06 Mar 2012

I Might Apply for the New York Times

Krugman, Ron Paul 37 Comments

I came across this stuff on Facebook. The guy in the Cato/Koch stuff who thought highly of President G.W. Bush responded to Krugman’s recent criticism, and pointed to this very interesting Luskin post from early 2005:

It’s a catfight on West 43rd Street! Former New York Times “public editor” Daniel Okrent is clawing out the eyes of America’s most dangerous liberal pundit, Paul Krugman. The fur is flying as Okrent cites case after case of Krugman’s inaccuracy and partisan bias in all manner of economic statistics. Check it out on the New York Times website, unless you have a particular aversion to cruelty to animals.

In this fight, you, dear reader, can be the winner — by participating in the Krugman Truth Squad’s first-ever Jayson Awards — named after Jayson Blair, the Times reporter who admitted to a pattern of fraudulent and plagiarized stories — established to recognize Paul Krugman’s most outrageous statements in six categories. More on that in a moment. But first, about that catfight . . .

It all started ten days ago. As I reported Tuesday, Okrent wrote in his farewell column that “Op-Ed columnist Paul Krugman has the disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers.” Next, in a lecture in Princeton last Friday, Krugman called Okrent’s comment a “peculiar blast,” saying he had caved to “constant pressure” from conservatives that had “built up a list of grievances in his mind.” Then on Sunday, the Times published a letter from Krugman lashing Okrent for not citing specific examples and proclaiming, “I played entirely fair with my readers, using the standard data in the standard way.”

Now, in postings Tuesday to the Times’ web-log for new “public editor” Barney Calame, Okrent unloaded on Krugman with both barrels. Krugman wanted examples? Okrent has examples. Lots of examples. Employment statistics. Social Security benefits. Federal deficits. Taxes. To readers of the Krugman Truth Squad column, none of Okrent’s examples of Krugman’s sleaze economics will be new. They aren’t even close to the most damning ones he could have used, and Okrent’s a little over his head on some of the technical details. But trust me, you’ll still take delight in the fact that Okrent is up off his knees at last — finally acting like a real “public editor,” and very aggressively calling Krugman’s spade a spade.

And you’ll also take delight in watching Krugman squirm to defend himself. Okrent charges that Krugman misused employment figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to make the economy under George W. Bush look worse, ignoring BLS research cautioning about difficulties in comparing those figures across time. Apparently this Princeton economics professor can’t be bothered to know the things that an expert like him is supposed to know. He lamely harumphed,

I don’t go hunting for research papers suggesting possible problems with the numbers unless the BLS says there’s reason to be concerned otherwise, it would be impossible to get any work done.

I took particular delight in Okrent’s candid portrayal of how difficult it has been to get Krugman to ever admit error. After 18 months and 40,000 words of e-mail correspondence with Okrent, in which I pointed out dozens upon dozens of substantive factual errors and distortions, only one published correction resulted — and that one wasn’t even labeled a correction (Krugman now claims, “I forgot”). Here’s Okrent:

I learned early on in this job that Prof. Krugman would likely be more willing to contribute to the Frist for President campaign than to acknowledge the possibility of error. When he says he agreed ‘reluctantly’ to one correction, he gives new meaning to the word ‘reluctantly’; I can’t come up with an adverb sufficient to encompass his general attitude toward substantive criticism.

That last part made me chuckle, because I’ve been waiting to get the time to mention a perfect (and very recent) example of this. On Feb. 28 Krugman had a post entitled, “Four Fiscal Phonies” where he wrote posted a chart showing that Obama’s policies would yield about a 76% debt-to-GDP ratio by 2021, while Ron Paul’s would be about 85%, and the other Republicans would be even worse. Krugman then commented:

Yep: as Republicans yell about Obama’s deficits and cry that we’re turning into Greece, Greece I tell you, all of them, all of them, propose making the deficit bigger.

And for what? For reverse Robin-Hoodism, taking from the poor and the middle class to lavish huge tax cuts on the rich.

