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Bob Herbert: Shameless Hack
Posted by: Jon Henke on Saturday, November 10, 2007

Bob Herbert reaches such astoundingly high levels of hackery in his column today ["Recession? What Recession?"] that even Lefty bloggers are acknowledging his errors.

In short, Bob Herbert makes the remarkably insipid how can you say there's no recession when some people aren't doing well argument. This is the neighbor of how can you say capitalism is good when we're not all rich and first cousin to how can you be happy when somebody, somewhere is suffering. It isn't often used by people who have completed junior high school, but apparently the New York Times doesn't have much in the way of standards.

Let's just address two points, though. First, Herbert writes "Representative Hinchey ... noted that the unemployment rate does not include workers who have become so discouraged that they’ve given up looking for a job." Well, no. It doesn't. But the Monthly Employment Situation Summary about the unemployment rate does count them. Every month. They're called "discouraged workers", their ranks and declining and there are about as many of them now as there were during the Great Recession of 1996-1998.

Secondly, Herbert writes that "the most popular measure of inflation, the Consumer Price Index, does not include the cost of energy or food, “the two most significant aspects of the increased cost of living for the American people.”" Brad DeLong handles this well...
Yes, it does.

How has the New York Times managed to pick Bob Herbert out of the 75 million liberal adults in America? It is a mystery.


Editorial pages may be the least accountable bastion of the Fourth Estate. Day after day, columnists and editors climb that pedestal and vomit forth errors, myths, and journalistic malpractice, yet they demand self-correction approximately as often as President Bush admits mistakes.

Since the Fourth Estate refuses to be any more accountable than the "three estates" they watch, the only accountability remaining is public censure. Bob Herbert is a shameless hack, and his colleagues should be embarrassed to share a newspaper with him.
 
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Perhaps no recession yet, though I had to chuckle at the headline of the Weekend edition of my Financial Times: Gloom Envelops World Markets. Yikes!

I’m worried. The dollar is falling like a rock, oil prices skyrocketing, government spending out of control, 2007 the largest death toll for US troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The credit crisis is real and we’re still not sure how far it will go, and the US consumer can’t bail out the economy with spending because the equity increases in property values aren’t there any more, meaning no more cheap, easy, credit.

Yeah, it’s not a recession yet, but the signs on the horizon are worrisome. I mean, Canadians are laughing about how cheap it is now to travel to the US!
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
I’m worried. The dollar is falling like a rock,
Making US imports cheaper, and Canadian tourism easier, it’s why the trade gap narrowed, US exports rose significantly.

oil prices skyrocketing
,
Because production and demand are rising worldwide, Doc...you know Economic BOOM!? Not because we’ve run out of oil or because OPEC has decided to teach the world a lesson, but because the US, Japan, India, and the PRC are experiencing real, sustained economic growth
government spending out of control,
Really because as a percent of GDP it’s about where it ahs been for the last 50 years.

2007 the largest death toll for US troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
And in Afghanistan that number is very low, isn’t it? Just like stat’s that show that Red-Haired large breasted womyn make up the fastest growing segment of the homeless, well there weren’t that many so any increase is significant, but is it meaningful? And in Iraq, the last three months have seen a dramatic DECREASE in deaths, US and Iraqi...kinda like to gloss over that don’t you/ I noted October was the "slowest" month in Iraq for US deaths since March 2003 (IIRC)?
The credit crisis is real and we’re still not sure how far it will go,
Yes it is real and it affects a TINY percentage of mortgages, in your fantasy tale we ALL got sub-prime mortgages, but the reality is we didn’t

and the US consumer can’t bail out the economy with spending because the equity increases in property values aren’t there any more, meaning no more cheap, easy, credit.
Yeah that would explain the increase in discretionary spending then...
Yeah, it’s not a recession yet, but the signs on the horizon are worrisome. I mean, Canadians are laughing about how cheap it is now to travel to the US!
Yeah it’s a recession just like the good old Clinton Recession...you know low unemployment, wages increasing, and sustained economic growth, here and WORLDWIDE.....

Doc, your BDS affects badly. You and Herbert and Kos-world are pray’n for the Recession, that’ll teach those losers to vote for Neo-Cons. It’s sad....You’re like the fellows at my alma mater that complained about "Tubby" Smith our basketball coach. One was quoted as saying, "If he wins one more National Championship we’ll NEVER get rid of him." You can’t stand the current GOP and the current POTUS, so God Forbid things go well economically, if they do we’ll NEVER get rid of these guys, right?

