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Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

Are there any fact checkers at the New York Times?

Since they’ve allowed some glaring mistakes by Paul Krugman (see here and here), I guess the answer is no.

But some mistakes are worse than others.

Consider a recent column by David Stuckler of Oxford and Sanjay Basu of Stanford. Entitled “How Austerity Kills,” it argues that budget cuts are causing needless deaths.

Here’s an excerpt that caught my eye.

Countries that slashed health and social protection budgets, like Greece, Italy and Spain, have seen starkly worse health outcomes than nations like Germany, Iceland and Sweden, which maintained their social safety nets and opted for stimulus over austerity.

The reason this grabbed my attention is that it was only 10 days ago that I posted some data from Professor Gurdgiev in Ireland showing that Sweden and Germany were among the tiny group of European nations that actually had reduced the burden of government spending.

Greece, Italy, and Spain, by contrast, are among those that increased the size of the public sector. So the argument presented in the New York Times is completely wrong. Indeed, it’s 100 percent wrong because Iceland (which Professor Gurdgiev didn’t measure since it’s not in the European Union) also has smaller government today than it did in the pre-crisis period.

But that’s just part of the problem with the Stuckler-Basu column. They want us to believe that “slashed” budgets and inadequate spending have caused “worse health outcomes” in nations such as Greece, Italy, and Spain, particularly when compared to Germany, Iceland, and Spain.

But if government spending is the key to good health, how do they explain away this OECD data, which shows that government is actually bigger in the three supposed “austerity” nations than it is in the three so-called “stimulus” countries.

NYT Austerity-Stimulus

Once again, Stuckler and Basu got caught with their pants down, making an argument that is contrary to easily retrievable facts.

But I guess this is business-as-usual at the New York Times. After all, this is the newspaper that’s been caught over and over again engaging in sloppy and/or inaccurate journalism.

Oh, and if you want to know why the Stuckler-Basu column is wrong about whether smaller government causes higher death rates, just click here.

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The pro-statism crowd routinely argues that we need more government. Every so often, though, one of them inadvertently stumbles on the truth. But they then refuse to draw the logical conclusion. For instance.

We now have another example to add to the list. Thomas Friedman is a columnist for the New York Times, where he specialize in ponderous columns that reflect the views of the left-wing establishment. Today, he has a column complaining about gridlock in America. Here are some key excerpts.

Does America need an Arab Spring? …has American gone from a democracy to a “vetocracy” — from a system designed to prevent anyone in government from amassing too much power to a system in which no one can aggregate enough power to make any important decisions at all? …A system with as many checks and balances built into it as ours assumes — indeed requires — a certain minimum level of cooperation on major issues between the two parties, despite ideological differences. Unfortunately…several factors are combining to paralyze our whole system.

This is remarkable, in part because he is stunningly wrong. The political class in Washington manages to spend about $4 trillion per year and churn out tens of thousands of pages of new regulation annually.

The politicians also manage to enact dozens of new laws every year, almost all of which expand the size and scope of the federal government. If that’s gridlock caused by “vetocracy,” then I shudder to think what activist government looks like.

But the part that really shocked me was that Friedman basically acknowledged that the problem is big government.

…the huge expansion of the federal government, and the increasing importance of money in politics, have hugely expanded the number of special-interest lobbies and their ability to influence and clog decision-making.

This is a facepalm moment. Friedman begins his column by complaining that our system is sclerotic and that this makes it hard for politicians to enact more laws, yet he then admits that our system is sclerotic because government is too big already. And it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that Friedman wants to make government even bigger – which is why he’s complaining about gridlock in the first place!

By the way, I can’t resist correcting some of Friedman’s sloppy analysis in the final excerpt above. He complains about role of money and special interests in politics, but he fails to connect the dots. If he did, he would understand that political money and interest groups are inevitable consequences of a bloated public sector.

As I explain in this video, big government facilitates and encourages corruption. To put it in colloquial terms, if you create a big pile of garbage in your living room, don’t be surprised when you get infested by rats and roaches.

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Earlier this year, I wrote about how the person Obama put in charge of Medicare made some very interesting observations about prices, competition, and markets, but then drew exactly the wrong conclusion about what was needed to solve the third-party payer problem in health care.

