Thursday, May 12, 2016

The wages of bad journalism are Trump

A  number of commentaries have sprung up trying to argue that the rise of Trump shows that democracy is fatally flawed and that we should think about transferring more power to "the right sort of people" (the elites, thought leaders, the political and journalistic establishment, etc.). One of the many flaws of this argument is that a careful survey of how we got here shows that the vast majority of the blame goes to the elites, thought leaders, the political and journalistic establishment, etc.

One of the few establishment figures who has been getting the story right, Paul Krugman, has a post up today that beautifully illustrates the point.
Still boggled by reports that Trump, having realized that the numbers on his tax plan aren’t remotely credible, has decided to fix things by bringing in as experts … Larry Kudlow and Stephen Moore. I mean, at some level this was predictable. But it still tells you a lot about both Donald the Doofus and his chosen party.


I mean, Kudlow is to economics what William Kristol is to political strategy: if he says something, you know it’s wrong. When he ridiculed “bubbleheads” who thought overvalued real estate could bring down the economy, you should have rushed for the bomb shelters; when he proclaimed Bush a huge success, because a rising stock market is the ultimate verdict on a presidency (unless the president is a Democrat), you should have known that the Bush era would end with epochal collapse. And then there’s Moore, who has a similarly awesome forecasting record, and adds to it an impressive lack of even minimal technical competence. Seriously: read the CJR report on his mess-up over job numbers:
The recurring “oops,” intended as a dig at Krugman, took on an unintended irony after Abouhalkah discovered that Moore’s numbers did not match those of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In fact, Moore later acknowledged, he was using BLS numbers not from “the last five years” but from an earlier five-year period: December 2007 to December 2012. Focusing on that period is arguably dubious, because the span captures the depths of the Great Recession and the housing crash, which hit some states harder than others—and whose impact likely would have swamped any tax-rate effect. There are other issues with the quality of Moore’s argument, too, like its glancing-at-best treatment of how factors like housing costs shape population and job growth.
In any case, Abouhalkah found, Moore’s numbers were wrong even for 2007-12, in ways that complicated the “low taxes = more jobs” message.
Texas did not gain 1 million jobs in the 2007-2012 period Moore measured. The correct figure was a gain of 497,400 jobs.
Florida did not add hundreds of thousands of jobs in that span. It actually lost 461,500 jobs.
New York, with [its] very high income tax rates, did not lose jobs during that time. It gained 75,900 jobs.
Oops, indeed.
Of course, Moore remains the chief economist at Heritage. And maybe Trump believes that this is a certificate of quality, that anyone in that position must be a real expert.
At some point in the past twenty or thirty years journalists (or probably more preciselyeditors and publishers) decided that once someone had been recognized as an authority, that person was in for life. You could be a complete babbling idiot, a raging bigot, and about as accurate as a knave in a knight /knave puzzle. It wouldn't matter. Once on the list, you will be treated as a sober and credible source until the day you die or until concerned family members have you institutionalized for your own good.

In any system with even minimal standards of accountability, neither Kudlow nor Moore would still have careers in media or economics or politics. Instead, not only are they still employed, they are treated with sufficient respect that Donald Trump is able to improve his respectability by hiring them.

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