Sometime around 5am this morning (sleep is for the weak) I read a week-old post from our favorite
economist liberal acolyte, Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman. Beginning his career as a caterpillar economist (churning out paper after paper by candlelight from the drafty Princetonian economics basement) he apparently cocooned sometime ago and morphed into a beautiful butterfly (aesthetically pleasing, but lacking substance or utility) for the NYT and democratic party.
His post was an exercise in Japanese efficiency, and Cinema Code era innuendo.
Its title: Sixteen Years.
Its lone content:
"A Tale of two presidents."
The sinister elegance of his post is just how little Mr. Krugman says. By intentionally structuring his "argument" (Clinton > Bush => Liberals > Conservatives) without actually forming a logical line of reasoning or corroborating commentary he is able to "appeal to popularity", since he knows his readership, and then compel the reader to draw Krugman's known conclusion, which was probably presupposed by said readers.
Now, before I get any further, you, dear readers, must realize that this I am not about to argue the merits of one party's policies versus another, or the merit of our previous two presidents. As always we welcome and enjoy your comments, but if you want to argue about the efficacy of economic policies, POTUS' effect on the economy, etc wait for another post.
This is about intellectual dishonesty.
"There are lies, damn lies, and statistics." -- Mark Twain (Attributed)
"Torture the statistics long enough and they'll confess to anything." --Widely Attributed
Mr. Krugman surely tortured these statistics, but like a first year associate in AG Cuomo's office, it didn't take long for the data to cave. And we all know, because John McCain reiterated ad nauseum during the elections, "Coerced confessionals are of limited value." While this kind of "analysis" may be acceptable in the nether regions of New Jersey (and the newly mortgaged NYT basement) I am pretty sure most high school math teachers would fail a student this intellectually dishonest.
To wit, his chart:
- truncated the data stream as to eliminate any context of historical levels, volatility, highs, lows, etc.--without context data are meaningless;
- used an abridged timeseries when the full series tells the opposite story (democrats have a negative average growth in employment, republicans have a positive);
- doesn't adjust for economic policy lag;
- implies that the president alone (or in majority) controls the factors of production, employment, and output without exogenistic factors.
Utilizing the exact same data set he used I came up with the following...and this tortured soul confessed to a different crime entirely:
NB: 1) Party in Control is defined in the spirit of Krugman's post and reflects the party of the sitting POTUS.
2) As mentioned in the chart, all years are offset (t+2) to account for economic lag/momentum.
|Average Growth (PIC)||2.32%||-0.38%|
|Avg. Growth (month)||0.07%||-0.01%|
If you look in the expanded data series you can see a few things
- His narrative of "good pres / bad pres" and thus the ideological extension doesn't hold water. Republicans presided over a positive average growth rate of 2.32% per PIC period, while the democrats presided over negative changes in employment participation.
- The range has extremes at 55 (low) and 64 (high), and has a standard deviation of 2.9% for a series that extended sixty years it's pretty tough to give any credibility that any move less than 1SD are de minimus, no matter how much you scale the data (heck, even i had to adjust the Y axis to get this chart look readable);
- Lastly, even if you accept that a 1-2% (see what I did there) change is a "big move" you are still left with the rather obvious exogenistic variables (everything that isn't "president in power"), like Congress, Fed policy, Global economic growth, etc.
No doubt some of you will rail that I am reading my own story into his blurb, and that may be true, but if you look at the comments on his post he succeeded in drawing out the reactions he wanted without even making an argument. Go ahead, read them, you can leave 1-2 for a second.
What was so irking about his post wasn't his conclusion (I couldn't have cared less), but rather the way he played with cheap synecdoche, ambiguity, and blatant intellectual dishonesty.
One thing I know for sure is that compliance would have my head were they to find a chart this blatantly cherry-picked in a deck.
You're better than this, Krugman.