Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The He Said/She Said School of Reporting

I listen to NPR when I wake up in the morning, and tend to get frustrated endlessly by what Dean Baker describes here:
Is today Tuesday? Some people say it is and others say it isn't. It's just so hard to decide.

That is pretty much what NPR told us about President Obama's record in turning around the economy this morning. It cited Alan Blinder, an economist who has served in past Democratic administrations, saying that President Obama's policies helped the economy. It then cited Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who served in the Bush administration and was the chief economic advisor to John McCain saying that his policies harmed the economy.

It would have been helpful to give us the assessment of neutral observers such as theCongressional Budget Office. It also would have been helpful to try to make evaluate the claims of the Romney campaign that the stimulus harmed the economy.

NPR reported that the Romney campaign said:

"The president made the recession worse, the statement says, 'by pursuing a series of disastrous, partisan policies that created uncertainty, discouraged investment and stifled job creation.'"

There is a simple claim that can be evaluated here. The Romney campaign says that investment would have been higher had it not been for Obama's actions. This can be evaluated by comparing the path of investment with what might have been predicted absent the bad policies from President Obama.

Investment in equipment and software is currently close to 7.5 percent of GDP. It was 7.9 percent before the downturn in 2007. Given the huge amounts of excess capacity in large sectors of the economy, it is difficult to envision a scenario in which investment would have been much higher than it is today. If the Romney campaign is to be taken seriously in this claim then it should have to present some evidence that would establish its counter-factual as being credible. On it's face, it is not.
I actually heard this live this morning and was driven a bit nuts for the same reason. Also, if you ever listen to Marketplace or a bunch of their other shows they take the same approach. It's not helpful, and no one learns anything from the stories. But NPR doesn't see themselves as "taking sides" between truth and non-truth and being accused of liberal bias, so it all works out ok!

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