Links on the Kerfuffle about Friedman’s Sanders Analysis

There’s been quite a fuss about our columnist Jerry Friedman’s analysis of the macroeconomic effects that implementation of all of Bernie Sanders’ proposals would have. (The analysis was the basis of two of Jerry’s recent columns for us, here and here.) Here’s a minimally annotated round-up of articles and blog posts related to the kerfuffle:

Jackie Calmes, New York TimesLeft-Leaning Economists Question Cost of Sanders’s Plans I linked to this in my last blog post; this article mentions Jerry Friedman and his analysis, but doesn’t quote him (they apparently didn’t contact him before running the piece–I am sure he would have spoken to them if they had!). The piece also makes it sound as if Jared Bernstein, about the only truly left-leaning economist they quote, is harsher on Friedman than he is, and even more misleadingly, that he is skeptical of Sanders’ plans (more on this below).

Dean Baker, Beat the Press, NYT Invents Left-Leaning Economists to Attack Bernie Sanders.  Lots of good points here critiquing the Calmes NYT piece, especially how the people they quote aren’t leftists, and in one case (Ezra Klein) not an economist.

Doug Henwood, FAIR blog, NYT Rounds Up ‘Left-Leaning Economists’ for a Unicorn HuntAlso a very good critique of the Calmes NYT piece, plus a great new metaphor for hippie-punching–the “unicorn hunt.” Since the kerfuffle really blew up, though, Henwood has been harsh about Friedman on Twitter, calling his analysis “embarrassing.” (Henwood finds Jerry’s the growth-rate projections “risible.” Ouch, comrade.)

Alan Krueger, Austan Goolsbee, Christina Romer, Laura D’Andrea Tyson, An Open Letter from Past CEA Chairs to Senator Sanders and Professor Gerald FriedmanHere is the real driver of the kerfuffle. It is amazing that they take Friedman to task for growth projections that they say are not credible (and take Sanders to task for relying on them–though the Sanders campaign did not commission this analysis), but they don’t give any specific empirical criticism of his analysis. Instead, they fault Sanders/Friedman for making projections that are outlandish in the way that GOP projections standardly are. (But see below–many observers have defended Friedman on this score.)

Jim Tankersley, at WashPo’s Wonkblog, The economist who vouched for Bernie Sanders’ big liberal plans is voting for Hillary Clinton.  Ok, this is just weird. Not an entirely unsympathetic article, but I wish Jerry were more careful not to feed into Clinton’s “one-issue candidate” talking point. (“I agree with Bernie on economic issues, but there are other issues.”)

James K. Galbraith, open letter (dated February 18) to Kreuger, Goolsbee, Romer, and Tyson (posted here). A lengthy response, starting by taking them to task for not providing any substantive critique or analysis of Friedman’s research: “You write that you have applied rigor to your analyses of economic proposals by Democrats and Republicans. On reading this sentence I looked to the bottom of the page, to find a reference or link to your rigorous review of Professor Friedman’s study. I found nothing there.” Then there are a couple of pages of analysis defending Friedman’s analysis and methods. (“There is no ‘magic asterisk,’ no strange theory involved here.” The conclusion: “What the Friedman paper shows, is that under conventional assumptions, the projected impact of Senator Sanders’ proposals stems from their scale and ambition. When you dare to do big things, big results should be expected. The Sanders program is big, and when you run it through a standard model, you get a big result.”

Matthew Klein, FT Alphaville, “Extreme” doesn’t mean what it used to, Sanders vs the CEA.  This piece (which you have to be registered to see) explains why Friedman’s growth projections may not be as outlandish as Kreuger et al. suggest, using this chart, showing that Friedman’s optimistic growth rate under Sanders programs only brings the growth rate back to the 1984-2007 pre-recession trend line:

Sanders-growth-590x275

Matthew Yglesias, Vox, Top Democratic economists don’t think much of Bernienomics. He doesn’t care.  Surprisingly, a piece from Vox that is pretty sympathetic to Sanders and Friedman (though he identifies the parts of Friedman’s analysis that he thinks are implausible). Under the heading “Imperious dismissals only make Sanders stronger,” Yglesias writes: “It’s noteworthy that the former CEA chairs criticizing Friedman didn’t bother to run through a detailed explanation of their problems with the paper. To them, the 5.3 percent figure was simply absurd on its face, and it was good enough for them to say so, relying on their authority to generate media coverage.”

