Lying Low

Faithful readers of this blog might remember the despicable antics of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who, in a televised hearing last June, spent eight excruciating minutes impugning the honesty of a young economist named Salim Furth — because Furth had presented actual data that contradicted a bunch of numbers Whitehouse had made up out of whole cloth. For those who need a refreseher, the entire sordid story — including Paul Krugman’s reprehensible piling-on to Whitehouse’s McCarthyite smear — is here with a follow-up here.

Well, it turns out that Senator Whitehouse is no more interested in understanding the numbers today than he was last June. Last week, the Heritage Foundation held a symposium on the effects of austerity and what the data actually show — the precise data that Whitehouse disputed. In addition to Furth, who has continued his meticulous research on the subject the speakers included illustrious scholars such as Harvard Professor Alberto Alesina. Heritage sent personal invitations to Senator Whitehouse’s staff and to the various journalists who screwed up this story by reporting Whitehouse’s made-up numbers as accurate and his smears as justified.

The result? None of them showed. Apparently Senator Whitehouse’s passionate interest in the austerity numbers tends to cool off when he can’t hog the spotlight, or might risk learning something.

Meanwhile, if you care more about this subject than Senator Whitehouse does, you might want to look at Furth’s most recent report on the subject, or at the data set he’s posted online, or at his most recent blog post calling Paul Krugman to account for misinterpreting some of these numbers.

Let’s be clear at one thing here: There is surely room for legitimate disagreement about some of the interpretations in Furth’s testimony and his report. But there is no room at all for legitimate disagreement about what the numbers are. Furth got it right. Whitehouse, Krugman, and several journalists got it wrong — and covered their mistakes with vicious attacks on the guy who got it right. None of them has bothered to apologize. None of them bothered to show up for last week’s event where, if they’d had any actual interest in the truth, they could have participated and helped to set the record straight. At long last, have they no decency?


21 Responses to “Lying Low”

  1. 1 1 Daniel

    Just curious, did Salim Furth take out the automatic stabilizers from his analysis? It seems apparent to me that the larger the recession, the larger the increase in automatic stabilizers will be. This is not defending Krugman’s or Whitehouse’s takedown of Salim Furth, which was obviously poor judgement. I’m just trying to get to the correct answer myself.

  2. 2 2 Manfred

    Oh Steven, come on, told you this several times. Why do you get so worked up by a stupid US Senator? Again, a s-e-n-a-t-o-r, whose ego is so inflated that it does not even fit in the Palace of Versailles (even though he is from such a small state like Rhode Island…). Look, I feel for Salim. But on the other hand, when arguing with a senator, you must discount the senator’s utterings by, say, 85% at least. Remember your James Buchanan…
    Salim should continue his work, with honesty and integrity, and take the high road, and not be bothered by the idiotic political class.

  3. 3 3 Salim

    Steve – thanks for posting about my event and research. I appreciate when people outside Washington call the town to account.

    Daniel – taking out the automatic stabilizers is non-trivial, but I did my best to do so. One measure I used a lot was CORE_G = TOTAL_G_EXPENDITURE – INTEREST – TRANSFERS. That’s not perfect, but it’s closer. I also used some estimates of discretionary policy by other authors.

    The oddest thing I found was that on the revenue side, there was no apparent automatic stabilization. The median change in REVENUE/GDP was near zero. I expected that to fall, especially since most countries advertised tax cuts.

  4. 4 4 Ben Southwood

    Only thing I’d quibble with is the use of “McCarthyite” as a slur. I’m coming over to the view that since we now know McCarthy was surprisingly accurate (see e.g., and that there were in fact many communists infesting prominent US institutions, we should stop using “McCarthyite” in such a negative way. Of course, we might still have problems with his methods and the whole idea of ideological thought crime…

  5. 5 5 Daniel

    @ Salim,

    Thanks, I understand how difficult it can be to account for endogenous changes.

    That is odd that you’d find revenue/gdp unchanged in the Median because you’d expect given marginal income taxes people to drop out of higher income brackets into lower ones. Does that have anything to do with the forced fiscal stabilization policies in the periphery? In other words, a lot of the periphery were forced to try to balance their budget, and some preferred tax increases?

  6. 6 6 Wonks Anonymous

    I think your comparison of Whitehouse to McCarthy is unfair to McCarthy. Fred Fisher really had been a member of the National Lawyers Guild.

  7. 7 7 Salim

    @ Daniel -

    It’s broken out by country, and it’s pretty obvious that Estonia & Hungary raised tax rates. But others who planned and enacted tax cuts saw revenue rates rise (see Table 2-3 in the report, p.28).

