I was starting to get mildly annoyed at Steve Landsburg, because he’s been very infrequently posting on his blog lately, and when he does, it’s math riddles, rather than economic analysis. But all is forgiven because in his latest two posts (here and here) Steve defends Heritage Foundation scholar Salim Furth–whom Steve apparently knew at the University of Rochester, so he took the smear personally I think–from Krugman’s character assassination at his blog.
If you’re interested in this Krugman-Bites-Right-Winger non-newsworthy story, you can go read Steve’s posts. To sweeten the pot, let me entice you with Steve’s best line: “Which brings us to the other reason these numbers differ: Furth’s come from the historical record, while Senator Whitehouse’s come from somebody’s ass.”
However, as much as I like Steve’s treatment, I feel like Spock watching the flight pattern of Khan: “He is intelligent, but inexperienced.” Steve is open to the alternate hypotheses that (a) Krugman dishonestly endorsed Whitehouse’s reading of the OECD data, or (b) Krugman smeared Furth without really checking the numbers.
But there’s a third explanation, and one which I think is closer to the truth: Krugman didn’t bother checking the data, and carefully framed his post such that he technically didn’t lie. Look again closely at how Krugman worded his post:
OK, this is really shocking: 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.
See? Krugman technically isn’t saying, “A Heritage Foundation economist just presented deliberately misleading data.” No, Krugman said–quite correctly–that the Heritage Foundation economist had been accused of doing so, and Krugman backed up his claim with a link to the accusation.
OK dropping the cuteness, the Keynesians really were sloppy on this one. Look at the Wonk Blog post on which Krugman relied. Its author, Dylan Matthews, had to cross out a whole paragraph (go look) because he falsely accused Furth of dividing by actual GDP, instead of “potential” GDP (not that there’s anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld and I would say), and Matthews also reproduced the ridiculous Whitehouse chart, which showed (for example) that Ireland had a “fiscal consolidation” of 95 percent of GDP, which is pretty big if you think about it.
One final point: It’s really amazing to me that in this fiscal policy debate, when someone adopts a convention for choosing baselines of deficits by comparing an alleged “austerity” budget to government deficits at the height of an unprecedented boom, that this is taken as prima facie evidence of deliberate deception. Let me make sure you got that: After you take away all of the simple mistakes in the critics’ allegations against Furth, it seems the one bit of spaghetti that sticks to the wall is that he had the audacity to compare government deficits recently in Europe, with levels in 2006-2007, and since (at least in a lot of countries) it is higher even as a percentage of “potential” GDP, Furth was saying this isn’t actual austerity. And for making that point–with clearly labeled charts, as far as I have been able to determine–he is being accused of “deliberately misleading” Congress in his testimony. The episode reminds me of the time Krugman bit off Veronique de Rugy’s head for having the audacity to report to readers the actual budgets of various European governments. You see, the poor rubes out there in the blogosphere can’t be expected to understand those numbers; they need Krugman to interpret them first. Someone reporting actual budget numbers, in a debate about government spending, is deliberately misleading you.
Oops one last thing: The people in the comments at Steve’s blog, who are expecting Krugman to apologize to Furth, are cracking me up. Remember kids, Krugman recently wrote (in the context of the health care/insurance debate): “But bad-faith arguments don’t deserve a civil response, and if the attempt to be civil gets in the way of exposing the bad faith, civility itself becomes part of the problem.” So I’m not going to be looking for an apology at the NYT blog.