 Ken B

    @56
    No, the distinction is not like precise and accurate. Poverty is a perfectly good word; it has been co-opted for rhetorical effect by people trading on a particular use of it as technical jargon. Pointing out that this reliance on a technical meaning that varies markedly from the common meaning is not dishonest or sneaky, it is the reverse. It is relying on the connotations of terms you use as jargon that is dodgy.
    History provides a famous example. One group, clearly a minority of a particular political movement, won a small vote on a side issue and immediately styled themselves “the party of the majority” and their opponents “the party of the minority.”
    That was sneaky, and Lenin was rather proud of the trick. Mensheviks who later protested were not being dishonest. Nor is Heritage.

  58. 58 58 J Mann

    Ken: “This is an odd statement in the extreme. This is the very point of economic progress, that all people are materially better off today than just a brief period ago. Are you really claiming that the poorest Americans today do not live a better life than the richest person 100 years ago? ”

    Harold: I have no idea. I do know that you cannot decide by counting ceiling fans. “Better life” does not mean the same as “more things”. “Better” contains a value component that cannot be determined by possesions.

    If that’s true, Harold, why are we concerned about poverty at all? Who are we to say that the poor (or the middle class) don’t actually have “better lives” than the rich?

  59. 59 59 Harold

    I don’t necesarily agree that the definition differs “markedly” from the common one. I don’t think there has ever been an agreed universal meaning like there has for “right” and “left” (I know those are not your examples). I concede it is slightly different from accuracy and precision, because they do have a well defined and accepted technical meaning, whereas poverty also has different technical as well as colloquial meanings. It is an imprecise term, and people who use language are aware of that. I think you are confusing imprecise with innacurate useage. Pointing out what poverty means in any particualar context is valuable, but the Heritage report fails to do that accurately. Surely you don’t think theirs is a good objective methodology, whatever you think about their aims?

  60. 60 60 Ken B

    @Harold 59:
    I don’t know enough about Heritage to have a general comment on their modus operandi. I think they are on firm ground with their “poverty” point.
    Poverty does NOT mean above or below the poverty line. That is a jargonistic abuse of language. Agencies and research groups do not get to redefine the language. If they used an accurate neutral description like “the lower quintile of income” or whatever the actual criteria really are there would be no issue. There would also be little rhetorical power.
    It’s simple Harold. Is murderer a fair term for abortion advocate? Well it won’t be any fairer if some agency, here or abroad, declares it such. And that is not unlikely in this religious world. The Vatican, or the state of Oklahoma could define a murder rate to include abortion, etc and you’d still sqwalk if someone called you as pro-murder. That’s more extreme but it’s the same principle.

  61. 61 61 Harold

    I was not discussing Heritage generally, only this one paper. I think you are wrong about what poverty means and that it has a fixed and single meaning. Unlike Humpty Dumpty, you do not get to decide what words mean. We seem to be having trouble communicating here. They may (or may not) be on firm ground with their point, but their methodology in this case is bad.

    They want to say that agencies are using “poverty” to mean “relative poverty” not “absolute poverty”. The way they do it in this paper is rubbish.

    Whether absolute or relative poverty is the correct focus for policy is a separate matter.

  62. 62 62 Frosty

    Are you really claiming that the poorest Americans today do not live a better life than the richest person 100 years ago?

    Imagine Cornelius Vanderbilt were, with perfect memory of his former life, reincarnated as today’s poorest American and was asked which life was better? I’m speculating he would say his former life was better.

  63. 63 63 Ken B

    @62:
    Like he couldn’t sell his memoirs for millions!

  64. 64 64 Daniel

    @63,

    He’d need to have some pretty good proof that he was indeed Cornelius Vanderbilt in his past life, otherwise he’d just be labeled crazy, along with the long line of other people who claim to have reincarnated. Although, now that you mention it people are suckers for afterlife stories. Maybe I should be the reincarnation of Carnegie.

  65. 65 65 Ken B

    @Daniel 64:
    “Maybe I should be the reincarnation of Carnegie.”
    In pick up bars I usually claim to be his descendant …

  1. 1 Landsburg Calls Out Latest Krugman Smear
  2. 2 Some Links - Unofficial Network
Comments are currently closed.