Nick Timiraos and Laura Meckler, Wall Street Journal, Democratic Economists Say Bernie Sanders’s Math Doesn’t Add Up. Reporting on the past CEA chairs’ open letter; does better than the NYT piece on reporting Jared Bernstein’s actual views. Requires subscription.

Jared Bernstein, at his blog, I Endorse…(No One!)  Does the best at explaining Jared Bernstein’s actual views. He thinks Friedman’s projections are overly optimistic, but he repudiates the CEA chairs’ comparison with Republican “fairy dust”: “I do give Friedman credit for running all of Sanders’ plans through a macro model, versus Republican candidates’ hand-waving claims that the power of their personalities leavened with massive sprinklings of supply-side fairy dust will generate GDP growth of 4, 6, 8 percent! But such models are a function of your assumptions, and his, including his multipliers, the sharp increase in labor supply and productivity, diminished health care inflation, and a passive Fed amidst all this stellar growth, all seemed way too sunny to me (I called them ‘wishful thinking’ in the NYT).”

Paul Krugman, his NYT blog, Worried Wonks.  (Plus he has two other blog posts on the kerfuffle.) What’s interesting about them is not what Krugman says (which is what you’d expected now that he is in Hillary shill mode) but how many of the commenters (more than three quarters, I would say) are unsympathetic to his siding with Kreuger, et al.

Kevin Drum, Mother Jones, The Sanders Campaign Has Crossed into Neverland. Another piece highly unsympathetic to Friedman, but with no actual counter-analysis–just name-calling (see below). Surprising, for MoJo and Drum.

Ryan Cooper, The Week, Why are big-shot liberal economists hippie-punching Bernie Sanders?  A vigorous defense of Friedman and Sanders. “Ironically, in the frenzy to destroy Friedman’s reputation, nobody actually explained in detail what the problems were with his paper. The CEA pronouncement had no data or economic argument at all — it was 100 percent political handwringing. Krugman gave a very brief gloss suggesting that Sanders couldn’t possibly get labor force participation back up to 1990s levels due to aging, and trying to do so would cause inflation. Kevin Drum gave a similar incredulous stare argument about worker productivity and GDP growth, pronouncing it ‘insane,’ worse than Republican ‘magic asterisks.'” Cooper does what the big-name wonks should have, and has a mixed assessment Friedman’s analysis. But his point is: “Friedman is just a professor who thought it might be interesting to game out the Sanders platform. He doesn’t work for the campaign, or have platoons of graduate students, think-tankers, or public relations experts at his beck and call. His major error, it seems to me, is that he didn’t realize he’d be walking into a buzzsaw of Clinton supporters if he didn’t fiddle with his numbers to make them look ‘sensible.'”

Mike Konczal Roosevelt Institute Rortybomb blog, In Praise of the Wonk: Dissecting the CEA Letter and Sanders’s Other Proposals. This is a nice discussion, which agrees with Kreuger, et al. that Democrats and the left need to have good policy analyses (hence “In Priase of the Wonk”), but takes them to task for not explaining why they reject Friedman’s idea that an expansionary policy could get us back to the historical trend of growth (he uses Klein’s graph from the FT Alphaville post). “To reject Friedman’s analysis, as the former CEA chairs do, seems to involve rejecting that component of the analysis. If so, they have an obligation to explain what happened to that potential output trend from 2007.” He discusses various possibilities, plausible and not.

