Thursday, October 06, 2005

Pass the Spittoon, New York Times Edition

A while ago, I wondered why newspapers bother to have editorial opinions at all. Today's New York Times reminds us why this question is still relevant, with "The Next Alan Greenspan." The relevant paragraphs:

The four names circulating around Washington are Martin Feldstein, a Bush adviser on Social Security and an economics professor at Harvard; Glenn Hubbard, Mr. Bush's former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers and now dean of Columbia University Business School; Lawrence Lindsey, the former director of the White House National Economic Council; and Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.

Two of them - Mr. Bernanke and Mr. Feldstein - come with some independent credentials. Mr. Bernanke is deeply conservative, economists say, but respected for independent thinking and not inclined to wear that conservatism on his sleeve. Mr. Feldstein has pushed for Social Security privatization, but in the past criticized deficits run up by Ronald Reagan, for whom he was working at the time, to the everlasting ire of many Republicans. That hardly makes him a shoo-in for the job, but those are exactly the independent traits that Mr. Bush should be looking for if he is indeed serious about appointing a Fed chairman who isn't politically beholden to the White House.

Hopes die hard, so we strongly encourage Mr. Bush to put his money where his mouth is this time around. This job is too important for another taste of cronyism.
An exceptional piece of creative writing, on many levels.

First, I'll take exception to the phrasing of "deeply conservative ... but respected for independent thinking." There is nothing about the words "deeply conservative" that merits the word "but" to connect them to the words "respected for independent thinking."

Second, I'll take exception to the analogous phrasing with regard to Feldstein and Social Security reform. Feldstein has been advocating Social Security reform for over 30 years. (Read this WSJ op-ed from November 1997 to convince yourself that this pre-dates any association of President Bush with the issue.) The Times has confused cause and effect: it would be more accurate to say that the White House is interested in Social Security reform because Feldstein has been advocating for it.

Third, I'll take exception to the insinuation that nominating Glenn Hubbard and Larry Lindsey would be evidence of cronyism. The definition of "cronyism" is:
Favoritism shown to old friends without regard for their qualifications, as in political appointments to office.
Note the phrase "without regard for their qualifications." It's not optional in the definition. So are we to infer that Hubbard and Lindsey have no qualifications, but for the fact that they served as economic principals in the Bush administration? This is easily put to the test. Here is Lindsey's bio. It reports that he was a Governor of the Federal Reserve System for 6 years, after seriving as a Special Assistant to the President in the first Bush White House and a senior staff economist at the CEA. All of this occurred before he served as a principal in the current administration. He seems qualified to me. That doesn't mean I endorse him, or that I think he's the best one for the job. It just means that the Times editorial page is way off base with its insinuation.

Now let's look at Glenn Hubbard's bio and cv. We observe that prior to being CEA chairman in the current administration, he was the author of a leading textbook on financial markets and a deputy assistant secretary at the Treasury. His current position as Dean of Columbia's Business School was foreshadowed by his service as a senior vice dean from 1994-1997. His scholarship is also exceptional, with his 1988 Brookings Paper spawning and entire literature about financial constraints and investment. (I am also a huge fan of his 1999 Journal of Financial Economics article on managerial ownership and firm performance and his 1995 Journal of Political Economy article on precautionary saving and social insurance.) Translation for those at the Times: he's qualified, even if he's not your (or my) first choice.

Perhaps someone should tell the editorial page editors at the Times about Google and what a free and fantastic tool it can be for preventing them from embarrassing themselves with drivel like this. Failing that, perhaps we could ask that they place such exceptional opinion pieces like this behind the Times Select veil of secrecy.

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Erik said...

I take exception to your first exception!

I think the most straightforward definition of "deeply conservative" is almost exactly in need of a "but" before independent thinking. A "deeply conservative" person has a deep tendency to want things to stay the same, because of belief that past ideas are usually better than new ideas, having stood the test of time. Such a person is highly suspicious of new ideas and "independent thinking". Obviously there are exceptions to most stereotypes, _but_ the default assumption here definitely requires a "but".

