There’s a Storm Coming…Or How a Harvard Prof Digs His Own Intellectual Grave
I am looking forward to watching how this develops over the week. There are, to me, at least three interesting things going on here.
The third is seeing how Newsweek, which has reinvented itself as political tabloid, will be judged by the rest of the media ecosystem. The more interesting part of Krugman’s critique is that he basically moves past Ferguson’s immediate duplicity in order to call out the entire magazine for its alleged lack of basic journalistic standards. Curious to see where the Daily Beast team (specifically Sullivan and Frum) falls on this, or if, again, they even weigh in at all.
[UPDATE 1] — the Atlantic‘s James Fallows comments on the Fergunator’s hack job in Newsweek:
Three years ago, I got crosswise of Niall Ferguson when I noted his remark that President Obama reminded him of Felix the Cat. Like Obama, Ferguson noted, “Felix was not only black. He was also very, very lucky.” A little earlier I had a testy on-stage exchange with him about the United States and China. He said that U.S. budget deficits would lead to the certain collapse of the U.S.-China relationship, since China would cut off further credit to the spendthrift Yanks. I said that might sound like a neat theory but reflected no awareness of actual Chinese incentives and behavior, and that the showdown he considered “inevitable” in fact would not occur. As it has not.
Again, anyone can be wrong, and I often have been. But scholars are supposed to be different from mere pamphleteers and journalists. We give the judgments of academics — like those of doctors, scientists, renowned jurists, etc. — extra weight because we assume that they have considered evidence, precedent, and probabilities more carefully before offering conclusions. Think: E.O. Wilson on ants and ecological patterns more broadly.
[UPDATE 2] — Politico’s Dylan Byers notes that Ferguson has compounded one of the original sins Krugman had called him out on:
So contrary to what Ferguson leads readers to believe, the CBO report does not state that the reduction is “unclear.” What is “unclear” is whether the reduction will come through greater efficiencies in healthcare delivery or reduced access to care.
So, one more time: The Oxford-trained, Harvard-employed, Newsweek contibutor Niall Ferguson just edited the CBO report to change its meaning.
With all due lack of respect: What are you thinking?
[UPDATE 3] — Again from the Atlantic, Associate Editor Matthew O’Brien fact-checks Ferguson’s account in full. What he discovers is the following:
There are plenty of legitimate reasons to disapprove of the president. Here’s the big one: 8.3 percent. That’s the current unemployment rate, fully three years on from the official end of the Great Recession. But rather than make this straightforward case against the current administration, Ferguson delves into a fantasy world of incorrect and tendentious facts. He simply gets things wrong, again and again and again.
I’m speechless. How do you even react to something like this? Ferguson is like some clever middle schooler who thinks he’s made a terrifically shrewd point by inserting “insurance coverage provisions” into his sentence so that he can later argue that it’s technically correct if anyone calls him on it. You can almost hear the adolescent tittering in the background.
But – and this is why he makes me so angry – Niall Ferguson badly misunderstands my country. We are a Republic, not an Empire, and we always will be. We rejected the mantle of Anglo-Saxon world domination in the Philippines, again in Vietnam, and again in Iraq. And we will always reject it. We do not want to go forth and educate and enlighten the brown people at the point of our Tomahawk missiles, Mr. Ferguson. We want to invite them here, to live with us, to work for us and hire us, to marry our children, to become part of this country. Even, yes, to lead this country, as Barack Obama, for all his faults, has done. We do not want to conquer the world. We want to become the world.
My old and good friend Niall Ferguson has written an essay arguing against re-electing Obama. So for the second time in four years, we will be backing separate candidates. One reason is that I believe that the Bush-Cheney wars turned out to be disastrous and a second war against Iran could be catastrophic. Niall has had no such change of heart and remains an advocate of American imperial power. Another is that I do not share Niall’s view of the Obama administration’s record, which I think he massively – and rather self-evidently – distorts.
This is not a matter of opinion. Krugman is right and Niall’s response is embarrassing not because he didn’t read the CBO report, but precisely because he did.