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June 17, 2003

DONALD LUSKIN, VILLAGE IDIOT....I stopped reading Donald Luskin's dimwitted "Krugman Truth Squad" columns over at NRO a while back when it became clear that he wasn't to be taken any more seriously than Ann Coulter. But today Jesse Tayler had a short post about Luskin's latest column, and — foolishly — I clicked, and then clicked again, and soon enough I was hip deep in idiocy. Thanks a lot, Jesse.

Anyway, here is Krugman's column, which I suppose you ought to read first, and here is Luskin's reply. And here is E.J. Dionne's Washington Post column on the same subject, which Luskin quotes. Here's the story:

  • Luskin complains that Krugman doesn't identify either the House subcommittee or the "ranking Democrat" that he's talking about. Considering that Krugman is writing a 700-word opinion column — not a news story — and spends only two paragraphs on this, it's hard to see exactly what Luskin is upset about.

  • Luskin then names the ranking Democrat: Martin Olav Sabo. But Sabo's website doesn't even mention the amendment he supposedly introduced!

  • Next, he quotes Dionne saying that it was actually David Obey who introduced the amendment. But Obey isn't even on the subcommittee!

Idiot. David Obey is the ranking Democrat Krugman was talking about. He's the ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee and therefore entitled to sit on all subcommittees. Krugman and Dionne are in complete agreement.

And that was just the first paragraph. Luskin then goes on to complain about some other things Krugman said, all of which appear to be correct:

  • There was no reason to close the subcommittee meeting since classified material wasn't discussed. This is apparently true, since the Democrats unanimously voted to keep the meeting open. They can't all be traitors, can they?

  • The bill didn't contain Obey's proposed extra funding. Yep.

  • The homeland security budget is lower than last year. Also true, since Krugman is comparing the 2004 budget request to the entire 2003 budget, including supplemental appropriations.

Not only is Luskin too stupid to get his facts right about who sits on what subcommittee while simultaneously mocking Krugman, who said nothing wrong, but he then chastises Krugman for a further list of things that are essentially correct and certainly well within the normal rhetorical bounds of an opinion columnist. This is a fundamental problem with "Watch" columns, since the authors are constantly overreaching in order to prove that every single column and every single word their target writes is untrue. It's even worse, of course, when the author is an idiot.

I'll say it again: NRO should be ashamed to provide space to guys like this. I'm not on their side on much of anything, but even I think they're better than this.

Posted by Kevin Drum at June 17, 2003 04:45 PM | TrackBack


very telling phrase from that article: "Paul Krugman, America's most dangerous liberal pundit..."

sounds like he's got 'em scared. why is he dangerous?

Posted by: spacebaby at June 17, 2003 04:58 PM | PERMALINK

As long as we're regulatin' blogs, let's start puttin' the smack down on librul commie-ntators...

Posted by: squiddy at June 17, 2003 05:00 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I think you said it all yesterday when you posted "NRO... It's embarassing."

Okay, so maybe I'm editing the quote a bit... but NRO's existence really is embarassing.

Posted by: John Yuda at June 17, 2003 05:02 PM | PERMALINK

Luskin responds! Well, sort of. He got a letter from a House staffer correcting him on the point about Obey:

2) Although David Obey is not listed as a member of the subcommittee, both Chairman Bill Young and Mr. Obey are considered ex officio members of each subcommittee and always have a seat at the table during any subcommittee hearing or markup. Both are usually present for subcommittee markups. That's your mistake, but it wouldn't be apparent to anyone who didn't work on the Hill.

Well, I guess it was apparent.

(4) The staff director who now runs the Homeland Security subcommittee tells me that the subcommittee had previously decided to close their markups as a matter of standard practice. The decision was not prompted by Obey's amendment. Committee rules give the subcommittee the prerogative to to close a hearing to the public by majority vote. Chairman Rogers wouldn't even need to justify the move based on "national security."

