Inigo Montoya Department: Roger L. Simon and Niall Ferguson

You keep using that word.  I do not think that word means what you think it means:

(h/t Huff Post)  Simon, the CEO of Pajamas Media, is clearly right.  It does say it all.  Ferguson’s piece is the conservative argument against Obama.  And it is deceitful, mendacious, and unethical.

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.

20 thoughts on “Inigo Montoya Department: Roger L. Simon and Niall Ferguson”

  1. In high school I had a teacher who on occasion would deliberately say something patently ridiculous just to see if we were paying attention.

    Maybe Ferguson will wink at us all tomorrow and say, “I was only checking on whether you were awake.”

    1. “Maybe Ferguson will wink at us all tomorrow and say, “I was only checking on whether you were awake.””

      Nah, he’s been full of it for years, now.

  2. The passage in which Ferguson blamed job losses since January 2008 on Obama was really something. If he had used that argument in a scholarly article the reviewer would have done what I did, stop reading and mark the writer down as a lying sleazeball.

    1. There actually is a good reason to evaluate Obama’s performance based upon jobs added since the trough of the recession rather than the start of his presidency. It requires more explanation and more nuance than Ferguson provides, but it does exist. If you assume that the president has, at best, only a small amount of control over the timing of recessions, then looking only at performance since Inauguration Day is arbitrary and not terribly enlightening.

      For example, Bush II took office just as the 2001 recession was starting. Examining his performance starting on 20 Jan, 2001 means that he is dinged with all of the job losses associated with a recession over which he had zero control initially. Obama, on the other hand, took office a year after the trough and so a lot of the job losses had already occurred. Thus, Obama was starting from a much lower baseline relative to the business cycle.

      None of that changes the fact that Ferguson’s analysis is wretched. Using the above argument would necessitate going into just how brutal this recession has been. He also really ought to take into consideration just whose fiscal policies have been enacted over the last four years, which have been overwhelmingly Republican, particularly if one includes state and local governments.

      1. Um, your argument is fine, mostly, but it does seem out of place given that it makes this particular offense by Ferguson even worse; everyone who’s written about the whole “January 2008” thing points out that the place to start counting fairly isn’t even January 2009 when Obama started, but a few months later when he’d had some policies implemented.

        I think the problem is that you say that “Obama, on the other hand, took office a year after the trough”. If you look at the graphs, Obama took office basically right smack in the middle of a 12-month decline, half occurring before he took office and half after. That’s not “a year after the trough”, it’s mid-plunge.

        1. You are correct. I wrote that wrong. Obama took office a year after the peak, which means that many of the job losses had already occurred. That makes an enormous difference if one is trying to compare the job numbers under Bush, who got the entire recession in his term, to the job numbers under Obama, who got only the last portion of the recession in his term. Given that neither was responsible for the timing of the recession, a straight comparison is disingenuous.

          What becomes hard is that it isn’t really correct to absolve either of them of *all* of the job losses that took place after they became President, because presumably their policies influenced how soon the recession ended and just how deep it was. So, while Ferguson’s implicit attribution of all of the job losses in 2008 to Obama is far too simplistic, there is something there.

          If you look at it historically, job growth tends to be faster after a strong recession than after a mild one. Given this, we would normally expect job growth to be quite strong under Obama for reasons that have nothing to do with his policies. It would be just a matter of luck of taking office well after a very sharp recession has hit.

          In fact, and this is what Ferguson is kind of, sort of, incompetently trying to get at is that job growth under Obama has been surprisingly weak when compared to other downturns of this magnitude. What he doesn’t do is get into why this is the case. I think that it’s a combination of this being a different *kind* of recession, namely demand driven rather than supply driven, that is harder to bounce back from combined with a series of policy mistakes, only some of which can be laid at Obama’s door.

          It was a terrible piece by Ferguson.

