Timothy B Lee is young journalist over at Vox. He mostly writes about intellectual property where his work is quite good. I noted this in an article last year, Vague Patent Trolling. But being a libertarian, when he gets outside of that issue, he tends to go very, very wrong, Libertarian Fail on Birth Control. And I’m afraid that is the case with his article today, Venezuela’s Silly Gimmicks Can’t Fix Its Disastrous Inflation Problem.
I’ve been very impressed with Vox thus far—especially the work by Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias. But this article by Lee is incredibly weak. It is the nationalistic equivalent to hippy punching. American journalists love to complain about Venezuela. That in itself would be okay, but I always get the idea that these journalists thinking that they making a bold stand for Truth rather than just following the herd and pandering to nationalistic prejudice.
This is sad to see from someone as smart as Lee. I’m sure that if he had been writing about Bolivia, a country without so much ideological baggage, Lee would have provided some facts. Instead, he makes two points. First, he presents the central bank not releasing an annualized inflation number as an attempted conspiracy, even though he admits all you have to do is compound the numbers to get the annualized rate. Second, he pushes the old CATO Institute idea that the inflation rate is really much higher because of black market currency. Dean Baker countered this idea almost two months ago:
But one can’t deny that Venezuela has an inflation problem. And there are a lot of parts to it. If you want to know about it, you had better go over to Reuters, where Eyanir Chinea explains the situation rather well, Venezuela March Inflation Speeds Up Amid Street Protests. Lee’s article reads like the product of a slightly more reasonable The Wall Street Journal editorial page.
What most annoys me is why Lee is even covering the issue. After all, it isn’t big news that Venezuela’s high inflation rate is roughly what it was last month. And other than pushing a highly questionable CATO Institute study, he isn’t adding anything to the debate. He says that the way the central bank is reporting its inflation rate won’t help the situation. But is the central bank doing anything that will help? Or hurt? We don’t know because Timothy B Lee isn’t interested in the subject. On the other hand, if Venezuela’s inflation rate had come way down I doubt that he would have covered it at all.
This is not data journalism. This is ideological opportunity-strafing. And if it is going to be in Vox, it ought to at least have a little intellectual heft. One CATO Institute graph and one monthly inflation rate from Venezuela’s central bank is not enough.