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Print view: The editors made a daring proposal. Then, they took it back
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QUICKLY, YOU BAIL! The editors made a daring proposal. Then, they took it back: // link // print // previous // next //
THURSDAY, AUGUST 11, 2011

Krugman finds a fail/We’ve seen rivers: Brother Krugman was right on the money, using one of the most intriguing phrases we’ve run across in some time.

Yesterday, in this blog post, Krugman went over familiar ground, describing the breakdown of the world’s economists in the face of recent disasters. “[P]olicy makers almost everywhere have failed dismally, and seem determined not to take on board the lessons of experience, either historical or what we’ve learned the past few years,” the Nobel prize winner gloomily wrote. At the end of his gloomy post, he coined an intriguing phrase:

KRUGMAN (8/10/11): I’m still trying to make sense of this global intellectual failure. But the results are not in question: we are making a total mess of a solvable problem, with consequences that will haunt us for decades to come.

We have suffered a “global intellectual failure,” Krugman gloomily judged. We’re inclined to believe him. Here’s why:

When it comes to economics, we aren’t equipped to judge that claim. But as we’ve noted, we’ve observed this same type of failure among our “educational experts” for decades. Let’s revisit one example, one we’ve discussed in the past:

Uniformly, the nation’s “educational experts” cite the National Assessment of Educational Progress (the NAEP) as the “gold standard” in educational testing. And there’s more! With great regularity, educational experts apply a rule of thumb to scores on the NAEP’s standard scale: A gain of ten points roughly equals one academic year.

But uh-oh! If we apply that rule of thumb to NAEP results of the past forty years, we see that black kids and Hispanic kids have made remarkable progress in both reading and math. That’s also true if we apply that rule of thumb to results since the mid-1990s. In a dimly rational world, this would seem like good news.

But that’s where the global intellectual failure comes in! We have never seen an “educational expert” note these rather obvious facts in a major news org. Instead of that, as if by rote, our “educational experts” keep reciting a standard narrative in which our schools have grotesquely failed. Even liberals, who stand to gain by debunking that narrative, are too caught up in the giant intellectual failure to call attention to those NAEP scores—the scores our “experts” all endorse, even as they refuse to tell the world what those test scores say.

Go ahead! Explain that conduct from a gang of “educational experts!” For ourselves, we’d summarize the matter this way: We’re still trying to make sense of this global intellectual failure.

(For the record: Those “educational experts” have also been caught by surprise by a wide range of cheating scandals, on both the state and local levels. They never seem able to spot these problems as they develop, even after many others have done so. And they only acknowledge these scandals to the extent that they’re forced. They’re still hiding the fact that a statewide scandal was revealed in the state of New York last year.)

For decades, we have observed a global intellectual failure from our “educational experts.” When Krugman describes the same type of failure from the world’s economists, we are inclined to assume he is right. We’ve seen such global failure before! Or, as we have tended to put it: Our “educational experts” aren’t.

How to explain such global failure? You might as well not even try; it’s virtually impossible to get other folk to believe in such manifestations. It’s counterintuitive to be told that the world’s most famous experts aren’t—that they are, in effect, a gang of Potemkins who have been cast in a role. Trust us: Krugman will never get the world to believe that he’s seeing this matter correctly. Denial rises all around, insisting this can’t be the case.

It’s the old tale of the emperor’s clothes. Your world will never see that its authority figures are frauds. As proof of that, consider the fact that Thomas L. Friedman and Maureen Dowd still type at the New York Times.

Yesterday, Thomas L. Friedman wrote a column for the ages. He only failed to imagine root beer coming from water faucets (Will Durst) and ten-dollar bills raining down from the sky. Question: Did the nation’s largest blowhard spend ten minutes on this column—or was it perhaps fifteen?

Thomas L. Friedman keeps crying for help. And yet, the wider world will never be able to see that he has become a parody.

Which brings us to yesterday’s column by the hapless Dowd. Dowd has actually gone to Des Moines, the better to cite the Butter Cow at the Iowa State Fair in her opening paragraph. For ourselves, we were struck by this paragraph in her generally useless column—by that one highlighted word:

DOWD (8/10/11): Obama’s response on Monday to Friday’s Standard & Poor’s downgrade and to the 22 Navy Seal commandos and 8 other soldiers killed by a Taliban rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan was once more too little, too late. It was just like his belated, ineffectual response on the BP oil spill and his reaction to the would-be Christmas Day bomber; it took him three days on vacation in Hawaii to speak about the terrorist incident when the country was scared about national security, and then he spent the next week callously shuttling from the podium to the golf course.

“Callously?”

Go ahead—read that paragraph carefully! In Dowd’s view, it was “callous” when Obama played golf in the week after “the would-be Christmas Day bomber” struck—or rather, after he failed to strike.

No one was killed and no one was injured. But it was “callous” to play golf in the following week!

This new view moves beyond Dowd’s real-time judgments, which were also typically fatuous. “When he failed to immediately step up to the microphones in Hawaii after the Christmas terror and thank the passengers for bravely foiling the plot that his intelligence community had failed to see, President Cool reached the limits of cool,” this global intellectual failure wrote on January 10, 2010. “No Drama Obama is reticent about displays of emotion. The Spock in him needs to exert mental and emotional control...But it's not O.K. to be cool about national security when Americans are scared.”