I have no idea how to verify this. However, the AP story quoting Obey did not have him mentioning national security, although the Chairmen did.

Now, you are sort of sliding past the fact that Obey's request for more money was a PR stunt, as explained by Dionne. That was not all obvious from the Krugman piece. Including a suggested tax increase is not part of the subcommittee's work.

Posted by: Tom Maguire at June 17, 2003 05:03 PM | PERMALINK

Krugman's a columnist. He just described what Obey did, made his point, and moved on. And anyway, Dionne is the one who described it as an "experiment," not Obey.

I really don't think the fact that Obey didn't seriously think his amendment would pass is very relevant. Krugman wasn't trying to hide anything here, and it wouldn't have affected his point even if he'd described it the same way Dionne did.

Posted by: Kevin Drum at June 17, 2003 05:24 PM | PERMALINK

Even if NRO were to suddenly develop a capacity for shame and fire Luskin, I'm sure Slate would hire him to be Mickey Kaus's sidekick.

Posted by: Fabio at June 17, 2003 06:36 PM | PERMALINK

Also, perhaps Krugman gave his readers the benefit of the doubt and assumed they would understand that a House subcommittee working on homeland security appropriations might in fact be the appropriations committee, without his having to say so.

What are Luskin's bona fides?

Posted by: Linkmeister at June 17, 2003 07:02 PM | PERMALINK

Tom - one might ask what in Washington isn't a political stunt. Bush's $2 trillion-plus in tax cuts certainly are, as is most of his domestic policy, as is most of his foreign policy. And I'll readily admit that most of what Democrats do are political stunts as well.

But, since Obey presented the act, it was obviously intended to pass (I would presume that Obey had no plans to stop the act if picked up). At best, it sounds like an interpretation disagreement rather than anything substantial. This is the kind of stuff you find yourself embroiled in when you deal with Luskin, Tom. Get out while you still can.

Posted by: jesse at June 17, 2003 07:25 PM | PERMALINK

There are smart right-wing bloggers on economics. Tom McG, for instance. Others are at least civil, even if they have no idea what they're talking about. Luskin is neither. His ranting critique (sic) of Krugman's liquidity trap article was several simians short of Bob Newhart's proverbial "one million monkeys with one million typewriters."

Posted by: Max at June 17, 2003 08:15 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, why do you bother? This post is like shooting fish in a barrel. Post on whatever you want, but going point by point showing how Luskin is an idiot is an exercise in stating the obvious. You would do as well to post pictures of Earth from outer space to refute the flat-Earthers. "OK OK. It's not round; it's an oblique spheroid. It sure as hell ain't flat though."

How people can actually take Luskin's word over Krugman's is beyond me. Hell, even Andrew Sullivan - who spent a month attacking Krugman for having lost all credibility and becoming nothing but an attack dog against Bush - eventually came around and grudgingly admitted Krugman was basically right.

Posted by: Mitch Schindler at June 17, 2003 08:56 PM | PERMALINK

Jesse, I'm in too deep to turn back now. And yes, I suppose lots of Washington events are stunts. But normally, we expect the press to at least mention the possibility that the game we are watching is not the game being played.

For instance, in the Luskin letter I linked to above, I did not excerpt point 3:

You're right that any amendment seeking to increase spending by "offsetting" it with revenue increases would be a purely symbolic or "experimental" affair. Number one, it violates jurisdictional boundaries, since tax matters are handled by Ways and Means and the provision could therefore be struck on the floor with a point of order. Second, all subcommittees are bound by ceilings called "302(b) allocations" that would not be affected by changing income tax rates. Spending and taxation proceed on separate tracks in the Congressional budget process.

Now, I don't know that be accurate, but I do know that I have never heard of individual subcommittee passing one billion dollar tax hikes. There is a budgeting process, and normally these committees meet to spend their allotment, not dream up new taxes.