I could not stand Clinton, and I can’t think of too many people that prayed for a recession under him. But of course, you’re a prof, aren’t you? It’ll be the little people, the ones who need educating and enlightening that will pay the price. U Maine will just keeping sending the cheques won’t they? And you and yours can just advocate more state support "So everyone can go to college.", right. You’re disgusting, praying for bankruptcy, so you can "win." You are in the same position that the French Right was in, in 1940, you’re praying for the defeat of your enemies so hard that you don’t care who gets hurt. I hope you wake up in 20 years and can face yourself.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 11/10/2007 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention updated throughout the day…so check back often.
This is a weekend edition so updates are as time and family permits.
 
Written By: David M
URL: http://thunderrun.blogspot.com/
Look guys.....just get with the program.

It is the worst economy since Herbert Hoover (TM) and nothing can be allowed to change that story.

Now a recession MAY be coming, but that doesn’t mean that it is caused (solely) by anything the President is doing
2007 the largest death toll for US troops in both Afghanistan and Iraq
What does this have to do with a discussion of a recession???!

I get the feeling you throw this factoid into any conversation, be it global warming, who should win the Superbowl, or asking your family how their day was.

Just give up the act already
 
Written By: shark
URL: http://
Joe, you have your rose colored glasses on! Total debt as a percentage of GDP has risen in the last decade from about 30% to near 70%. Moreover, falling currency values does make exports cheaper to other countries — but as seen in many places where overvalued currencies with high current accounts deficits, it can also lead to a crisis — and that could happen here. At the very least, our standard of living will suffer, as foreign goods become more expensive, and there could be a retreat from investing in the US. Look at how the stock market has been behaving. Moreover, if you read analyses from economists and publications like the FT and Economist, there are considerable problems ahead for the American economy if these trends continue. Whistle past the graveyard if you will, don those rose colored glasses, but I tell ya — the reality of this is something that I’m convinced we’ll be feeling pretty significantly in the near future.

And to poh-poh the highest level of deaths this year in both Iraq and Afghanistan by saying "well, the last couple months have been low" is pretty lame. Bottom line: five years in, and we’re still in a huge mess, and it was supposed to be easy.

And your little rant at the end is a bit silly, especially this point:
You’re disgusting, praying for bankruptcy, so you can "win."
On what on earth do you base that? I said I was WORRIED of these economic circumstances. I have kids! I have a large house to heat! I don’t want the economy to go south, quite the contrary. I mean, your rant at the end made no sense at all. Perhaps you misunderstood my chuckling at the headline — the headline made me chuckle because of the wording "gloom envelops world markets." That didn’t mean I was happy about it!

Shark: I do not blame Bush for the potential of a coming recession. The blame is shared by both parties, and by Alan Greenspan. Low interest rates financed two successful bubbles — stocks, then housing. Those have both burst, and now there is nothing to allow the consumer to use cheap credit to keep the economy on solid ground. The result is the dollar is significantly less valuable, and our life style is likely to suffer. This is not good. The economy is rebalancing to put the US in a lower position, reflecting some structural weaknesses that had their roots in the 90s (during the Clinton years), but haven’t been addressed well by Bush either. It’s not a partisan thing, it’s something all Americans should pay attention to and be concerned about. I’m not playing a partisan game here, I don’t think we can afford to simply see this through partisan lenses.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Scott what a post. Drinking the dismal bitter anguish from a glass only half full must be agonizing. Your narrative has become extra dark. Have you been soul searching and finding a vacuum??
 
Written By: coaster
URL: http://
Perhaps you misunderstood my chuckling at the headline — the headline made me chuckle because of the wording "gloom envelops world markets." That didn’t mean I was happy about it!
No I understood it quite well Dr Erb...you want the recession...oh it’ll be bad, but it’ll be worth it...it’ll teach people a lesson...

So my BMW, made in the US will be more expensive, well then mayhap I’ll buy a Cadillac...why does my standard of living suffer, because I can’t buy a Krup coffee maker?

Your knowledge of economics rivals your knowledge of history.
 
Written By: Joe
URL: http://
Dr Erb...you want the recession
And you want an earthquake to destroy California.

Also, you need to study economics a bit if you think that a currency losing value only affects trade. You seem to think devaluation of currency is a very good thing. That’s either a lack of understanding of the basics, or a an unwillingness to confront the difficulty of the current economic situation.

Coaster, yeah, I’m gloomy about the future of the US economy right now. I’m gloomy about the energy situation, looking into solar panels and other ways to avoid the coming oil crunch. I’m unsure about investments, worried that things are going to get very difficult. I find myself worrying about the kind of life my kids will have. I’m at base a fundamentally optimistic person, so in thinking of this I am confident we’ll get through it. But I’ve got real concerns about the future (and these have been consistent the past couple years, as I’ve watched the current accounts deficit soar to unsustainable heights, kept in place only by how the housing bubble and cheap credit allowed the capital account to stay high. But now....) I hope I’m wrong.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Erb wrote:
"Total debt as a percentage of GDP has risen in the last decade from about 30% to near 70%."

