Something to be Thankful For

None of us is perfect.  I often get quite upset at myself for making mistakes when I write, for being too snarky, for missing the point, for just not writing something as good as it should be.  But I can always be thankful:

No matter how bad anything is that I may write, I will never be as mendacious, deceitful, intellectually dishonest and a disgrace to all thinking people everywhere as is Niall Ferguson.

Ferguson’s cover story in Newsweek – supposedly arguing why we should reject President Obama’s bid for a second term – got into trouble almost immediately.  The Shrill One quickly pointed out that Ferguson was deliberately deceiving and misleading his audience on health care.  Ferguson claimed that the Affordable Care Act would increase the deficit, pointing out that the ACA cost money.  Krugman pointed out that Ferguson conveniently forgot to acknowledge that the ACA was fully paid for.

Ferguson then “responded” by saying that he was not being misleading because he chose his words deliberately — in other words, that he was deliberately misleading his audience.

Then James Fallows jumped in, and pointed out Ferguson’s deceit not only on health care, but on foreign policy and everything else in the piece, including the fact that Ferguson blamed Obama for job losses for the 12 months before he became President.  Here’s a nice nugget:

You should read the article for yourself, but a few other highlights:

“Remarkably the president polls relatively strongly on national security.”

Remarkably the name Osama bin Laden does not appear in this article.

Then Joe Wiesenthal pointed out that Ferguson’s defense was not only an admission of guilt, but also that all of his biggest economic predictions since Obama became President have been wrong.  Then No More Mr. Nice Blog pointed out that Niall Ferguson can’t even get his facts straight about Niall Ferguson.  Then on Twitter, @nycsouthpaw pointed out that Ferguson’s defense of his original article using the CBO report on the Affordable Care Act distorted and took out of context what the CBO report actually said.  Then Dylan Byers observed that Ferguson’s defense was “ridiculous, misleading and ethically questionable.”

Then Noah Smith took down the rest of the piece, pointing out that what we have is a  “pedestrian, poorly written, poorly-thought-out, self-contradictory, often counterfactual anti-Obama screed.”

It’s quite remarkable that a tenured professor at Harvard University can write something so deceptive, lazy, and shoddy — but it is nice to see that there are the beginnings of an infrastructure that will call out garbage like this.  Republicans are trying, but it is harder for them to get away with what they got away with in 2000, e.g. claiming that “by far the vast majority of the Bush tax cuts go to bottom half of the income distribution” or making up stories about Gore.

In any event, there is a new blessing for the morning: Baruch Ata Ha-Shem, Elokainu Melech Ha-Olam, She-lo Asani Niall Ferguson.

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.

18 thoughts on “Something to be Thankful For”

  1. Did you notice the bit where Newsweek’s defense was “we don’t actually have fact checkers” ? Yeah. Awesome.

    The blogosphere can rip Ferguson’s pathetic excuse for an argument to shreds, but I worry it won’t matter in the slightest. Newsweek is probably happy about the whole thing.

    1. Similarly, when he was on “Face the Nation” on Sunday, no one challenged him on any facts, least of all the host, Bob Schieffer. Comments have been forthcoming from several observers regarding the epistemology of the news media. Truth is none of their business.

      The bummer is that I had already bought Ferguson’s book, “The Ascent of Money.” It was next on my list of books to read. Does anyone know if it is as stupid as his Newsweek article?

      1. NOTHING is as stupid as his Newsweek article. Ascent of Money is okay, in my view, but nothing to write home about — I reviewed it on Amazon and gave it three stars. If you are reading you could probably do a lot better. Barry Eichengreen’s stuff is more worthwhile. John Cassidy’s Why Market Fail is excellent, IMHO.

        1. Thanks, Jonathan, for the reassurance. I had bought “Three Cups of Tea” about a month before the book was exposed as a fraud. I hated to think of having a repeat misfortune.

          And I got a lot out of the Cassidy book (actual title is How Markets Fail). What he said about three features common to market bubbles was of real value: policymakers beholden to the illusion of stability, financial innovations that make speculating easier, and New Era thinking typified by overconfidence and disaster myopia.

          Also, where Cassidy points out that in most markets for things, higher prices lead to a fall in demand, but in speculative markets, higher prices can lead to higher demand. This, he says, is the feature that distinguishes stable from unstable markets.

          Distillations like that make “How Markets Fail” well worth reading. Let’s hope a few people see this and buy the book forthwith.

