Between Right and Wrong Is Half Wrong

Keith HumphreysKeith Humphreys is a healthcare policy expert and a liberal. And my did he step in it Wednesday while writing about economics, A Surprising Comparison of US and UK Economic Growth. He found that the economic growth in the two countries was roughly the same. And since we had a stimulus here in the US and they didn’t in the UK, it doesn’t matter what economic policies a government applies to a recession.

It gets worse. He went in for some good old fashioned false equivalence by noting that this “surprising” result would not sway people on either side. On the one side, “Most of the ‘slim government’ crowd will argue that Britain didn’t cut enough…” On the other side, “Most increased government spending supporters will see proof that the stimulus wasn’t big enough…” Oh how Very Serious Dr Humphreys was being!

I actually saw his article referenced in Washington Monthly (where it was cross-posted) on Wednesday, “At Ten Miles Square, Keith Humphreys compares US/UK economic growth rates and finds them similar despite ostensible opposed strategies.” I didn’t even click. I knew that was wrong. Not only has the UK had poor growth compared to the US, but it had a double dip recession! I should have been more curious.

It turned out that Humphreys was comparing the growth of the last quarter of 2013. This is kind of like saying that there were no casualties in the Iraq War last year. It’s a stunning bit of extrapolation. Luckily, Kevin Drum did what had to be done. At Mother Jones he wrote, The British Economy Is Not a Poster Child for Austerity. He didn’t write much. Mostly, he just provided this graph:

GDP: UK vs US

As I said, Keith Humphreys is a liberal. So he was quick to admit his error, Of Blogging, Errors and Boredom. He said that he hadn’t meant to make the argument that he ended up making. I understand that. A lot of times in the rush to get an article out (Any article!) you end up saying things that you didn’t intend.

Just the same, I hate the smug tone of the article. It was a facile effort to stand tall in the middle. “Look! I’m not like those ideologues on the edges!” One thing I’ve written about a lot is that the centrist position is no less ideological than the extremes. And Humphreys’ argument missed the most important point, which is that the Keynesian position is based upon actual data and science. The austerian position is based on faith and simply grabs any data and science that can be found to support that faith. That makes the “centrist” position half science and half faith. That’s nothing to feel smug about.

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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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