J.W. Mason, at his blog, Can Sanders Do It?  A nicely argued defense of Friedman, by a former student of Friedman’s who now teaches at John Jay College. He says the discussion should focus on this question “Is it reasonable to think that better macroeconomic policy could deliver substantially higher output and employment?”, where many of Friedman’s critics have focused on whether Sanders programs will get us there, or on whether Friedman has just the right numbers. Mason: “Is it plausible that there could be 5 percent-plus real GDP growth and 300,000 new jobs per month over the eight years of a Sanders presidency? I think it is — or at least, I don’t think there is a good economic argument that it’s not.” He gets there via five points (with arguments for each point–read the post for the arguments):

  1. It’s not controversial to say that a historically deep recession ought to be followed by a period of historically strong growth.
  2. Friedman’s growth estimates are just what you need to get output and employment back to trend.
  3. In other contexts, it’s taken for granted that more expansionary policy could deliver substantially higher growth.
  4. Friedman’s projections are unreasonable only if you think the US is already at full employment.
  5. The argument against Friedman’s piece comes down to the claim that the economy is already close to potential.

Ron Baiman, Chicago Political Economy Group, posting at the D&S blog, The Poverty of Neoclassical Economic Analysis. I’ll give Ron the last word: “No one assumes that Bernie’s economic program will be passed as currently conceived. The fate of these proposals depends on the power of the ‘political revolution’ that the Sander’s campaign is leading. Like the Clinton campaign, the NC-economics trained, former CEA Chairs exhibit abundant ‘pessimism of the intellect” but no ‘optimism of the will’. This is not an economic debate. It’s a political and ideological debate that reflects the deep division in fundamental theoretical outlook between NC progressive and radical democratic socialist economists.”

This is all I have for now. I am sure there will be more.

Thursday Links: “Fix Our T,” SEC, TPP, etc.

Fix-Our-T-Petition(1) Fix “Our” T:  On my walk from Boston’s South Station to the D&S office this morning, I encountered an army of people in red “Fix Our T” t-shirts asking commuters to sign a petition to “Fix Our T.” (The “T” is Boston’s public transit systems, including a subway, buses, and commuter rail.) When I asked one of the petition-wielders what it was all about, she mumbled something about “increasing transparency and accountability.” I said that wasn’t enough information for me to sign anything, and asked if she had any handouts. (Lots of other people were just signing–people are really fed up with the T, especially after terrible service this winter in the wake of multiple blizzards!) She gave me a flyer which revealed that the petition was to “tell Beacon Hill [the state legislature] to work with Governor Baker and fix our T” and to “to adopt the responsible bipartisan reform proposed by Governor Baker.”

It turns out that the website mentioned on these people’s t-shirts, www.FixOurT.com, was put up by a group called the Coalition for a World Class public Transit System. It is made up of area chambers of commerce (the North Shore Chamber of Commerce, Metro South Chamber of Commerce, etc.), industry organizations (Massachusetts Lodging Association, Massachusetts Restaurant Association, Massachusetts Petroleum Council (!)), and free-market, pro-business lobbying organizations (the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation). The list of “solutions” to the T’s problems is mostly bland and meaningless, but key items tip their hand as anti-union (“Provide greater accountability and transparency for the T’s governance and management practices to ensure the entity is efficiently and effectively run while employing a productive workforce”) and against increased funding for the T (“Ensure that the T balances its operating budget without the need for ever-increasing state assistance each year”). So it’s pretty shady to be asking commuters to sign a petition without revealing that this is a big business group with an agenda that many commuters would disagree with.  (As my co-editor Alejandro Reuss likes to point out, nobody ever suggests that the military should “balance its operating budget without the need for ever-increasing state assistance each year” they way fiscal conservatives seem to think actual public goods like Social Security, public transit, or USPS should.)

At least the Boston Globe got it right about the petition with this story: Business Groups Lobby in Favor of Baker’s MBTA Plan. All these pro-business organizations give the lie to the claim (however technically true) on the group’s Facebook page to be a “nonprofit organization,” and also makes you wonder what they mean by “Our” T.  It reminded me of a Short Run from our April 1975 issue that we republished in our Nov/Dec 2009 35th anniversary issue:

You Make It Work (April 1975)
The Reader’s Digest editorial staff is preparing a year-long series of articles defending the U.S. economic system. The Business Roundtable, made up of top executives of 150 major corporations, is paying $1.2 million for the series, which will run under an “[advertisement]” label in each month’s Digest and will be placed in 50 college newspapers as well.
The chairman of the Business Roundtable public information committee, which will supervise the series, is Vice President Paul M. Lund of AT&T. The title of the series is surprisingly up front (emphasis added): “OUR Economic System—YOU Make It Work.”

