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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Omigod Daniel Okrent makes more of a fool of himself debating Paul Krugman than I thought possible. Like many webadicts I have been waiting for the debate between Krugman and Okrent here.

Krugman's defence of himself and criticism of Okrent is, of course, devastatingly effective. Krugman also somehow manages to keep his tone civil avoiding words like "fool". I think that he will not waste more time with Okrent. I don't see how he could avoid using the word fool if he responds to Okrent. I couldn't resist posting after reading Okrent's first point (an own goal of course).

Krugman "Mr. Okrent’s claim that I engaged in "blending, without explanation, numbers from the household survey and the establishment survey -- apples and oranges -- apparently in order to make a more vivid political point about Bush (5/25/04).”

[snip] But I didn’t. All the numbers in my 5/25/04 column came from the establishment survey.

As I said devastatingly effective. This should settle the matter of whether Okrent should ever have been hired by the New York Times, but Mr Okrent has decided to remove all possible doubt writing

3. The mixing of household and establishment numbers in his 5/25/04 column: Missing from the BLS chart he cites is any number that even resembles the 140,000 new jobs each month needed to keep up with the growing population a statistic he cites in the column, and upon which he seems to have based some of his computations. To my knowledge, that number only appeared in the household survey.

This displays such ignorance that it is breath taking. The household survey is a survey of a sample of fixed size, therefore it contains no information on total population or population by age. The problem according to Krugman (and Greenspan) with attempting to use the population survey to determine employment, as opposed to the employment rate, is that it is necessary to multiply the employment rate by a guess of the working age population whcih can not be measured in any way by the population survey. Some guess that the divergence is due to the fact that the guess about population does not take into account reduced illegal immigration due to post 9/11 tightening of border security. This is just a guess, but anyone with any familiarity with the debate whatsoever must understand from the existence of this guess that the household survey specifically lacks data on the working age population.

Anyone with any understanding of numbers at all must understand that the figure "140,000 new jobs each month needed to keep up with the growing population" is a function of population (anyone who also has a brain understands that it also reuires a definition of working age and population growth by age). Thus anyone who has paid the least attention to the debate and knows what "population" means, can see that the number can not be based on the household survey.

I actually did not have a negative opinion of Okrent before I read his farewell column (basically I had no opinion). After reading the attack on Krugman, I concluded that he was nasty, unfair and dishonest. After reading his point 3, I conclude that he is a total idiot.

I am going to check at Brad's site to find if he still thinks Luskin is the stupidest man alive. I think a case can be made for someone else. If I am right about Okrent, then Okrent is. If I somehow managed to be wrong about something which seems to me to be so totally obvious than I am the stupidest man alive.

[rest after this jump. I don't know how to make "there's more" tabs but the stuff below really is a total total waste of time even by my standards]

Okrent's point 4 keeping with the soccer analogies Okrent should be sent off for vicsiously fouling himself for this one.

4. The Polivka-Miller paper: On the substance, readers can come to their own conclusions by examining the report themselves, particularly the chart and related narrative addressing “Duration of Unemployment” on page 23 (pdf). On Prof. Krugman’s defense of his unfamiliarity with it, he’s effectively saying, “If I didn’t know about it, it must not be important.” This is a polemicist’s dodge; no self-respecting journalist would ever make such an argument.

Uh oh Mr Okrent. Are you the same Okrent who doesn't know that the CPS is a survey of a sample of households ? It is also very unwise to use the phrase "a polemicist’s dodge" immediately after putting words in one's opponents mouth rather than quoting him. Doesn't the Times have a rule about quotation marks ? I think that, as a matter of elementary journalistic integrity, the Times should have, at the very least, forced Okrent to use an indirect quote in his blatant distortion as in "he’s effectively saying that If he didn’t know about it, it must not be important.” This would be a distortion of what Krugman said, but it would not be an abuse of quotation marks. I am naive enough to be a bit shocked that the Times would allow such an abuse of the form of a direct quote when a rewrite would have been trivially easy.

Punctuation aside, Krugman does write that the Polivka-Miller paper is unimportant. He seems to seriously consider the possibility that Polivka and Miller have convincingly argued that US unemployment duration is at a 10 year high not a 20 year high. And htat's Paul Krugman writing. God I wish I had written that paper. I would be famous now. I would be surprised if Krugman's text doesn't end up on both Polivka's and Miller's refrigerators for a while. I would be delighted at such recognition.

Actually the exchange is marginally useful, because it publicizes the Polivka Miller article, assuming that Krugman's passing assessment is as favorable as it seems and Krugman has not been snowed by Polivka and Miller. However, Okrent's knowledge of a research paper is further evidence of his dishonesty. It is impossible that someone who knows about the change in the CPS questionaire in 1994 also thinks that the CPS measures the working age population. That is, it is absolutely incredible that Okrent is familiar with the Polivka and Miller paper. Presumably someone told him about it (clearly he doesn't surf the BLS site). I think it is clear that he hasn't discussed Krugman with this person, since he couldn't have made his first howler if he had. Thus he has not run things past a source. This is a sign of journalistic irresponsibility and dishonesty, and it is also a sign of extreme haste. I find it impossible to doubt that Okrent started looking for examples after writing the column. It seems to me that the strange mixture of astonishing ignorance and obscure knowledge only makes sense if the obscure knowledge is the result of one way communication without follow up. This in turn convinces me that Okrent's knowledge is a hot tip, something he just learned, something he learned after his slanderous farewell.