          1. So, while Ferguson’s implicit attribution of all of the job losses in 2008 to Obama is far too simplistic, there is something there

            I think you’ll find it’s challenging to blame Obama for any of the job losses in 2008, McCain campaign staffers excepted.

        2. That’s true, but it’s still relevant to ask how many jobs have been created since 2009 relative to the peak, even though that peak came a year before Obama took office. That’s not the only relevant question, but it is important.

          1. Um, really? The question is not the rate of job creation, it’s whether he’s filled the hole that was dug for him yet? Do you realize how nuts that is?

      2. But January 2008 was not the trough of the recession.
        Unemployment peaked in October 2009
        The employment-population ratio hit bottom in December 2009 and again in November 2010 and the middle of 2011.
        According to the NBER, the recession bottomed out in 6/2009. IIRC, this is based on GDP or GDP growth.

        I think the only possible justification for choosing January 2008 is that it was near the beginning of the recession, again according to the NBER. And people might mistakenly recall/think that Obama became president then.

        1. I mistyped “trough” when I meant “peak.” So I was trying to make a different argument than the one you have sresponded to.

  3. Even if everything he says about Obama is true, and I don’t for a minute contend that 10% of it is, nothing in his article explains why Romney would be any better. I’m voting for Jill Stein this year because I’m in a safe state. Were I in a swing state, I’d be marking the box next to Obama’s name, but it would really be a vote against Romney.

  4. Ferguson is on my Don’t-Bother-to-Read list.

    But I did so completely enjoy watching Sachs wipe the floor with his fanny a while back on The Fareed Show (aka GPS). (Which I still really like, b/c he gets great guests and actually asks good questions. His own views are usually Snoresville, but I don’t care given the benefits. I say, he too should be cloned.)

      1. “You should be cloned” is just a compliment I sometimes use. Katja, Zasloff, and others. Could be it doesn’t translate to the web.

  5. Can we all please point out how egregiously sloppy Niall Ferguson is with his data?

    I mean, this guy is an academic who teaches at Harvard, calls himself a researcher and yet can utter complete nonsense like this: “We are becoming the 50–50 nation—half of us paying the taxes, the other half receiving the benefits.” By any measure, more than 50% of Americans pay taxes, and by any measure, almost all American receive some benefit from those taxes, through social security, medicare, defense, infrastructure, education. In fact, there is likely only a vanishingly small and ultrawealthy percentage of the population that can claim NO benefit from tax funds–because they live on a private island in the Caribbean or whatever.

    Further, his knife-through-the-heart argument about the Obama administration cherry picks only revenue without accounting for savings. Not only that, but he goes on to say that it’s Obama’s fault that China’s GDP is growing at such an absurdly fast rate that it will pass ours in 2017 (meanwhile, our GDP is keeping pace with its historic growth.)

    Niall Ferguson is a partisan hack. Period. Given the hackery of this piece, the peer review or standards committee at Harvard should go back through everything Niall Ferguson has ever published. If he’s this boneheaded about data in such a public forum, his other work is likely full of falsifications.

  6. First, Mankiw, Hubbard, Hasset and Taylor publish a pack of lies, to see them demolished by Brad DeLong (among others, I’m sure) Then, Niall Ferguson unleashes his imagination, and is immediately ripped to shreds by just about every literate blogger in the blogosphere. Todd Akin says what the vast majority of the Base believes (and what the Republican platform would enshrine into law, Supreme Court willing), and becomes a pariah, even to the troglodytes. The Republicans are utterly bereft of any truthful arguments that could attract majority support. They have to lie, otherwise, the whole thing falls apart. (That’s not to say that Obama can’t be criticized, but he can’t be truthfully criticized in the apocalyptic terms required to satisfy the Base, and he can’t be criticized from the center, because that’s where he’s governed. He can only be criticized from the left and far right.)

    No sitting Democratic president has ever been ousted from office for being too liberal. I’m beginning to think that Obama won’t break the string.

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