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September 07, 2010

A Call for Consistency

Yesterday, I was made aware of this post by Ezra Klein. It is an older post, but an interesting one. In it, Klein tries to defend the stimulus by 'proving' more job losses were the result of Bush administration policies than the policies of our current president. Klein quotes economist Robert Shapiro:

From December 2007 to July 2009 – the last year of the Bush second term and the first six months of the Obama presidency, before his policies could affect the economy – private sector employment crashed from 115,574,000 jobs to 107,778,000 jobs.
Maybe I'm not as studied as Shapiro, but I'm pretty sure 2008 was the last year of Bush's second term. Barack Obama may have been elected in November of 2008, but he did not take office until early 2009. So that's caveat (spin point) number one. Caveat (spin point) number two is the idea that Obama is blameless on the economy until July 2009.

Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act on February 17, 2009. When he signed the act, his administration promised that unemployment would not rise above eight percent. Their own predictions showed that unemployment would peak between quarters one and three of 2009, and would begin falling after that. In fact, after the ARRA was passed, Obama said "that 14 days after I signed our Recovery Act into law, we are seeing shovels hit the ground." So two weeks after the stimulus passed, the administration was already claiming jobs were being created or saved.

According to the administration's own Recovery.gov website, the purpose of the ARRA was to:

On Feb. 13, 2009, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 at the urging of President Obama, who signed it into law four days later. A direct response to the economic crisis, the Recovery Act has three immediate goals:
"Immediate" goals. Not 'July 2009 and onward' goals. The moment Obama put pen to stimulus plan and started claiming progress, his administration started impacting the American economy. Or, at least the parts of the economy held dear by Democrat partisans.

How has that worked out for the country's unemployment rate?

Obama's own economists predicted a slowdown in unemployment by July of 2009, if the stimulus were not passed. That has not quite been the case. Unemployment is still over nine percent. In his eagerness to protect Obama, Klein's expert economist glosses over those facts. Actual unemployment has increased after quarter one of 2009. Shapiro argues the exact opposite, that unemployment skyrocketed under Bush, but has been flat post Obama stimulus. The only way to 'prove' this is to fiddle with the timeline and ignore the administration's own predictions and actions.

What really bothers me about this analysis is that Ezra Klein leaves out what I believe is a very relevant fact about Shapiro, one that a quick search of Open Secrets reveals:


A reporter interested in full disclosure would have written "Economist and long-time Democrat donor..." in his introduction of Shapiro. In his bio, Shapiro is very open about the fact that he has worked for Democrats in the past, even pointing out that he was an economic adviser to the current administration during the campaign and transition. That is what full disclosure looks like.

So Klein either assumed his readers would know Shapiro's background, or he didn't find it relevant.

This time. In the past, Klein has been open about the political leanings of the economists he quotes:

June 18, 2010: "But ask Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist who worked for Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Jack Kemp, and you'll hear all about it..."

July 23, 2010: "I've also been meaning to link to Greg Mankiw's National Affairs essay on the difficulty of assessing stimulus. Mankiw's got a conservative bent, of course, but it's a very worthwhile critique."

Such identification is appropriate, and editors at the Washington Post should encourage Klein to be more consistent in how he applies ideological labels.

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posted by Slublog at 03:10 PM

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