Procrastinating on June 20, 2016
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Live from Republican Economists' Self-Made Gehenna: I find myself annoyed with Michael Boskin this morning.

He gives an extremely shoddy reading to the President's remarks at a Town Hall in Indiana. Obama said:

Barack Obama: Elkhart, Indiana PBS Town Hall: "About domestic policy... the thing I would have probably done differently... I would have tried to describe earlier to the American people how serious the recession was going to be, which would have hopefully allowed us to have an even bigger response than we did. The Recovery Act, our response to the recession, was actually bigger than the New Deal. That’s how a lot of teachers kept their jobs. That’s how a lot of construction workers stayed on the job and projects kept on going. That’s how a lot of states met their budget. That’s why we didn’t end up having 30 percent unemployment...

What Obama should have said is:

  1. I regret that I did not do more to tell the American people how serious the situation was.
  2. We should have done more.
  3. Even so, the January 2009 Recovery Act was a larger fiscal stimulus than the New Deal.
  4. Our active policy response to the recession was how a lot of teachers kept their jobs, how a lot of construction workers stayed on the job and projects kept on going, how a lot of states met their budget--and why we didn’t end up having 30 percent unemployment.

Obama ought to have strongly distinguished the part of his policy response to the absolutely awful economic situation he had inherited from Michael Boskin's political masters from the whole. The 2009 Recovery Act was only one part of the administration's policy response. The whole was much greater. He should have made that distinction sharply. He didn't. Instead, he set "Recovery Act" and "our response to the recession" in apposition. And so the following sentences that are perfectly correct if one reads the "That"s to refer to "our response to the recession" are wrong if one ignores "our response to the recession" and insists that the referent of the "That"s is the phrase "Recovery Act" and only the phrase "Recovery Act".

A shoddy misreading. A shoddy rhetorical device. But Boskin sees it as an opportunity to pounce:

Michael Boskin: The Problem with Politicians as Historians: "Obama has also been touting his economic accomplishments...

...claiming he prevented another Great Depression. He has said that his Recovery Act stopped the unemployment rate from soaring to 30% – five points higher than what it was at the peak of the Great Depression. That is a priori nonsense. Obama’s own advisers have estimated that his stimulus package prevented a rise in unemployment of one percentage point at peak unemployment, not the 20-percentage-point increase the president seems to be claiming. Obama is not the first political leader to engage in hyperbole, but even by the standards of the Internet age, that one is a whopper. He has also frequently claimed that all economists agree that his policies worked. The truth is that while some agree with his advisers’ assessments, others believe the stimulus had little or even a negative effect.

It is interesting that Obama feels the need, as his days count down, to glorify his actions. And it will be even more interesting to see how he uses his intelligence, eloquence, and experience after his retirement. The two presidents with whom I worked most closely, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, mostly let others do the talking and writing. Both seemed comfortable with what they had accomplished and what they had to leave undone; and both grew in stature and popularity with time...

Shame on you, Michael. Shame on you also for being an austerity dead-ender--for claiming that fiscal stimulus policies' effects have a different sign when proposed by Democratic Presidents like Barack Obama and Bill Clinton than you claim they have when proposed by Republican Presidents named Reagan and Bush.

And shame on you for never marking your beliefs to market. I remember debating you back in October of 2000: You claimed that the proposed George W. Bush tax cuts were highly unlikely to either (a) make America's income distribution more unequal or (b) endanger the progress Bill Clinton had made toward long-run budget sustainability. You were wrong. I am--with Boskin's Stanford audience, and the centrist Republican politicians he reassured with his claims about the George W. Bush tax cuts, and everyone whom he impelled toward voting for the walking disaster of a president that was George W. Bush--are still waiting for his apology...