New York Times Invents Left-Leaning Economists to Attack Bernie Sanders

The Times pieces misleads readers into thinking there is more skepticism about Sanders’ plan among lefty economists than there actually is.

Dean Baker February 17, 2016

(Phil Roeder / Flickr / Creative Commons)

A New York Times piece head­lined left-lean­ing econ­o­mists ques­tion cost of Bernie Sanders’ plans” may have mis­led read­ers about the extent of skep­ti­cism among econ­o­mists who con­sid­er them­selves left-lean­ing. I can say this as a card-car­ry­ing left-lean­ing econ­o­mist who often talks to oth­er card-car­ry­ing left-lean­ing economists.

Sanders has a very ambitious agenda covering everything from universal Medicare, reforming the financial sector, paid sick days and vacation, free college, and universal childcare. If an economist, left-leaning or otherwise, can’t find some grounds for skepticism on any of these proposals they should probably be in a different line of work.

While there are undoubt­ed­ly many left of cen­ter econ­o­mists who have seri­ous objec­tions to the pro­pos­als Sanders has put for­ward, there are also many who have pub­licly indi­cat­ed sup­port for them. Remark­ably, none of those econ­o­mists were ref­er­enced in this arti­cle. In fact, to make its case on left of cen­ter econ­o­mists’ views, the NYT even pre­sent­ed the com­ments of Ezra Klein, who is nei­ther an econ­o­mist nor a lib­er­al, by his own iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

It also mis­rep­re­sent­ed the com­ments of Jared Bern­stein (a per­son­al friend), imply­ing that they were crit­i­cisms of Sanders’ pro­gram. In fact his com­ments were addressed to the analy­sis of Sanders’ pro­pos­als by Ger­ald Fried­man, an econ­o­mist at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mass­a­chu­setts who is not affil­i­at­ed with the Sanders campaign.

It also pre­sent­ed the com­ments of Brook­ings econ­o­mist Hen­ry Aaron about the views expressed by oth­er econ­o­mists in a lefty chat group’ he joins online.” This would seem to vio­late the NYTs usu­al pol­i­cy on anony­mous sources.

Sanders has a very ambi­tious agen­da cov­er­ing every­thing from uni­ver­sal Medicare, reform­ing the finan­cial sec­tor, paid sick days and vaca­tion, free col­lege, and uni­ver­sal child­care. If an econ­o­mist, left-lean­ing or oth­er­wise, can’t find some grounds for skep­ti­cism on any of these pro­pos­als they should prob­a­bly be in a dif­fer­ent line of work.

These are all big ideas, each of which will face enor­mous polit­i­cal oppo­si­tion even if Bernie Sanders were in the White House. Sanders has not giv­en a ful­ly worked out pro­pos­al in any of these areas, nor is it rea­son­able to expect a ful­ly worked out pro­pos­al from a can­di­date for the pres­i­den­cy. His cam­paign plat­form out­lines gen­er­al approach­es. In the event Sanders got to the White House, it would be nec­es­sary to draft ful­ly worked out leg­isla­tive lan­guage which would almost cer­tain­ly amount to hun­dreds of pages, and quite pos­si­bly thou­sands of pages, in each area. In addi­tion, what­ev­er he ini­tial­ly put on the table would have to be hag­gled over with Con­gress, even assum­ing that he had a much more sym­pa­thet­ic group than the cur­rent crew.

While it is nice that the NYT is sub­ject­ing Sanders’ views to seri­ous scruti­ny, it would be good if it also sub­ject­ed the views of oth­er can­di­dates to the same scruti­ny. For exam­ple, Sec­re­tary Clin­ton has indi­cat­ed a desire to give more oppor­tu­ni­ty to African Amer­i­cans and His­pan­ics, yet she has not com­ment­ed on the deci­sion by the Fed­er­al Reserve Board to raise inter­est rates at the end of last year. This rate hike was intend­ed to be the first of a sequence of rate hikes.

The pur­pose of rais­ing inter­est rates is to slow the econ­o­my and the rate of job cre­ation, osten­si­bly to pre­vent infla­tion. The peo­ple who will be dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly hurt by slow­er job growth and high unem­ploy­ment are African Amer­i­can and His­pan­ic. NYT read­ers would like­ly be inter­est­ed in know­ing how Sec­re­tary Clin­ton can rec­on­cile her com­mit­ment to help­ing African Amer­i­cans and His­pan­ics with her appar­ent lack of con­cern over the Fed’s deci­sion to raise inter­est rates and deny them jobs.

What­ev­er stan­dard of scruti­ny the NYT choos­es to apply to pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates it should apply them equal­ly. It is not good report­ing to apply one stan­dard to Sen­a­tor Sanders, and even invent­ing cre­den­tials to press its points, and then apply less­er stan­dards to the oth­er candidates.

This post first appeared at the Cen­ter for Eco­nom­ic and Pol­i­cy Research’s Beat the Press blog.

Dean Bak­er is co-direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Eco­nom­ic and Pol­i­cy Research and co-author of Social Secu­ri­ty: The Pho­ny Cri­sis (Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go Press, 2000).
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