Entry from January 2, 2014

What a comfortable world of easy simplicities you must live in if you write editorials for The New York Times. Today, for instance, the editorialists tell us that, after careful study, “most economists” have concluded that the progressive view, the New York Times’s view of the minimum wage was the right one all along and that, therefore, increasing it has nothing but upside. Right again, Barack Obama! In rather the same way, the Times reporter David Kirkpatrick the other day re-opened the matter of the Benghazi terror attack of September 11, 2012, in which our ambassador and three others were killed and which almost everyone had hitherto regarded as an example of mismanagement and mendacity on the part of the administration, and what do you think he found? That everybody had got it wrong and that the thing was exactly as Mr Obama and his then-secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, had said: a spontaneous demonstration by regular-guy Libyans unconnected to al-Qaeda who were cross about a video put up on the internet by some nobody in California.


You can’t argue with the evidence. Both conclusions — that of John Schmitt on behalf of “most economists” (not to mention the very progressive Center for Economic Policy and Research in Washington) and that of Mr Kirkpatrick — are backed by Stakhanovite efforts by researchers who have provided far more data than any ordinary reader could possibly review in order to draw his, the reader’s, own conclusions. In the case of the research on the minimum wage, which is now said to have “discredited” the common sense view that if you raise the price of something, such as labor, you will get fewer buyers of it, the o.r. would also have to have a Ph.D. in economics or statistics in order to understand it. But if common sense must own itself to be stymied by the increasing volume of what its producers may soften the blow by calling “counter-intuitive” research, can it not still register a quiet protest against the childish simplicity of this research’s conclusions?


We know, that is, that the world as we experience it yields few easy certainties. It is not too much to say that in our own lives we can seldom aspire to any good thing which does not come with trade-offs. More time at work may mean more money but it also means less time with the family, or doing the things we like to spend our money on. And the more money we earn the more, too, we become targets for Mr Obama’s redistributionist schemes. We may borrow to buy the things we want, but then we have to pay the money back. Yet in the happy-land of the New York Times editorialist and his kind there are no such trade-offs. If you believe these people and their guru, Nobel Prize-winner Paul Krugman, we don’t even have to worry about paying back the trillions of dollars that the administration has borrowed over the past five years to cover current expenses it is unwilling to cut back on. The quasi-magical Keynesian “multiplier” — ratified by “science” of course — will produce more than enough to repay such trifling sums.


Likewise, should the urge strike us to improve the lot of the poor, how fortunate we are to discover that all we need to do is pass a law requiring those who employ the poor to raise their pay. Done and done. Not only is there, as usual, no downside — as extensive research now reliably informs us there is not — but the higher payroll costs turn out to be good for the employers and the economy and thus everybody else as well! That’s the beauty of counter-intuitive research for you. It’s all as innocent and uncomplicated as a child’s belief in Santa Claus — or in the perfect competence and veracity of Hillary Clinton over Benghazi. Yet the fact that progressives believed it all along is allowed to cast no shadow backwards, in the progressive’s own view, over his trusted researchers’ endlessly flattering results.


Even the case of Edward Snowden proves to be unproblematical at the Times, though such liberals as Ruth Marcus may take a different view. Another of today’s editorials pleads for clemency for Mr Snowden on the grounds that “the shrill brigade of his critics say Mr. Snowden has done profound damage to intelligence operations of the United States, but none has presented the slightest proof that his disclosures really hurt the nation’s security.” There I was, minding my own business and taking the traditional view that conveying (for a consideration) American government secrets to a foreign power was an act of treason and suddenly I found myself a member of a shrill brigade! Not only that, but once again I turn out to be on the wrong side of science, which has somehow failed to find any evidence of what the simplest among us might once have been able to recognize as the damage to American intelligence operations. It is doubtless gratifying to those looking down on us from the skyscraper at 620 Eighth Avenue to discover that science so reliably affirms the views that they hold a priori, but the rest of us may begin to suspect that there is something a little bit off about an arrangement so very convenient to the progressive-minded.


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