Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Inarticulate Herr Doktorprofessor

We are often told - often by Herr Doktorprofessor himself - that he was chosen as a New York Times columnist because he could write. The cartoon chart that claims much of today's column provides little support for Herr Doktorprofessor's conclusions in that column, but exquisitely demonstrates the decline in the quality of his written product.

As has become usual for Herr Doktorprofessor, the "logic" of the column is itself a cartoon: He produces a chart showing that the Administration's jobs-growth hopes and predictions have been disappointed over the past three years, and then announces with a swish, voila: What you see in this chart is the signature of a corrupted policy process, in which political propaganda takes the place of professional analysis.

The correct story was reported by the Times on March 6:

With the slump in the job market nearing its third anniversary, economists said they were starting to wonder whether the relationship between economic growth and employment had changed in important ways. At no other point since World War II has the economy grown for such a long period without adding jobs at a healthy pace.

That the performance of the United States job market may have defied current models is also relevant in evaluating whether any other program would have done better than the one actually followed by the Administration. For example, while it has often been noted here that Herr Doktorprofessor is as lacking in actual affirmative recommendations for jobs growth as he has been prolific in his cat-calls over their apparent dearth, but he has generally expressed his opinion that the tax cuts should have been short-term and "focused" on those with less income. There are many good reasons contraindicating his proposals. But the most important thing to keep in mind is that his proposals (whatever they may be) must also be analyzed through the very same existing models that economists in the Administration and academia and on Wall Street have been using - and which have apparently been overpredicting jobs growth. If, as the Times suggests above the relationship between economic growth and employment had changed in important ways - then that changed relationship would have expressed itself if other approaches had been tried, even his, whatever it is, - and the same models would have been no more reliable than they have been.

If one were to invert Herr Doktorprofessor's chart, and relabel its vertical axis to correspond to some general measure of economic performance of the United States (or the world), the resulting plunging and erroneous tangents would correspond nicely to Herr Doktorprofessor's own repeated Jerimiads predicting economic doom, doom, DOOM I TELL YOU!!! On a certain level it would be appealing also to invert one of Herr Doktorprofessor's own sentences from today's column to describe his own record of predictions: Economic forecasting isn't an exact science, but alarmist negative thinking on this scale is unprecedented. But that would grant Herr Doktorprofessor a distinction he does not deserve because economic doomsaying has been the hallmark of so many of his fellow bad economists throughout history. (By the way, does the reader remember that Brad DeLong says that Herr Doktorprofessor recently refinanced his own mortgage on his prediction that we are now months into the grip of a three-year deflationary period? Yep. Did the math. Locked in his rate.)

The column contains his now-customary plethora of solitaire errors and eccentricities. For example, his assertion that the administration['s] ... economic program ... has relied entirely on tax cuts can only be taken as a naked lie. The Administration's program, like it or not, has relied on (1) low short-term interest rates maintained by the Federal Reserve Board, (2) tax cuts and restructurings, and (3) increased federal spending. (There has also been some modest effort at regulatory relief.) The result has been a jolt to the economy as predicted by current models - but those models may have failed in their prediction of jobs creation.

UPDATE: The articulate Steve Antler has more.

FURTHER UPDATE: Arnold Kling ably sets out the details of Herr Doktorprofessor's inconsistencies.

Comments: Post a Comment