A decade ago, 1997, the gross federal debt was 65.6% of GDP. The 2007 estimate is 67.5%.
 
Written By: anonymous
URL: http://
It is the worst economy since Herbert Hoover (TM) and nothing can be allowed to change that story.
Yeah! and remember how in 2003-2004, GWBush was the first president since HH to lose jobs... hummm, I wonder if Erb was peddling that back then as well.
 
Written By: bains
URL: http://
This article isn’t as bad as the English prof who thought he could pin the blame for global warming on the US military but it comes close.

Here’s a newsflash, out of any dozen indicators of our economy there will always be 2 or 3 that are causes for concern. Sometimes it is a weak dollar, sometimes it is a strong dollar. Sometimes it is that the market is going down, sometimes it is that the market has gotten too high. Wages and benefits get too low, they get too costly. Welcome to the imperfect world.
 
Written By: abw
URL: http://abw.mee.nu
"Moreover, if you read analyses from economists and publications like the FT and Economist, there are considerable problems ahead for the American economy if these trends continue."

Oooh. Now there is a definitive prediction. Pretty bold to put their credibility on the line with such detail and certitude.

Of course, it means nothing until Wikipedia and The Guardian confirm it.



 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Oooh. Now there is a definitive prediction. Pretty bold to put their credibility on the line with such detail and certitude.
Of course there’s no certitude. Sheesh. I really think you don’t understand the issues involved here, timactual. I know for most economics is confusing, and given the last 60 years it’s easy to dismiss warnings as "there are always warnings, things always end up going along just fine after some adjustments."

Believe it or not, this could be different. Watch and learn.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
A decade ago, 1997, the gross federal debt was 65.6% of GDP. The 2007 estimate is 67.5%.
Yes, I was wrong on that one. I broke my own rule of fact checking stats that I vaguely remember before posting.

US debt as a percentage of GDP was at 30% at the end of the Carter administration. It reached its current level as early as 1992, after a huge increase in our debt load during Reagan-Bush. It declined a bit in the Clinton years (just under 60%) but has since gone back up.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
"Of course there’s no certitude. Sheesh. I really think you don’t understand the issues involved here, timactual."

Oh, I understand the issues. I also understand that such meaningless and indefinite blather is pointless and shallow, other than to pretend it makes you seem learned and profound to the easily impressionalble and mentally challenged. There is also a possibility that an asteroid will strike the earth soon.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
. I also understand that such meaningless and indefinite blather is pointless and shallow

Hmmmm...it’s either go with your dismissal of economic analysis, or go with the general wisdom of most in the investment, banking and business world that such analysis is important and useful. Sorry, timactual, you haven’t given me much reason to put your rather dismissive claim above those who actually have billions of dollars riding on the economy. I think you’re just dismissing what you don’t get.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Nice appeal to authority there!
 
Written By: Steverino
URL: http://
Steverino, you’re mixing up logical fallacies (which come into play if one tries to claim one has logical proof for a proposition) with rationality. By your logic, believing a doctor’s diagnosis over a faith healer would be an "appeal to authority." See the problem?
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
"the general wisdom of most in the investment, banking and business world that such analysis is important and useful" This is a prime example of the appeal to authority, despite an attempt to equate it to the difference between a doctor and a faith healer. Indeed, the fact that a doctor made a diagnosis doesn’t, in and of itself, make that diagnosis better than that of a faith healer. It depends on what the doctor is basing his diagnosis AND his level of expertise in the area in which he is making the diagnosis.

As for the "investment, banking and business world," god forbid that they should have been wrong on, say, the dotcom bubble or a few years ago when all that sub-prime lending was going on, eh? Appealing to those guys is like comparing a faith healer to a doctor who has killed his last three patients with misdiagnoses and lost a half dozen malpractice suits.

Maybe you should just stick with Paul Krugman who has successfully predicted 4 out of the 0 recessions since January, 2001.
 
Written By: JorgXMcKie
URL: http://
A doctor’s diagnosis usually identifies a specific ailment and recommends a specific treatment. If my doctor said diagnosed me as vaguely as you diagnosed the economy, I would be wue for malpractice.

It wasn’t too long ago that the general wisdom of all these financial wizards was that all those sub-prime mortgage backed securities were a good investment. And who could forget the ’dotcoms’, another good investment. Did you buy any Enron stock? I hear it was a great investment. My all time favorite is the Tulip bubble. It is probably called ’general wisdom’ because noone wants to take responsibility for it. If all these practitioners of the general wisdom had to make a living investing their own money instead of salaries, commissions, and bonuses, they would be on food stamps.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
One more thing. If I had tried to pass of that crap as economic ’analysis’ in any of my econ. classes I would have been laughed at.

