I’m not sure, but it must be a low bar. In a recent, exhaustive critique of Hassett, Hubbard, Mankiw, and Taylor (HHMT)–who have written a “white paper” on the Romney economic program–DeLong is upset that these critics of Obama have pointed to a certain research paper to bolster their objection to the “cash for clunkers” program. (HT2 Daniel Kuehn) Here’s DeLong, first summarizing the HHMT position, and then critically responding to them:
HHMT: The negative effect of the administration’s ‘stimulus’ policies has been documented in a number of empirical studies. Research by Atif Mian of the University of California, Berkeley, and Amir Sufi of the University of Chicago showed that the cash-for-clunkers program merely moved new car purchases ahead a few months with no lasting effect.
[DeLong responds:] DOES NOT FOLLOW: Such policies are supposed to shift demand forward in time into periods where the crisis is acute from future periods in which, it is hoped, demand is less slack. When Mian and Sufi present their work, they characterize it not as showing the failure but rather the success of programs like CFC [cash for clunkers].
Now when I read this, I thought, “Ah, excellent. Here we have a pretty straightforward factual claim and counterclaim, and one that we can easily verify in 10 seconds with Google: Did Mian and Sufi in fact interpret their own work as showing cash-for-clunkers was a failure or a success?”
Here’s the abstract from Mian and Sufi’s paper:
A key rationale for fiscal stimulus is to boost consumption when aggregate demand is perceived to be inefficiently low. We examine the ability of the government to increase consumption by evaluating the impact of the 2009 “Cash for Clunkers” program on short and medium run auto purchases. Our empirical strategy exploits variation across U.S. cities in ex-ante exposure to the program as measured by the number of “clunkers” in the city as of the summer of 2008. We find that the program induced the purchase of an additional 360,000 cars in July and August of 2009. However, almost all of the additional purchases under the program were pulled forward from the very near future; the effect of the program on auto purchases is almost completely reversed by as early as March 2010 – only seven months after the program ended. The effect of the program on auto purchases was significantly more short-lived than previously suggested. We also find no evidence of an effect on employment, house prices, or household default rates in cities with higher exposure to the program.
I think I solved the mystery here. DeLong knows how he writes about people or programs with which he disagrees; accusations of perfidy and fascism come to mind.
So, since Mian and Sufi don’t say, “Why oh why can’t we have better Administration economic policies?!” DeLong interprets that as a ringing endorsement.
Last point: Forget DeLong for a moment. Go re-read the HHMT position (the top half of the first blockquote above), and then re-read the Abstract from the Mian and Sufi paper. It is almost verbatim.
And yet, DeLong blows a gasket and adds this to his list of misleading statements or outright lies (DeLong’s term) put out by HHMT.
UPDATE: Daniel Kuehn links to this article by Ezra Klein, who contacted some of the economists whose work was cited in the HHMT white paper. I didn’t hunt down the originals and compare with what Klein asked the people, but assuming Klein was being fair, it looks like HHMT misrepresented some of the research on which they relied. One of the people Klein contacted, was an author on the cash for clunkers paper. Notice though that even here, the guy’s response is (paraphrasing), “Oh, we weren’t criticizing stimulus plans in general. We were just saying the CFC didn’t do anything, but that was a $4 billion drop in the bucket. So you can’t generalize from that failed program, to the Administration’s stimulus policies in general.” Like I said, I am paraphrasing there, so go look at his actual position if you want.