Monday, August 17, 2015

More naked emperor reporting -- at this point, the NYT is just trolling us

If they knew I was alive, I'd think they were just screwing with me. I post something on how Trump highlights the mainstream press' naked emperor problem and the very next day the New York Times (the ever reliable epicenter of this sort of thing) publishes a minor classic of the genre.
Trump’s Economic Muddle
by Steven Rattner, AUG. 14, 2015
DONALD TRUMP’S economic views may not have garnered as much attention as his misogynistic statements, but they are equally unpalatable, evincing a lack of understanding of basic economics that is startling for a billionaire businessman.

While Mr. Trump has not provided specifics much beyond the “Make America Great Again” slogan featured on his often-present baseball cap, strands of Trumponomics have trickled out amid the stream of braggadocio and ad hominem attacks on his critics.

And what bizarre views they are — a curious mélange of populism and hard-right conservatism, inherently contradictory perspectives that often lie far outside the boundaries of accepted economic thought.

Rattner casts his net wide and deep, going all the way back to the late nineties to find these unpalatable comments (rather surprising given that Trump's normal speaking style resembles a sitcom version of Tourette syndrome) and he defines the term rather broadly to include not just the wrong but also the inconsistent. This inclusive approach give Rattner lots of ammo for his attacks on Trump, most of which are completely valid, and yet, in the entire piece, doesn't supply a single example of an unreasonable or extreme position DT holds that is in any way out of line with the rest of the Republican field.

With the possible exception of protectionism (which in this case probably has more to do with xenophobia than economics), every major criticism that Rattner makes about Trump would be more valid about some other viable GOP candidate. Groundless complaints about debasing the currency (everyone does know there's another Paul running, right?). Climate change denial/skepticism (Hell, even Kasich has jumped on that bandwagon).

As for numbers that don't add up, let me refer you to Jonathan Chait:
But there’s a weakness in basing your economic message on pulling a crazy number out of thin air: Another candidate can always pull an even crazier number out of thin air. And now Mike Huckabee has done it. The obvious choice would be to one-up Bush by promising 5 percent growth. But Huckabee, thinking two steps in advance, probably realized that if he went with 5 percent, another candidate could still leapfrog him. So he went with 6 percent growth:

Huckabee, the winner of the 2008 Iowa caucuses, who is running as an economic populist, said 6 percent growth or more — notably upping the ante over Jeb Bush’s promise of 4 percent growth — would be possible through what he calls the Fair Tax, a type of national sales tax. Economists have expressed skepticism at Mr. Bush’s promise of 4 percent growth, so Mr. Huckabee’s 6 percent plan may cause even more raised eyebrows.

The beauty of this is that Bush can hardly call Huckabee’s promise unrealistic or made-up, without having to concede his own promise is also unrealistic and made-up, just less so. Bush has no grounds to argue against Huckabee here. Think about it. You walk into a caucus, you see 4 percent growth sittin' there, there's 6 percent growth right beside it. Which one are you gonna pick, man?

There are a couple of examples in the New York Times piece where Trump takes positions that set him apart from the rest of the contenders, when he acknowledges the potential advantages of single payer health care or suggest devaluing the dollar, but those are issues when Trump is actually more moderate than his peers. Based on Rattner's own standards, Trump is, at worst, average on economic issues and might well be the leper with the most fingers.


  1. Yes they are screwing with you. You know it. And they know it, too.

    The Republican elite are alarmed at the traction that Trump has gained among their base and fear that this could end up costing them the 2016 presidential election. They want to trash his candidacy and put this fire out. But they also know that if they push it too far, he can run as a third party candidate and that would really sink them. So they have to try to make him look bad without provoking him too much. And they certainly don't want to point out that the rest of their candidates are also rather loony, if less juvenile in the way they articulate their positions.

    And the mass media have known for a long time that reporting doesn't have to be even remotely accurate to be influential. So the media are taking advantage of this principle while trying to trash Trump within the constraints noted above.

    P.S. Love that leper metaphor!

    1. Credit where credit is due: the leper line came from the Two Jakes.

  2. 1. I was struck by this quote: "a lack of understanding of basic economics that is startling for a billionaire businessman." Is it really surprising that "a billionaire businessman" would have a lack of understanding of basic economics?

    2. The Tourette's jibe seems unnecessary and inaccurate to me.

    1. That Tourette's comment was badly phrased on my part and a bit hyperbolic. To clarify, Trump can be coherent and even persuasive but he often falls into (or possibly affects) a big, energetic style that sometimes seems like a comedy writer's idea of a mental disorder. It's worth noting that Colbert literally foamed at the mouth when imitating Trump.

      My badly stated point was that, despite Trump's history of outrageous and even crazy sounding comments, Rattner couldn't come up with anything that set him apart from the rest of the GOP hopefuls in terms of economic policy.