One of the Luskin columns Gavin links to was Luskin's arguement in August 2008 that the economy was not in a recession. Here's Luskin's explanation:
[W]e are not in a recession.
The word "recession" has a specific meaning to economists who study the business cycle. Whether we are in a recession or not is therefore an objective matter of science, not opinion.
The official determination of recessions is made by a committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research. They have latitude to use their judgment in making the determination — it's not exactly a formula — but they are clear about what factors they consider, and how those factors have to behave to result in a determination.
Note that Luskin writes that whether we are in a recession is "an objective matter of science, not opinion" -- then, just a few sentances later, writes that NBER has "latitude to use their judgment ... it's not exactly a formula."
Anyway, that's not my point. That's just amusing.
My point is this: Last August, Luskin argued that the US was not in a recession because, basically, NBER hadn't declared the economy to be in a recession. And yet, just a few years ago, Luskin took the opposite view -- and both times, Luskin's assertions just happened to make George W. Bush look good.
See, one of the very first things Media Matters posted when we launched back in the Spring of 2004 was a report I wrote demonstrating that the news media (particularly Sean Hannity) kept insisting that Bush had "inherited a recession" from Bill Clinton, despite the fact that according to NBER, the recession in question didn't begin until March of 2001 -- after Bush took office.
Well, Don Luskin didn't like that very much. He took to National Review's web page to declare "So far the work from Media Matters isn't very impressive." Luskin went on to explain:
The first major article posted on the Media Matters website is an attempted exposé of the often-heard conservative claim that the last economic recession began during the Clinton administration — or, in other words, that it was already underway when George W. Bush took office in 2001.
The claim that the last recession started under Clinton is absolutely true.
Now, before we go any further, keep in mind what Luskin wrote last August, when he was desperate to argue that we weren't in a recession: "The official determination of recessions is made by a committee of the National Bureau of Economic Research." Those are Don Luskin's words in August of 2008. And here are Don Luskin's words back in May of 2004:
The one and only piece of evidence offered by Media Matters that's to the contrary is that fact that the National Bureau of Economic Research set the beginning of the last recession at March 2001 — two months into the Bush administration. ... according to Media Matters, this single authority determines truth, and everyone else is a liar. The article declares that "if NBER says the recession began in March 2001, the recession began in March 2001."
The reality is that NBER is just like any other group of economists, struggling with partial and imperfect information to characterize phenomena that don't have any hard-and-fast definitions.
So, in 2004, Luskin argued that NBER should not be considered the final word on recessions. Interesting.
But wait! There's more.
Luskin went on to claim that NBER was "on the verge of changing the recession's start date" to sometime before Bush took office. To support his claim that a change would come any day, Luskin quoted a four-month-old Washington Post article in which NBER president Martin Feldstein -- a Bush campaign advisor -- claimed the March 2001 start date was too late. Luskin then chided us: "Media Matters chooses not to mention" that NBER was "on the verge" of changing the recession's start date.
As I pointed out at the time, of course we didn't mention that. Why would we? NBER hadn't changed the date. Not to mention that there was a much more recent Washington Post article in which an NBER spokesperson quoted saying no such change was imminent.
Anyway, that was nearly five years ago. And NBER -- which, according to Don Luskin, was "on the verge of changing the recession's start date" -- still says the recession begain March 2001.
Whenever Luskin wants to retract his nonsensical criticisms of Media Matters, I'd be happy to post the retraction.
Oh, and by the way: NBER says we've been in a recession since December 2007. In his August 2008 column, Luskin touted a formula that "shows with absolute clarity that we are not in a recession now. In fact, we're not even close."
In short: Do not listen to Don Luskin.
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