And here is an article about a new assertiveness amongst House Democrats. Which is fine. I think the country could benefit from an active opposition party. And let me quote Mr. Obey himself:

...even those Democratic lawmakers uncomfortable with obstructionist floor stunts argued that Democrats had an obligation to stand up for themselves.

Rep. David Obey (D-Wis.) said, “I am an institutionalist. I intensely dislike using some of those means, but we are left with no choice.”

Now, he was talking about something else (I think), but the philospohy is consistent with this story.

So, Bush lands on an aircraft carrier - fun to watch, but no one pretends it is straight news. Why pretend that this was a serious amendment? Why NOT identify the subcommittee, the bill, or the people involved?

Either Prof. Krugman did not know, which calls into question his competence as a political analyst; or he knew and concealed it (my theory), which takes us down the credibility trail.

Now, if I were fully committed to this task, I would go on to explain why Don Luskin is NOT shrill and partisan. Hmm. Fight fire with fire?

And look at the time! I am sure there is a ball game on somewhere.

As I scamper away, I should add that I remember the Bob Newhart bit, but I bet no one remembers this. Live, that is.

Posted by: Tom Maguire at June 17, 2003 09:59 PM | PERMALINK

Tom, Luskin's is shrill beyond any doubt whatsoever (he can't stop mentioning Jayson Blair), and is most definitely partisan, especially when it comes to Krugman. could fight fire with fire, but you'd be fighting an inferno with a waterproof match.

Posted by: jesse at June 17, 2003 10:05 PM | PERMALINK
Now, I don't know that [concerning points of order and 302(b) caps] be accurate...

It's accurate, or at least in the general vicinity of being accurate.

As to why Krugman didn't give the name and the subcommittee.. who knows? It may have even been scrubbed out by his editor. He didn't name the chairman either, perhaps he was trying to demonstrate this as being an analogy to current politics as a whole. Or maybe he just didn't want to go throwing names around since every time he does that he gets crap for it.

Ultimately, I don't really see where it has any bearing on the validity of the column. Either you agree with him or you don't; it was an op-ed, and its facts were correct as presented.

Posted by: John Yuda at June 17, 2003 10:12 PM | PERMALINK

Does anyone see that Luskin runs something called "TrendMacrolytics"? The URL:

Supposedly it helps "institutional investors" achieve long-term growth. Now who in their right mind--especially a manager of a pension fund or a foundation fortune--would get advice from that guy?

Posted by: AQ at June 17, 2003 10:19 PM | PERMALINK

Tom, this is ridiculous. Krugman left out some un-important facts from a column in which he has a very tight space limit. Does it particularly matter that it was James Obey who proposed the amendment? We're not talking about Tom Daschle here. Does it need to be said what subcommitee it was or what bill it was?

This is the obvious explanation for Krugman's omissions and instead you decide that the only two possible explanations are:

1) This Princeton-employed, Clark Medal-winning economist is a drooling moron.


2) Krugman is trying to deceive his readers into believing...what exactly? Since the omissions don't actually change the flavor of the story or make it more plausible, you don't really seem to have come up with anything.

Maybe you should take a breather from the whole Krugman bashing thing. It seems to have skewed your view of reality.

Posted by: Nick at June 18, 2003 12:21 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, I for one enjoyed your comment here.

The conservatives go off so frequently, and with so much confidence, that it's helpful to be reminded how frequently they do so without even the slightest factual justification.

The sad part is that there are some intelligent conservatives out there (for what it's worth, I like Maguire's posts, too; even when I disagree, I find them thought-provoking) but it's clear that the mouth-breathers have by far the largest megaphones.

Posted by: Ted at June 18, 2003 05:55 AM | PERMALINK

Thanks for generalizing me as a useless crank, Mr. Drum.

I have always stated--right from Day 1--that if Mona charen was fair or honest I would say so. It rarely happens, but it does and I do note it.

That work is a real pain in the ass some days. It's not free, either. Furthermore, the media whore actually reads it. Give me 2 years and Ill be able to say more.