"bromide
n 1: any of the salts of hydrobromic acid; used as a sedative
2: a trite or obvious remark [syn: platitude, cliche, banality,
commonplace]
3: a sedative in the form of sodium or potassium bromide"

I think #2 is the appropriate definition here.
 
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
Bob Herbert was passing on an accurate talking point about "core inflation" - the same one that Barry Ritholz regularly gripes about on his blog. The fed and most news stories discuss "core inflation" and use it as a substitute for an accurate measure of inflation in the economy. And core inflation has been stable while food and energy prices have been spiking.

The reason "core inflation" was created was the idea that food and energy prices jump around randomly and confuse the issue. Recently they haven’t been jumping around. They’ve been high and climbing. Core inflation is not an accurate description of the price risings felt by most Americans.

Bob Herbert used the wrong term. If you were interested in honest blogging, John, you’d have taken thirty seconds to figure out what he meant and explained it to your readers. I can’t believe you didn’t understand what he meant. You just left it out.

His first point about the inaccuracy of the unemployment rate is entirely correct. You think the underlying data for when described accurately isn’t in fact so bad. That’s a value judgement.

So you’ve taken a value judgement you disagree with, and the accidental substitution of one piece of terminology for another, and called Bob Herbert a "shameless hack".

You’re pandering to your audience. I understand you can only survive so much iconoclasm - stand up for Media Matters one day, better trash a liberal the next - but I thought I’d point out the places where your judgments warp to throw meat to the puppies.
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://
"the general wisdom of most in the investment, banking and business world that such analysis is important and useful" This is a prime example of the appeal to authority
How so? Appeal to authority is usually used to refer a claim that an authority’s say PROVES something without regard to evidence. If the opinions of authorities are cited along with evidence, that’s common argumentation. As long as one doesn’t say that the authoritative voice absolutely proves something, then calling it appeal to authority is inaccurate.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
It wasn’t too long ago that the general wisdom of all these financial wizards was that all those sub-prime mortgage backed securities were a good investment. And who could forget the ’dotcoms’, another good investment. Did you buy any Enron stock?
Ah, that’s the point: you have discern between good and bad advice. Here’s my approach: a) history is the best guide; and b) read the Financial Times daily.

In 1999 we were about to take a two month trip to Germany (ah, the things we could do before kids arrived!) I shifted almost all my retirement investments from aggressive stock funds to bonds. My wife (a CPA) was horrified — wasn’t I reading about Dow 30,000 or Dow 100,000, wasn’t I going to miss out on the big bonanza. I based my view on history — 1999 had all the markings of an historical bubble. For a half year the Dow and Nasdaq continued to rise, I was getting pressure to move my funds back, but I’d just say "it’s going to crash, it’s going to crash..." It became a running joke. The Dow would hit a new high, and I’d just say "It’s going to crash..."

Well, needless to say that while I could have timed the market seven or eight months better, I made a good choice because I took economic analysis seriously, and I discerned the good from the poor.

Historically, you don’t run 6% current accounts deficits while having a high debt load. Practically, there isn’t another consumer bailout like the housing bubble that kept bringing property values up so people could just borrow more and see net worth rise. The credit crisis is real, and structural problems exist due to high debt loads and bad credit. The dollar is probably still overvalued, oil is at record highs (that’s like a tax, and it reduces consumer spending) and there is a decent chance of some shock like a terror attack or a new crisis in the Mideast.

So I go back to my first point: I’m just a bit worried. Your ridicule being worried about the economy. You ridicule taking the things above seriously. Well, I hope you’re right that all will be fine and dandy. But I think it’s awfully naive not to even consider the possibility that there may be problems.
 
Written By: Scott Erb
URL: http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/~erb/blog.htm
Glasnost, your criticisms aren’t even remotely persuasive. Yes, core inflation and inflation are calculated differently. But inflation isn’t showing enormous increases, either. It differs by a bit, but not enormously.

And I’m not arguing that the unemployment rate as he describes it is correct. The UR could be calculated a lot of ways, but the way we do it now is the way we’ve done it before. It’s consistent over time. And the discouraged workers don’t add a heck of a lot to the rate. We are at or below full employment. If this is "bad", then there’s never been "good".
 
Written By: Jon Henke
URL: http://QandO.net
You’re missing the point.

The point is that regarding unemployment, Bob was not factually incorrect at all. And regarding inflation, Bob slipped up by saying "inflation" instead of "core inflation". The second argument is being heard all over the blogosphere, and not just by liberals. See Barry Ritholz, as I said. And he’s not the only one, just the first name that comes to mind.

It’s a shameless hack job to call someone a shameless hack when a) you don’t agree with their value judgements or b) they get a buzzphrase wrong in the context of making a logical argument.

Start here and listen to what actual economists who are not Larry Kudlow think about core inflation.
 
Written By: glasnost
URL: http://

 
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