C@L readers know that I’m a fan of the NY Times’s news and business reporting. If you want depth and detail (especially today, when papers increasingly read like Tweets), the NYT’s news coverage is about as good as it gets.
The opinion page, sadly, is another matter.
Case in point, last Friday’s lead editorial chastising Japan and Europe for not adopting large fiscal stimulus plans. The lede:
The world economy has plunged into what is likely to be the most brutal recession since the 1930s, yet policy makers in Europe and Japan seem to believe there are more important things for them to do than to try to dig the world, including themselves, out.
That’s actually OK — the editorial board is free to believe (and espouse) that massive fiscal stimulus is the best policy for dealing with the current recession. But to use an old saying, they’re entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. Ignoring that admonition, the ed led off its final graf with this howler:
In a recent speech, Christina Romer, another of President Obama’s economic advisers, pointed out some lessons [sic] from the Great Depression: fiscal stimulus works.
If you follow the economic history literature, this is a stunner; some of Romer’s most important academic work demonstrates the opposite, namely that fiscal stimulus did little to get the United States out of the Depression [$] and subsequent U.S. recessions [$]. Has she rejected her own findings?
I tracked down the speech transcript and found out that, nope, she hasn’t; in fact, she was explicit that “fiscal policy was not the key engine of recovery in the Depression.”
Romer did go on to say that she strongly supports the Obama stimulus plan, believing it will be effective and worthwhile. But this belief is rooted in one school of economic thought (or ideology, to borrow from NYT columnist Paul Krugman), not history. Whatever the merits of Romer’s belief, the NYT’s line about the Depression proving that “fiscal stimulus works” is just plain horseradish.
In recent years, the NYT editorial board has repeatedly chastised non-progressives, claiming they put ideology over objective fact. Will the ed board scold itself?