And I believe that all of them know this, too. It’s pure hypocrisy – and it’s all in the service of class warfare waged on behalf of the top 0.1 or 0.01 percent of the income distribution.

So those are pretty strong words, eh? Then, the next day (and a mere three posts later), Krugman had a new post entitled, “Four Phonies Update” where he wrote:

There were some technical problems with my earlier post on GOP deficit phoniness, although not in any way that changes the message. So, here’s an update. I use the intermediate-cost estimate from CRFB (pdf) for the four Republican plans, and for consistency, I use CRFB’s own estimate (pdf) for Obama. And here’s what we get:

The new chart shows Obama still with about a 76% ratio, but now Ron Paul has dropped to about 74% or 75%. (I’m just eyeballing the chart.) Krugman then comments:

So it remains true that all of the proposals, except maybe Ron Paul’s (which contains huge and probably impossible spending cuts) would lead to higher deficits than Obama, based on a common assessment.

After that, Krugman goes on to mock supply-side economics.

No explanation of what the “technical problems” were; we get the idea that an intern faxed him the numbers and he misread Ron Paul’s percentage. No update to a “Three Phonies” charge; no retraction of accusing Ron Paul of hypocrisy. In fact, now that the numbers go (slightly) against Krugman’s whole point, he pivots and says “maybe” the numbers mean what they say, and then starts quibbling about the plausibility of the policies. (Since Krugman himself has often referred to President Palin’s administration, I guess he will agree that Obama’s tax hikes on the rich won’t last, and hence the deficit projections are also phony? Nah, of course not.)

Anyway, that’s what a Krugman apology looks like, soak it up while you can.

37 Responses to “I Might Apply for the New York Times”

  1. Kavram says:

    Where ARE they coming up with these numbers? Debt to GDP of 76% in 2021? I thought we were already hovering around 100%…

    • Bob Murphy says:

      No idea Kavram. Maybe they assume the absolute deficits will collapse soon, and then the economy will grow much faster than the nominal debt.

  2. Gene Callahan says:

    “I Might Apply for the New York Times”

    I’m pretty sure they allow even ancaps to subscribe. But good luck.

  3. Steven E Landsburg says:

    Many of the links in this post don’t work.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Steve not my fault. Those were in the piece I was quoting.

      • Dan Hewitt says:

        Would you ever accept that excuse if Krugman used it?


  4. Daniel Kuehn says:

    I tried to track down the BLS data use over time issue, but I couldn’t figure out what data he was referring to. I have some insights on this.

    They may be talking about the OES data, which was what I know the BLS warns about. It’s actually not quite as bad as it sounds.

    My co-author and I were using OES data to track trends in different engineering sub-fields, as well as “engineering managers” over time for a chapter we’re writing. We were aware that you weren’t supposed to use the data over time, though, so we tried to confirm in as many other data sources as we could. The trends were the same. The reason you’re not supposed to do it is that for smaller occupational groups, they impute time-trends with moving averages and using the trends of more aggregated occupational groups. So they don’t want people saying “according to OES data petroleum engineers grew as fast as the total population of engineers”, because in any given year-to-year change a lot of the movement in the petroleum engineering data was imputed from the total engineering data. I’m not sure all that goes into it, but the point is the data isn’t that bad, you just shouldn’t use it for technical reasons.

    If Krugman was using the highest level of aggregation, where there’s no need for imputation, I’m guessing it’s even less of a worry.

    The icing on the cake was that my co-author was at a presentation where a BLS researcher used OES data as a time series! He asked her afterwards what the deal was, and she basically said the same thing – not technically right, but as a practical matter it doesn’t make a difference as long as you don’t go into the really detailed categories.

    • Daniel Kuehn says:

      This is just me giving advice on the OES, motivated by this post. Like I said I have no idea what Krugman is using since I didn’t track down these links. I doubt he’s especially negligent. You can always nitpick about methodology and presentation of data. It’s good stuff to think through, but on net Krugman is good to have at the Times.