We now have another example of someone producing very good information and then failing to learn the obvious lesson. Catherine Rampell of the New York Times wrote about how politicians used to be much more willing to increases taxes.

She obviously wants readers to conclude that bad, mean, wicked Republicans are being too dogmatic because they won’t agree to big tax hikes. But the chart she prepared tells a completely different story. The only budget agreement that actually produced a balanced budget was the 1997 deal, and that deal contained tax cuts rather than tax increases!

But don’t believe me. Look at her chart.

I suppose I also should say that her chart is misleading because it accepts the dishonest Washington definition that a “spending cut” occurs any time politicians increase spending by less than previously planned.

And even if one uses that dishonest definition, the make-believe spending cuts usually evaporate very rapidly. The tax increases, unfortunately, are far more durable. And the net result is higher spending and oftentimes more red ink.

But even with those two big methodological shortcomings, her chart is a strong argument that tax increases don’t work.

Two final points. First, anybody who thinks the 1993 tax hike was successful should read this post and you’ll see that the Clinton White House admitted it was a failure in early 1995.

Second, it wasn’t really the 1997 budget deal that produced the budget surplus. The deficit disappeared because we had a period, beginning a couple of years earlier, during which politicians followed Mitchell’s Golden Rule and restrained government spending so that it grew slower than the private economy. The 1997 agreement played a role, but it’s quite likely that red ink would have disappeared anyhow.

Last but not least, the reason we’re in a fiscal ditch today is mostly because Bush abandoned good fiscal policy and let the burden of government spending climb much faster than the productive sector of the economy.

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I haven’t said much about the 2012 election, largely because this blog tries to avoid politics and instead focuses on how public policy can promote or (all too often) restrict liberty.

But every so often, I feel compelled to pontificate – usually because someone is saying or doing something foolish. This is why I want to talk about Jon Huntsman’s tax reform plan.

But in this case, my ire isn’t directed at the candidate, who actually deserves credit for proposing a very good plan.

Instead, I want to expose some very shoddy – or very biased – coverage by the New York Times. Here’s how the reporter, Ashley Parker, began her report on Huntsman’s proposal.

Jon M. Huntsman Jr. again showed himself on Wednesday to be an ideological outlier in the Republican presidential field, calling for the tax code to be stripped of all loopholes and deductions. Congressional Republicans have resisted closing loopholes in recent budget talks, portraying such moves as tax increases.

Her key message, as you can read for yourself, is that Huntsman is a rogue force in the Republican Party because he wants to get rid of special tax breaks. GOPers in Congress, according to the article, “have resisted closing loopholes.”

Huntsman may very well be an outlier is certain ways, but Parker’s portrayal of his tax plan – and how it meshes with the views of other GOPers – is simply false.

The general Republican position, as well as the position of Americans for Tax Reform, is that it is perfectly acceptable and indeed desirable to get rid of tax preferences and distortions. But they should be eliminated as part of a shift to lower tax rates, not as part of some scam to give politicians more tax revenue.

Well, take a wild guess what Jon Huntsman wants to do with the revenue from “closing loopholes.” Assuming your IQ is above room temperature, you probably have figured out that the former Utah governor wants to use every penny of the additional tax revenue to finance lower tax rates. And you’d be correct.

Nowhere in Mr. Parker’s story, however, is there any acknowledgement of that important fact. Why not? To be honest, I have no idea. It could be bias. It could be incompetence. It could be that she had a preconceived narrative that Huntsman is a maverick and therefore she wanted to portray his plan as somehow contrary to GOP policy.

But all that matters is she blew the story. Within two sentences, she completely mischaracterized Huntsman’s proposal and created a false impression that he was doing something that put him to the left of the Republican mainstream, when he actually has a tax plan that is much farther to the right than anything Perry or Romney have proposed.

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In a very predictable editorial this morning, the New York Times pontificated in favor of higher taxes. Compared to Paul Krugman’s rant earlier in the week, which featured the laughable assertion that letting people keep more of the money they earn is akin to sending them a check from the government, the piece seemed rational. But that is damning with faint praise. There are several points in the editorial that deserve some unfriendly commentary.