    The best explanation I’ve heard is that since consumption drops least in a recession, European countries with high VATs end up taxing more. I still need to check that against the data.

  8. 8 8 Ken B


  9. 9 9 Patrick R. Sullivan

    I agree with the others who’ve challenged our host on his use of ‘McCarthyite’–and did so when he first brought it up too. It’s ironic, (no?) to be using a metaphor for dishonesty and demagoguery, which, in reality, was correct in virtually every case.

    ‘Fred Fisher really had been a member of the National Lawyers Guild.’

    Yes, he had, and McCarthy only knew about him because he’d read about it in the NY Times. Whose source was none other than Joseph Welch. I.e. the guy complaining about McCarthy not having any sense of decency was blaming McCarthy for something he himself (Welch) was responsible for!

  10. 10 10 Roger

    Let’s discuss where Krugman is really reprehensible. His latest column is on the The Big Kludge. All good geeks know that the word is properly spelled “kluge”, in the USA at least, and that those using the other spelling should not be taken seriously.

  11. 11 11 Manfred

    Yes Roger, and in addition Krugman says there:
    “Imagine, now, a much simpler system in which the government just pays your major medical expenses. In this hypothetical system you wouldn’t have to shop for insurance, nor would you have to provide lots of personal details. The government would be your insurer, and you’d be covered automatically by virtue of being an American.

    Of course, we don’t have to imagine such a system, because it already exists. It’s called Medicare, it covers all Americans 65 and older, and it’s enormously popular. So why didn’t we just extend that system to cover everyone?”

    Right – why doesn’t the government pay for my house, my bread, my car, my life insurance, my gasoline, my clothing, just by virtue of being an American?
    Can anybody explain to me how a Econ Nobelist, a former distinguished prof at MIT, a John Bates Clark Medal winner, can make such statements? Please, somebody, anybody – I am on the verge of freaking out.

  12. 12 12 Henri Hein

    You can’t be serious about McCarthy. Saying “some of these guys really were communists. Therefore McCarthy was largely correct” sounds to me like saying “Marx had some good insights into the role of Capital in an economy. Therefore Marxism is a valid theory.”

  13. 13 13 Henri Hein


    The line I stumbled on was this:
    “It’s true that the Affordable Care Act isn’t as complex as opponents make it out to be.”

    If the Affordable Care Act is simple, I would hate to see one that Krugman pegs as complex!

  14. 14 14 Patrick R. Sullivan

    ‘Some of these guys really were communists’? Can you name even one person McCarthy challenged who wasn’t either a Communist or a sympathizer? Just one person McCarthy treated unfairly?

  15. 15 15 Keshav Srinivasan

    @Patrick R. Sullivan What about Milo Radulovich? What about Edward R Murrow, who McCarthy accused of being a communist when he defended Radulovich in his famous “See it Now” comments? (If people are interested, they can watch the great movie “Good Night and Good Luck”.)

  16. 16 16 Patrick R. Sullivan

    Oh yes, by all means watch Clooney’s movie, that’s a great history source. Especially the beginning where someone specifically points out to Murrow that McCarthy had nothing to do with Radulovich. Which Murrow ignores.

    Also, Clooney incorporates some of the testimony of Pentagon code room clerk Annie Lee Moss into the film, without telling the audience she was lying about being a Communist. A real, card-carrying member of the party; the FBI had her registration number. Clooney even admits he knew that Moss had perjured herself, but kept the segment in because…it sounded good.

  17. 17 17 Keshav Srinivasan

    @Patrick R. Sullivan I’m pretty sure that McCarthy did attack Radulovich. In any case, what about McCarthy accusing Murrow of being a communist, when Murrow allowed McCarthy to give a response on “See It Now”?

  18. 18 18 Daniel

    @ Roger,
    Google Kluge, it seems to think that kludge is the noun, and kluge is the verb. Is google wrong?

  19. 19 19 Roger

    In the USA, kluge rhymes with huge, not fudge. The original and more sensible spelling is kluge, whether a noun or a verb.

  20. 20 20 Patrick R. Sullivan

    ‘I’m pretty sure that McCarthy did attack Radulovich. ‘

    You’re pretty wrong. Radulovich’s problems were with the Air Force, not McCarthy. I can see you’re well informed on the matter of McCarthy’s meticulously detailed cases. Hint; Murrow wasn’t one either.

  21. 21 21 Dmitry A. Chernikov

    Salim, what economic laws have you discovered with your research?

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