  5. Daniel Kuehn says:

    On this – “No explanation of what the “technical problems” were; we get the idea that an intern faxed him the numbers and he misread Ron Paul’s percentage.”

    It’s pretty obvious what it was when you click through the link – the first post used the upper bound estimate, the second post used the mid-level estimate. The OMB doesn’t note whether it’s estimate is upper or lower bound. I’m guessing someone just asked how comparable they are and so Krugman decided to use mid-level CFRB estimates for all four of them. The point still remains, right? We get called dirty statists, but it turns out that the difference between Paul and Obama is a rounding error.

    What would you have him do? Grovel and beg for forgiveness? I’m not clear on what the appropriate response would have been. He gave better numbers three posts later – that’s better than most of the econ blogosphere.

    • Dan Hewitt says:

      In the first post, Ron Paul’s number is neither the upper or mid level value, you dirty statist.*

      * yes I am just joking.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      DK wrote: What would you have him do? Grovel and beg for forgiveness? I’m not clear on what the appropriate response would have been. He gave better numbers three posts later – that’s better than most of the econ blogosphere.

      Ah, *this* is the Daniel I know. I was starting to think you had been abducted, from your blog recently.

      • Daniel Kuehn says:

        Well it was actually a serious question. There was nothing wrong with the first one – they were CRFB numbers. The Obama numbers were OMB (because they were not in that CRFB document). He realized that made it somewhat incongruous and very quickly offered a chart with better data.

        Seriously, Bob – what do you want from him? I genuinely don’t understand what else there is he could offer.

        • Bob Murphy says:

          He could have changed it to a “Three Phonies” update. He could have said Ron Paul wasn’t a hypocrite. He could have not moved the goalposts and quibbled with the numbers when they didn’t give him the answer he wanted. (In the beginning, he didn’t talk about the plausibility of the estimates–because at that point, Ron Paul’s numbers were safely bigger than Obama’s. But when they were lower, then Krugman all of a sudden cares about the plausibility of the projections–>but only on Ron Paul’s side. Never mind if the tax hikes, “doc fix” etc. that Obama’s numbers require, are politically sustainable over a 10-year period.) He could have explained what the technical problem was. etc.

          Daniel, you can say Krugman is a really good economist, but I don’t get your inability to see what a jerk he very often is. You really think he handled himself with decorum on this one? Why is Karl Smith arguing with him then (and now for some inexplicable reason seems to be agreeing that nice guys finish last in the blogosphere)?

          • Major_Freedom says:

            Yeah, the fact that Krugman didn’t change it to “Three Phonies” tells me it’s politically motivated.

            • Daniel Kuehn says:

              Why should it be “three phonies”?

              All four of them misrepresent themselves.

              Based on these projections (which are obviously uncertain), I will demand Krugman take back his “four phonies” accusation, the minute that Ron Paul campaigns on the slogan “I promise to make the long term debt roughly the same as Obama’s long term debt”. Because until Ron Paul comes out and says something like that, he’s being a phony (which shouldn’t be a surprise – the man is a career politician that’s adept at telling his voters what they want to hear), and Krugman is being the honest broker in talking about these issues.

              Krugman goes back and revises his claims when he gets better data. That’s better than most Paulites in the blogosphere.

              • Major_Freedom says:

                What is Paul misrepresenting about himself, such that a third party estimate of his policies results in debt equal to Obama’s, that makes Paul a “phony”?

          • Daniel Kuehn says:

            You don’t think the fact that Ron Paul has essentially the same impact on the long term debt as Obama makes him something of a “phony”?

            The point of the first post is just as well illustrated in the second post: these guys pose as being harder on the debt than Obama. The truth is, they’re not. They’re phonies when it comes to those claims. That hasn’t changed – he’s just improved the data.

            I’ve called out Krugman a lot. You know I don’t think he’s an angel. The anomoly here is not me giving Krugman a pass. It’s that Krugman uniquely manages to enrage a wide group of people, a good portion of whom are worse than he is when it comes to decorum.