First, let’s give the editors credit for being somewhat honest about their bad intentions. Unlike other statists, they openly admit that they want higher taxes on the middle class, stating that “more Americans — and not just the rich — are going to have to pay more taxes.” This is a noteworthy admission, though it doesn’t reveal the real strategy on the left.

Most advocates of big government understand that it will be impossible to turn America into a European-style welfare state without a value-added tax, but they don’t want to publicly associate themselves with that view until the political environment is more conducive to success. Most important, they realize that it will be very difficult to impose a VAT without seducing some gullible Republicans into giving them political cover. And one way of getting GOPers to sign up for a VAT is by convincing them that they have to choose a VAT if they don’t want a return to the confiscatory 70 percent tax rates of the 1960s and 1970s. Any moves in that direction, such as raising the top tax rate from 35 percent to 39.6 percent next January, are part of this long-term strategy to pressure Republicans (as well as naive members of the business community) into a VAT trap.

Shifting to other assertions, the editorial claims that “more revenue will be needed in years to come to keep rebuilding the economy.”  That’s obviously a novel assertion, and the editors never bother to explain how and why more tax revenue will lead to a stronger economy. Are the folks at the New York Times not aware that both economic growth and living standards are lower in European nations that have imposed higher tax burdens? Heck, even the Keynesians agree (albeit for flawed reasons) that higher taxes stunt growth.

The editorial also asserts that, “Since 2002, the federal budget has been chronically short of revenue.” I suppose if revenues are compared to the spending desires of politicians, then tax collections are – and always will be – inadequate. The same is true in Greece, France, and Sweden. It doesn’t matter whether revenues are 20 percent of GDP or 50 percent of GDP. The political class always wants more.

But let’s actually use an objective measure to determine whether revenues are “chronically short.” The Democrat-controlled Congressional Budget Office stated in its newly-released update to the Economic and Budget Outlook that federal tax revenues historically have averaged 18 percent of GDP. They are below that level now because of the economic downturn, but CBO projects that revenues will climb above that level in a few years – even if all of the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts are made permanent. Moreover, OMB’s historical data shows that revenues were actually above the long-run average in 2006 and 2007, so even the “since 2002″ part of the assertion in the editorial is incorrect.

On the issue of temporary tax relief for the non-rich, the editorial is right but for the wrong reason. The editors rely on the Keynesian rationale, writing that, “low-, middle- and upper-middle-income taxpayers…tend to spend most of their income and the economy needs consumer spending” whereas “Tax cuts for the rich can safely be allowed to expire because wealthy taxpayers tend to save rather than spend their tax savings.”

I’ve debunked Keynesian analysis so often that I feel that I deserve some sort of lifetime exemption from dealing with this nonsense, but I’ll give it another try. Borrowing money from some people in the economy and giving it to some other people in the economy is not a recipe for better economic performance. Economic growth means we are increasing national income. Keynesian policy simply changes who is spending national income, guided by a myopic belief that consumer spending somehow is better than investment spending. The Keynesian approach didn’t work for Hoover and Roosevelt in the 1930s, it didn’t work for Japan in the 1990s, and it hasn’t worked for Obama.

And it doesn’t matter if the Keynesian stimulus is in the form of tax rebates. Gerald Ford’s rebate in the 1970s was a flop, and George W. Bush’s 2001 rebate also failed to boost growth. Tax cuts can lead to more national income, but only if marginal tax rates on productive behavior are reduced so that people have more incentive to work, save, and invest. This is an argument for extending the lower tax rates for all income classes, but it’s important to point out that the economic benefits will be much greater if the lower tax rates are made permanent.

Last but not least, the editorial asserts that, “The revenue from letting [tax cuts for the rich] expire — nearly $40 billion next year — would be better spent on job-creating measures.” Not surprisingly, there is no effort to justify this claim. They could have cited the infamous White House study claiming that the so-called stimulus would keep unemployment under 8 percent, but even people at the New York Times presumably understand that might not be very convincing since the actual unemployment rate is two percentage points higher than what the Obama Administration claimed it would be at this point.

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