What Krugman very clearly wrote is that he couldn't be expected to know about the article, since the BLS didn't warn him, so his failure to consider it is not evidence of dishonesty. Krugman used a standard series in a standard way. The second "example" has nothing to do with Okrent's accusation. Okrent's reply has nothing to do with Krugman's obviously correct self defence.

Okrents appalling and totally un called for humiliation of Okrent is based on the idea that "no self-respecting journalist would ever make such an argument. " Krugman's argument is that he (like every person who has ever lived) had not read all of the relevant literature, since he does not have time. When Okrent's false quote is replaced by Krugman's actual argument, Okrent's absurd sentence implies that he thinks it is disgraceful and dishonest not to know everything. This would be an appalling idiocy demonstrating astounding ignorance of how much has been written, even if Okrent had not demonstrated his totally unbelievable amazing ignorance in the preceding paragraph.

Also when Okrent's false quote is replaced by Krugman's actual statement, Okrent clearly asserts that "no self-respecting journalist would ever" confess that he was unaware of a relevant argument and that he had not read a relevant document. I have long suspected that journalists are unwilling to admit that they are not omniscient. I guessed above that Okrent believes that all self respecting journalists are omniscient, but I realise that he might have meant that all self respeecting jounalists lie and claim that they know everything even though they don't.

Okrent claims that he told Krugman about another "example". He does not mention this example anywhere in his reply. I can not believe that discussion of this third example could possibly be as humiliating for Okrent as was discussion of the two "examples" above. I mean, I can't remember anyone ever making such a fool of himself. Okrent must have decided not to discuss his third example for some reason other than it provides more solid proof of his dishonesty and idiocy than the two he discusses, since nothing could possibly provide more solid proof.

Okrent's point 5 is plainly dishonest. He made a claim about Krugman and should have been able to back it up. His inability to immediately back up his claim, shows that his initial slander was malicious. His totally utterly pathetic efforts to provide examples further show that he is a liar and an idiot. Now after he gave Krugman his best shots missed and knocked himself out, he presents more arguments without giving Krugman a chance to reply. This is a totally unfair debating trick. Byron Calame, should not have agreed to publishing Okrent's further accusations without giving Krugman a chance to reply. Again the solution is simple, cut Okrent after point 4 and ask Krugman if he want's to reply to alleged point 5. If Calame did not do that, he is guilty of misconduct, as he is in the case of the quotation marks. Of course Calame may have done so. Krugman may have replied that he has better things to do with his time and the fact that Okrent is coming up with new arguments after trying and failing to support an accusation is proof enough that Okrent is guilty of slander. However, Okrent concludes saying that Krugman might reply to his point 5. It seems to me that this is proof that he has not declined a chance to do so. Thus Calame is guilty of serious misconduct unbecoming to an employee of the New York Times.

I have read Okrent's last three points. The dribble of accusations makes it clear that they are coming in after the slander. The last point is that Krugman called retirement income "retirement income" and that this seems to have confused Okrent. Given the proof above, I think it is possible that Okrent was genuinely confused. The words are perfectly clear and Krugman used them to mean the only thing they could mean in the English language. It's not his fault that Okrent is so utterly ignorant that he managed to get confused.

I am ignorant and lazy myself, so I won't comment on the two new examples Okrent pulls out of his e-mail box oh sorry I mean "files." I do think the claim that he had them on file is a lie. For one thing they are less pathetic than his first two attempts. The delay in accessing files seems incredible to me. I think the delay is in receiving e-mails. I think that Okrent is lying and, thus, is not a journalist.
first new point "His 1/27/04 assertion that the cost of unemployment insurance “automatically” adds to the federal deficit. This two-fer misrepresents a pair of facts: that unemployment insurance is largely borne by the states, and that major federal contributions to the states come about only because of an act of Congress, which is hardly automatic." I would have said the same thing Krugman said. If Okrent is right, then it seems to me to be an honest mistake. Krugman's claim is standard in Macro text books with regard to automatic stabilizers. It might be wrong, but it clearly is not dishonest and doesn't correspond at all to Okrent's original accusation. I am ashamed to be ignorant on this point.

Sedond "His 2/3/04 assertion that tax proposals offered by Democrats would help the 77 pecent of taxpayers in the 15 percent bracket or less. The most recent generally accepted figures available at the time indicated that the number was actually 64 percent." I am not ashamed to be ignorant on this. I don't know who is right. Again it doesn't correspond to the original accusation, which alleged number bashing not errors. Again it is very hard to believe that someone who thinks the household survey measures the adult population (even though he is discussing the discrepancy between the household survey and the establishment survey) would have these facts on file.

I know Krugman has better things to do with his time than argue with Okrent. Hell I have better things to do with my time, but I hope he replies. I had a great time reading the exchange, even though I am a bit appalled by Okrent.

I used the word slander repeatedly. I know Krugman is a public figure, but I think that Okrent has demonstrated that he made his accusation with reckless disregard for the truth. Also I think he is lying about whether he had the "examples" on file before writing the column. I have no doubt in my mind about this. I am writing in Italy and can not defend myself by saying Okrent is a public figure. If I am wrong I am liable.

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