            • Richie says:

              I’ve called out Krugman a lot.

              Give us examples, please.

              All you ever do is be his number one apologist, and give us an interpretation of what he was ‘actually’ saying. You are the phony.

              • Bob Murphy says:

                Richie wrote:

                All you ever do is be his number one apologist…

                I agree DK is PK’s #1 apologist, but in fairness Daniel does criticize Krugman occasionally. That’s actually why my joke worked; DK lately has been critical of PK on his blog, and so I was kidding that DK’s defense of PK here in this context reassured me.

              • Daniel Kuehn says:

                Out of curiosity, do either of you consider yourselves an apologist for Ron Paul?

                Because Krugman seems to be pointing out an obvious fact, so when I just say he’s pointing out an obvious fact I don’t feel like I’m being an apologist. I’m not sure what other position I could have on this – I’d defend anyone that points this out.

              • Bob Murphy says:

                DK, eh, no I don’t consider myself an apologist for Paul, but I suppose if someone called me that, I wouldn’t file a lawsuit. For sure I’m an apologist for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

              • Richie says:

                Out of curiosity, do either of you consider yourselves an apologist for Ron Paul?

                I do not. As you have pointed out before, RP is a politician. I do not vote, and even if RP were by some miracle to win the Republican nomination, I still would not vote.

  6. Anonymous@hotmail.com says:

    These OMB/CRFB estimates should not be taken seriously. Their track record shows chronic underestimation of spending, debt, and deficits.

  7. Dan Hewitt says:

    Why does Krugman not support a Republican candidate for president? It’s fairly evident that, despite their rhetoric, Republicans like to run large deficits (cut taxes and increase spending). If Krugman truly wants a Keynesian remedy he should be backing a Republican candidate.

    • Yancey Ward says:

      LOL!! Simply brilliant!!

    • Daniel Kuehn says:

      Those numbers are for 2021, not now. Krugman’s long been a proponent of lowering the long been a proponent of reducing – not increasing – the long term debt.

      • Major_Freedom says:

        Krugman’s long been a proponent of lowering the long been a proponent of reducing – not increasing – the long term debt.

        Evidence please.

        • Bob Murphy says:

          Nah MF Daniel is right on this one. Remember how everyone was jumping on Krugman for his defense of Obama’s deficits, by pointing out to Krugman’s deficit-phobia when they were George W. Bush deficits? So I think the right angle (if you want to ding Krugman) is to say that Krugman is only worried about deficits when they’re under Republicans, not that we have no evidence Krugman ever worries about deficits.

          • Daniel Kuehn says:

            Structural vs. cyclical.

            Seems tremendously more relevant than Republican vs. Democrat. If he just wanted deficits under Democrats, why was he fine with the Clinton surpluses? Your theory doesn’t hold up. Structural vs. cyclical does.

            • Major_Freedom says:

              It’s not that he wants deficits under Democrats, it’s that he defends deficits (and debt) against criticism under Democrats.

          • Major_Freedom says:

            OK that makes more sense. It’s just like Krugman defending criticisms against Obama’s racking up of debt by saying :we owe it to ourselves”, but when debt was racked up under Bush, Krugman considers debt a problem and that Bush should be “blamed.”

            I’m picking up what you’re laying down.

  8. MamMoTh says:

    Krugman’s biggest mistake is to have taken RP’s proposals into account. Instead of saying he would never be able to actually make his proposed cuts, he should have said he would never be in the position to make them. RP is going to retire from politics soon, right?

    • Richie says:

      YAWN. I’m sorry, did you type something?

      • MamMoTh says:

        No, I dictate my posts.

        • Richie says:

          No, I dictate my posts.

          Let me correct that for you:

          No, I [copy and past] my posts.

          There, fixed.

          • Richie says:


            • MamMoTh says:

              Did you just type something?

              [Removed by RPM.}

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