  2. The whole point of Newsweek, their whole market (to the extent they have one) is to digest the news for people who lack the interest, attention, or ability to do it for themselves. Ferguson is a tremendously embarrassing hack, and there are lots of great essays demonstrating that in various ways and in various areas of the vast realm of his hackitude. What all these efforts unfortunately share is that none of them will appear in the display stand of your supermarket checkout, let alone on the cover. None have the power to reach those voters who are undecided because they don’t pay attention the same way the cover of Newsweek has that power. Ferguson’s article will be given a gravitas and an authoritativeness it does not deserve by these low-information voters, in a very dangerous way. To allow him to do thoroughly disgrace their pages is an offense it would be difficult to repair – and one they apparently do not wish to repair.

    1. Warren Terra is absolutely right on. I’ve been listening to National Public Radio. I’ve noticed that NPR’s political coverage is heavily weighted toward Republicans in broadcast time. NPR also repeats political speech without fact -checking comment, even when that speech is patently false.

      I fear average apolitical voters get no information that would oppose the beauty-pageant popularity-contest election method. After all, they generally believe Republicans and Democrats are both bad, lying, politicians, so what does it matter which you choose? Might as well vote for the pretty one.

  3. Yes you don’t always write perfect posts. You have, indeed proven your point, but you missed many possible links.
    The most charitable interpreter (Ezra Klein) admitted that Ferguson didn’t just make a mistake (as you noted he practiced to deceive).
    And he described the article as “The worst case against the Obama administration”
    not a bad dishonest unconvincing stupid case but the worst (which given the competition is saying a lot).

    He and many others (but not you) linked to this takedown by Matt O’Brien

    The key point is that it used to be that writing Fegusonian crap was rewarded (google “Francis Fukayama”). It created a controversy. The he said she said continued until everyone was bored and all that was remembered was that a lot of she’s seemed interested in he. But now an obscure critic’s critique doesn’t stay obscure for long if it is devastating. The debate is over and all the participants agree before the (sadly few) people who were vaguely interested move on to the debate on legitimate rape or something.

    It pains pains

      1. I’m not sure “dishonest” is a fair word to be using, but Fukuyama himself wrote several essays in the mid-2000s about how he’d been deluding himself and thus misleading his readers for a decade or more, and had come to realize he’d been very wrong in much of what he’d written.

  4. “It’s quite remarkable that a tenured professor at Harvard University can write something so deceptive, lazy, and shoddy”

    Greg Mankiw did so just a few weeks ago, working with a Stanford professor, a Columbia Business School professor and dean, and a previously discredited hack.

    Well, maybe that wasn’t quite as bad…

    1. Greg Mankiw recently wrote a screed against progressive income tax, explaining that he doesn’t feel like working extra for extra pay, since more of it will be taken by the government, and concluding that progressive taxation is a disincentive to trying to increase your earnings.

      Apparently Greg Mankiw, allegedly an econonist, is unfamiliar with the history of the tax rate table. Or perhaps he believes that the rich guys back when I was a kid simply rested on their laurels, without trying to increase their wealth, since so much of it would be taxed.

      Also apparently, Harvard hires more doofuses than they used to.

    2. I don’t think it’s so remarkable. I think lots of people hear an English accent and assume the person is smart. It’s basically just prejudice. It happens even more in radio, I think.

  5. My favorite part of Ferguson was the bit about how “under Obama,” the Chinese GDP was going to overtake that of the U.S. This is precisely the sort of crap our high-school debate team would try to pull, because we figured that for sure the other team hadn’t come prepared for that. Then we’d sit back and preen ourselves, and the judge would grimace as if to say, ‘little did I know when I volunteered for this that every hour I listened to you smarmy little toerags would drive me deeper into clinical depression.’

  6. (sorry for reposting)

    Newsweek’s at checkout counters all over the country dishonestly trashed the Democratic President for an entire week with their headline using falsehoods that many college undergrads could easily fact check and debunk in under an hour.

    While it’s commendable that the intertubes have expanded the circle who know Ferguson is a fraud and a hack, that’s still a very tiny circle compared to the countless more who saw that Newsweek headline attacking Obama [many of whom won’t read the thorough debunking].

    In a nutshell that’s our media ecosystem: Right-wingers lie blatantly using the megaphones of mass media and then the largely marginalized ‘left’ expend multiple times as much energy correcting the record with only a fraction of the media impact.

    rinse, repeat

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