Anonymous said...

NYTimes editorials are not behind the TimesSelect paywall. Neither are op-eds by outside contributors.

Columns by the in-house crew -- Dowd, Rich, Brooks, Krugman and the rest -- are behind the paywall.

Really, you could look it up.

Andrew Samwick said...

The statement

"... perhaps we could ask that they place such exceptional opinion pieces like this behind the Times Select veil of secrecy,"

presumes they are not currently part of Times Select. Really.

Andrew Samwick said...


I think that the issue then becomes whether "deeply conservative" is appropriate for Bernanke. I have met him a few times--I wouldn't use that characterization of him to suggest a lack of independence from the current administration.

I did a Lexis-Nexis search of major papers on the words "conservative" and "Bernanke" in the full text of articles. There is nothing in the resulting 37 articles that supports the Times' characterization. In most cases, "conservative" doesn't modify "Bernanke." And many of them deal with Bernanke's ideas about inflation-targeting, a concept that could hardly be labelled "deeply conservative."

In his article in Wednesday's paper, Edmund Andrews wrote the following about Bernanke:

"Mr. Bernanke is a highly respected monetary economist and a former governor at the Federal Reserve. Many Wall Street analysts say he would be well received by investors. But Mr. Bernanke is still something of an unknown quantity to Mr. Bush."


"One Republican strategist and outside adviser to the White House said he was taken aback when Mr. Bush said on Tuesday he had not seen a list of candidates. But Mr. Bush also said the decision-making process was "ongoing," and he broadened the choices earlier this year by hiring Mr. Bernanke, then a Fed governor, as his top economic adviser.

"People close to the administration said the move was intended to give Mr. Bush a chance to become more familiar with Mr. Bernanke, who is a Republican but who had been a professor at Princeton University with almost no experience in party politics before moving to the White House."

Ed's a fine reporter who has no doubt had personal access to Bernanke. There's nothing here to suggest a characterization as "deeply conservative" either.

I'm still taking exception to the Times, and I appreciate your comment.


Anonymous said...

this Greenspan replacement will probably be a complete clustermuck-

Bush listens to the wrong people. There is no one left- He is lame and preparing for life after Washington.

Arun Khanna said...

American media typically confuses classical liberal economists with deeply conservative intellectuals.

big mike said...

I'm sure the new Fed chairman will do a "heckuva job."

JG said...

The Times’ editors think Greenwich Village Reform Democrat Ed Koch is “conservative” and anyone to the right of him is “deeply conservative”.

Remember, these editorialists are so tied into reality that they confused the infamous Second Avenue Subway with the #2 line, and so straight-shooting that they ran blasting government handouts to private businesses exactly as the Times got the gov’t to use eminent domain to force a score of private businesses off the block upon which it's building its new headquarters with $170 million of tax subsidies (even managing to combine both howlers in the same editorial.)

Not even liberals in NYC take Times editorials seriously any more – yet, strangely, the further away from NYC one gets the more influential they are. Some sort of square law?

IOW, don’t take to much exception, the spittoon is already full to overflowing, further upset isn’t worth the spit involved for the mess it would make.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your pinpointing the
but/and problem with the editorial. This is simply sloppy thinking and it shows up in many,
many places -- not just the NY Times. I suspect that the editorialists have heard that Bernanke is really smart and that's about as far as it goes.

I will admit that I was shocked to see Lindsey's name mentioned. After firing him once, would Bush bring him back?
I doubt it.

Daniel P. Killeen said...

The idea of the New York Times ever incorporating fact into their "editorial equation" is at best humorous. The paper consistently uses its clout as one of the most respected presses to impress upon the public the brainwashing they so craftily employ. No matter if discussing something governmental such as the CEA and cronyism, or truly dire situations such as Hurricane Katrina, the NYT never fails to twist and contrive that which suits their interests.