In real time, it “wasn’t OK”—and Dowd was throwing her nicknames around. By now, the conduct has become “callous.” Then, as now, you lived in a world which couldn’t spot what has always been clear:

Maureen Dowd is a world-class fool. And yet, she remains in a post of high journalistic authority.

We’ll assume that Krugman is right—but the world will never follow him there. By the way: Your culture’s journalistic conventions are built to produce these global fails. If you doubt that, read this post by Jonathan Chait.

On yesterday’s Diane Rehm program, a “guest expert” said a very dumb thing. But Chait didn’t say who the “guest expert” was! By the rules of DC “intellectual elites,” fellows like Chait never will.

From such seeds, mighty oaks tend to grow. Krugman has coined a new name for such trees: “global intellectual failure.”

Will the real guest expert please stand up: Out of curiosity, we went to the Rehm site, hoping to see who the guest expert was. We’ll bet on Rothenberg, though it could be Ornstein—or even for that matter Fallows.

We’d say that Morgenson could have been named. But who knows? It could also be her.

Special report: Still amazed after all these years!

PART 3—QUICKLY, YOU BAIL (permalink): For unknown reasons, the editors of the New York Times were “amazed” by the composition of the recent debt limit deal.

We know—it’s just a figure of speech. But the editors used it two separate times, saying how amazed they were by the fact that the debt limit deal included nothing but spending cuts. Beyond that, they seemed amazed by an obvious fact—“rationality” ain’t in command:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL (8/7/11): Under the terms of the ill-conceived debt agreement, Congress has to propose another $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction measures by December. Just to ensure that rationality does not have a chance, Republican leaders said they would not put anyone on the deficit-cutting “super-committee” who might entertain the idea of raising taxes.

A week later and we are even more amazed by the failure of Mr. Obama and the Democratic leadership to stand up to this intransigence. If they do not start pushing back, with the same ferocity, the results will be disastrous.

The next round of deficit reduction can’t be restricted to spending cuts, the editors quite sensibly said. Soon, they even noted an oft-ignored fact about the way we got here:

“Asserting that deficits can be tamed with spending cuts alone ignores that the Bush tax cuts—costing $1.8 trillion from 2002 to 2009—are a big reason we got into this deep hole.”

On its news pages, the New York Times has made little attempt to explain the role played by the Bush tax cuts in creating the current deficits. In fairness, current federal deficits approach that $1.8 trillion figure on an annual basis; the Bush tax cuts, all by themselves, did not create this mess. But in a world where few things ever get explained, we’re willing to settle for dollops.

The editors were quite correct when they called attention to our current tax regimen. And land o Goshen! As they continued, they engaged in some shocking conduct.

First, they cited a basic fact—a basic fact which is rarely cited. Then, the editors seemed to make a highly shocking proposal. They seemed to make their shocking proposal in big bold-faced capital letters:

NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL: Here is the bottom line. There is no economically sensible or politically honest way to address the deficit without also increasing revenues and reforming the tax code. The major challenges are these:

LET THE BUSH CUTS EXPIRE Mr. Obama vowed to let the high-end tax cuts (for people making more than $250,000) expire in 2010. But in a preview of the debt fight, he agreed to extend the cuts for two more years when Republicans held unemployment benefits and other measures hostage.

Letting all of the cuts expire at the end of 2012 would save $3.8 trillion over the next decade. Letting the tax cuts expire for those making more than $250,000 would save $700 billion. That would make a real dent in the $2.4 trillion in total deficit reduction envisioned in the debt limit deal.

A sensible and fair approach would be to let the high-end tax cuts expire as scheduled, but keep the other tax cuts for another year. That would keep more cash in the hands of people most likely to spend it and prop up consumer demand while the economy is weak.

Good lord! Did it really happen? The editors cited a basic fact, a basic fact which is rarely cited: Letting all the Bush tax cuts expire would save $3.8 trillion over the next decade! They shrank from stating a second fact. All by itself, this would approach the $4 trillion in deficit cuts which has become our nation’s Holy Grail!

That’s right: If we returned to the Clinton tax rates, the current debt crisis would pretty much end! The editors shrank from stating this basic fact. But in bold caps, they seemed to make a daring proposal: LET THE BUSH TAX CUTS EXPIRE.

Let the Bush tax cuts expire, the fiery editors seemed to say. In a more detailed manner, they went on to say the following: “A sensible and fair approach would be to let the high-end tax cuts expire as scheduled, but keep the other tax cuts for another year.”

Good lord! Had they really said it? Had the editors really proposed that all the Bush tax cuts should expire? It certainly looked like they had done so! Once again, just take a look at those big bold capital letters!

But actually no, the editors hadn’t made that daring proposal. Instantly, they bailed on their own apparent proposal; just like that, they took it back, as you can see if you simply read the rest of their editorial. Those big bold caps were big and bold—but the editors at the New York Times aren’t. No sooner had they proposed their idea than they started speed-walking it back.

Would it be a good idea to return to the Clinton tax rates? We’re not sure; like you, we’ve rarely seen this notion debated. But if you want to understand why spending cuts keep winning out in our budget debates—if you want to understand why the editors shouldn’t be so “amazed” by such outcomes—we’ll suggest that you come back tomorrow, when we’ll sadly walk you through the next things the editors said.

Should the editors be amazed when spending cuts rule our budget debates? Why would anyone be amazed? For the past forty years, that result has been built into the DNA of our national pseudo-debate.

We thought that fact was made quite clear in the rest of the eds’ editorial.

Tomorrow: Taking it back