Economic Apologetics

Economic ApologeticsApologetics is the defense of a particular doctrine. It is a noble endeavor. But as with most things, it can be done poorly or well.

Most people think of apologetics with regard to Christianity. But I think we all see it more often in the field of politics—especially economics. It is just that it is usually not referred to as apologetics.

Romney’s economic advisers have come out with a really despicable bit of apologetics for his policies. What is really notable is that the authors are very big men in the economics field: Kevin Hassett, Glenn Hubbard, Gregory Mankiw, and John Taylor. I’m no economist and I already knew about three of these four men (I didn’t know Hassett).

Dylan Matthews over at WonkBlog, discusses how the paper cherry picks its data in the discussion of the effects of Obama’s stimulus. He notes that they first compress the entire discussion of the stimulus to one small part of it: cash for clunkers. Then, they ignore two studies that found positive effects of this program. And then to make matters as bad as they could possibly be, they misrepresent the findings of at least one of the two papers they do cite. What is most shocking about this is that Dylan Matthews is not an economist. He is just a reporter who focuses on tax policy. Yet he was able to see how intellectually dishonest this supposedly respectable group is being.

This makes me think of Christian apologists. William Lane Craig is probably the most famous one of these. Although I disagree with him greatly, he is intellectually honest. When he finds a problem in the Bible, he doesn’t cover it over. Instead, he uses his considerable intellect and knowledge to justify and explain the problem. This is what I am used to seeing from liberal economists like Paul Krugman and Dean Baker.

On the other side of things, we have Lee Strobel. He is simply a true believer who will say and do anything to prove his case. He is the most intellectually slimy person I have ever seen in any field. And this is the kind of economic policy apologetics that we are getting from the Romney camp. Brad DeLong has written a substantial article where he goes point by point through the Romney team’s white paper and counters all of its nonsense. If you are at all interested in economics, I recommend reading the article. But you will get an idea of how upset the reputable part of the field must be with this short quotation:

HHMT: Rather than focusing on the structural problems revealed by the financial crisis and the ensuing recession, the Obama administration focused on short-term fiscal ‘stimulus.’

FALSE: I am sorry, but here I just have to escalate from “WRONG” to “FALSE”, because this is not just wrong, this is false–and knowingly false.

Obama administration attempts to focus on the structural problems revealed by the financial crisis were hobbled by Republican obstruction to the reform effort that eventually yielded Dodd-Frank.

HHMT were conspicuous by their absence in the lobbying for reforms to deal with the defects of existing financial regulations and with the rise of and consequences of shadow banking.

Why they were conspicuous by their absence I do not claim to know.

Meanwhile, after all of this and the Tax Policy Center’s analysis, Fox News today has been all day, all the time on how mean a new Obama attack ad is—including on their “straight” news programs.

Update (8 August 2012 11:27 am)

It seems I was wrong. The Romney economists didn’t disregard two studies that indicated that the stimulus was effective—they disregarded 15! Ezra Klein does more work demolishing this horrible attempt at economic apologetics. He ends his article with as straightforward an attack as we ever see from him:

So even the studies that the Romney campaign’s economists handpicked to bolster their case don’t prove what the Romney campaign says they prove. And some of the key policy recommendations that flow from those studies are anathema to the Romney campaign. And in perhaps the key policy area highlighted by these studies, the Romney campaign doesn’t have a formal policy. If this is the best they can do in support of their economic plan, well, it’s not likely to quiet the critics.

Update (9 August 2012 6:29 pm)

Here is the ad that Fox has been running constantly for the last couple of days:

And here is an Onion parody.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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