It's duty. I was asked to help. I don't get off being a critic twice a week.

Posted by: paradox at June 18, 2003 05:55 AM | PERMALINK

I can't comment on Tom's credentials. What little I have read of him left me thinking he was yet another of those I-don't-know-what-I'm-saying-but-I-love-to-criticize-Krugman types.

But Luskin? The issue is no,longer whether he is shrill.

He is simple ignorant of basic economics. As the whole 10 year calculation showed. It's not just Max or D^2 who realized this, both well qualified but clearly on Krugman's side on policy issues.

Even the Krugman Truth Squad economists (if that's what they are) realized Luskin is a crank.

I have noticed that all the criticisms of Krugman seem to fall in one of two categories.

Either they are outright wrong and show a lack of understanding of the issues (like the 10 year point).

Or they are some silly nitpicking, like the one Kevin exposes here.

Too bad Tom has decided to join the fool's brigade.

Posted by: GT at June 18, 2003 07:48 AM | PERMALINK

I love to read Luskin. It's like a window on another world.

The funniest thing is the respect he gets from right wing bloggers. "Look how Luskin takes down Krugman this week!"

Posted by: Luke Francl at June 18, 2003 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

When you think about it, what really is the difference between Luskin and, say, Mickey Kaus? Kaus really isn't any more careful with his facts, or any less fanatical in his repetetive "get Krugman!" schtick. The only difference is that Kaus is at least smart enough to add a sufficient number qualifiers in his screeds, so that he has some wiggle room should someone try to hold him accountable to the facts.

Posted by: MKHack at June 18, 2003 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

I think Kaus knows enough (mostly) not to mess with Krugman on issues of economics.

Luskin does not and ends up looking like a fool.

Posted by: GT at June 18, 2003 07:33 PM | PERMALINK

Too bad Tom has decided to join the fool's brigade.

Oh, I deeply resent this. I was bashing Krugman long before anyone had heard of Luskin.

Now, other quick comments:

Nick (12:21 AM) syas that either (a) Krugman couldn't find space for the Chairman's name; (b) Krugman is a drooling idiot (which I have never suggested); or (c) Krugman is painting a false picture of the news, which is my theory exactly.

I think,unless someone cares to rebut it, that I have presented prety good evidence that the story Krugman opens his column with was a PR stunt, not a serious attempt at legislation. It is quite likely that the real "dialog" was as follows:

Obey - I would like to present an out-of-order bill designed to embarrass Bush.

Chairman - I will close the meeting.

Obey - I will scream cover-up.

Chairman - No one will notice.

NA deveryone continues with their script. The AP doesn;t even mention the tax hikle angle to the meeting. Yet Krugman prsents this as evidence that Bush is not spending enough and is too wedded to his tax cuts. Well, that mya be true, but this story is not the proof of it.

I might just as well say that Bush demonstrated his committment to our troops and our nation's defense by flying out to an aircraft carrier. Photo op? Says who? Or, if that was a photo op, why do you think this amendment Krugman describes was not? And if it was a photo op amendment, why doesn't he say so?

Blah, blah, blah. The problem is, people who agree with his conclusion close his eyes to the evidence he offers, and the way he offers it.

Posted by: Tom Maguire at June 19, 2003 03:23 PM | PERMALINK

Luskin's claim to fame a few years ago is that he "managed" the OpenFund, a mutual fund that posted its current holdings on its website, rather than update it quarterly like most mutual funds.

Unfortunately, those holdings were almost entirely in tech and his fund got wiped out pretty bad. The management company shut down the fund in 2001. Apparently, he's reinvented himself as the anti-Krugman.

If you look in's archives, you can find a whole bunch of crazy crap Luskin wrote when he had a column there. He's about as good of an investor as he is an economist. I honestly wonder how much business Trend Macroanalytics does, or if it's just subsidized by Scaife or some other righty think tank so that Luskin can publish his screeds. I certainly wouldn't go to the guy for investment or economic advice.

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