(2) The SEC:  Rootstrikers has a new report out about how compromised the current head of the Securities and Exchange Commission is, Mary Jo White, the SEC, and the Revolving Door. It is a great follow-up to Elizabeth Warren’s June 2 letter to White criticizing her performance at the SEC, and it is a great riposte to the notion that White would be someone Wall St. wouldn’t want to “mess with.” From the executive summary:

A deeper dig into White’s career indicates that not only has White’s tenure at the SEC
been troubling, it has been a disappointment very much in keeping with her
professional track record. Her defenders are right in one very important regard: White
has in fact led the SEC exactly as one might expect she would based on her career.
White’s career serves as an emblematic example of what is problematic about the
revolving door; indeed, she is also a proponent of the revolving door in her hiring and in
her personal statements. Her position on the SEC leads to an insolvable dilemma: her
lengthy and lucrative ties to Wall Street (Section A below) lead to justifiable calls for
frequent recusal, and her frequent recusals (see Section F) lead to frequent deadlock in
the commission, preventing adequate enforcement. White’s tendency to hire people
for high ranking jobs at the SEC who are likely to avoid stringently enforcing laws
protecting society from the dangers of the insiders and large banks for whom they will
go to work for next (see Section E) is emblematic of her ideology opposing strong white
collar criminal enforcement (see Sections (C) and (D)).

Here’s something from Bloomberg Business about the report:  SEC Chair’s Conflicts Fuel Sympathy for Wall Street, Group Says.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg Business also reported (here) that the SEC could act as soon as August 5th to (finally) implement a Dodd-Frank rule “that will force public companies to publish a ratio that compares the chief executive officer’s reported pay with that of their typical worker.”

What I find hilarious about the resistance to this rule is that corporations, exhibiting that “can’t do attitude,” have been whining about how much time it would take for them to calculate the pay rate of the “average” worker (with the median pay). But the Stanford University Engineering website has a delightful piece explaining how a doctoral student there, Michael Ohlrogge, figured out a way to do it using statistical sampling:

He began to contemplate how the SEC might use statistical sampling to calculate the required median compensation at a reasonable cost. His quantitative training in engineering had taught him that highly accurate statistical estimates could be derived using relatively small samples drawn from large populations. On the other hand, his legal training taught him that the SEC has broad discretion in interpreting and implementing such laws as it deems appropriate.

“You can actually get a very accurate median estimate by sampling as little as one-half of 1 percent of a company’s workforce, even for massive multi-national companies,” Ohlrogge said.

Ohlrogge submitted several comment letters to the SEC, building his case for statistical sampling. He analyzed legal precedent to argue that, despite there being no specific mention of statistical sampling in Dodd-Frank, the SEC would be justified in using sampling. Then, relying on his engineering skills, he crafted the sampling technique companies could use to estimate median income.

Well done.  You can bet, though, that the corporations wouldn’t have found it so burdensome to figure out if they thought they could profit from it (vs. the pay ratio promising to expose the ludicrousness of their executives’ pay).

(3) TPP:  Just two items to pass on about the TPP:

(4) Rana Plaza Victory:  To end on an up note:  we have been covering the efforts to get clothing retailers whose goods were being made in the Rana Plaza factory that collapsed in Bangladesh on April 24, 2013, in John Miller’s articles After Horror, Apologetics, and After Horror, Change? (his columns in our last two Sept/Oct annual labor issues). Finally, change has arrived, as announced by the International Labor Rights Forum:

The International Labor Rights Forum is thrilled to announce that two years of campaigning, with over one million people participating, has succeeded in securing $30 million in compensation for the victims of the Rana Plaza building collapse – the deadliest disaster in the history of the global garment industry.

“This campaign victory would not have been possible without the hard work of workers’ rights groups and labor unions on the ground in Bangladesh, and activism from a wide array of allies around the world who held more than a hundred store actions and demonstrations at corporate headquarters,” said Judy Gearhart, Executive Director of the International Labor Rights Forum.

Maybe we’re overcoming the dynamic Barry Deutsch documented in his cartoon for our March/April 2014 issue:

0314toon--500x483

That’s it for now.