I had barely finished reading Niall Ferguson’s takedown of President Obama when a flood of takedowns of Mr. Ferguson started hitting the web. This post, then, will not be about his Newsweek piece, but instead about his recent Bloomberg TV interview with Erik Schatzker and Sara Eisen. And, in particular, one very specific part of that interview where Ferguson makes what is well beyond what I could even charitably refer to as a rookie mistake.
There are times folks say things that reveal much more about them than the mere words that come out of their mouths. Todd Akin had such a moment last Sunday, and I believe Niall Ferguson had a smilar moment during an exchange with Sara Eisen.
At 3:55 into the clip, Sara asks Ferguson about the private sector job gains versus the massive public sector job losses we’ve seen under Obama. (I’d add, as Sara alluded to, that this private sector recovery continues to exceed what we saw in the last two recessions, as I first wrote about two years ago.)
Here’s what, by my transcription, Ferguson had to say (emphasis mine):
Well, that’s not really a part of the argument I made in the piece. The point I made in the piece was that the stimulus had a very short-term effect, which is very clear if you look , for example, at the Federal employment numbers there’s a huge spike in early 2010 and then it falls back down.
Bloomberg went on to show the following graphic (which bears a vague resemblence to some work I did here back in June):
Niall, babe, I got one word for you: Census (pdf).
The spike in the graphic above – which Ferguson claims is stimulus-related – is actually Census-related. Bill McBride, over at Calculated Risk, has been adjusting for it in his jobs graphs every month (showing both with and without) since the numbers were made public. In May 2010, for example, there were – referring to the above-linked document – 564,000 temporary Census workers on the Fed’s payroll that Ferguson seems to think were related to Obama’s stimulus package. As one would expect, as the Census was completed, the government just “shut that whole thing down,” to borrow an Akin-ism. Adjusted for Census workers, the Bloomberg graph would look exactly as you’d expect – a fairly steady, consistent downward sloping line.
As I recently discussed with BR, and as he has written about countless times, this is the risk one runs when letting one’s ideology run wild – that one twists, contorts, and distorts the facts (in extreme cases, perhaps, without even realizing it) to fit one’s narrative.
A mistake regarding such a fundamental matter is inexcusable, particularly for someone who’s (apparently) taken as seriously as Ferguson, and who scores a Newsweek cover story. I guess, like Akin, Ferguson will probably claim that he “misspoke.” Or something. But, as my Dad liked to say, you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube.
Adding: I could not get to it earlier, but here is the same chart with the following changes: Bush numbers removed, Obama’s numbers reflect both with and without Census employees. You’ll note the green line looks very much like what Bloomberg presented, while the dashed blue line looks very much like I said it would.
A Full Fact-Check of Niall Ferguson’s Very Bad Argument (The Atlantic)
Niall, the British Empire is over. Accept it. (Noahpinion)
Niall Ferguson Has Been Wrong On Economics (Business Insider)
As a Harvard Alum, I Apologize (The Atlantic)