Do our leaders know what they’re talking about?

FRIDAY, JUNE 15, 2012

Joan Walsh explains Ronald Reagan: Do our liberal intellectual leaders actually know what they’re talking about?

The question popped into our heads when we read this report by Salon’s Joan Walsh. We were a bit puzzled by this:
WALSH (6/14/12): I still haven’t quite gotten over the graphs Ezra Klein used Monday night when subbing for Rachel Maddow on MSNBC, showing the rise in government employment after recessions under Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. Those Republican presidents were die-hard Keynesians, no matter what their rhetoric pretended, and they knew that the antidote to recession, and a contraction in business and consumer spending, was government spending, including government employment.
Really? Was Ronald Reagan a die-hard Keynesian? Were Presidents Bush and Bush?

Incomparably, we decided to check.

The graph to which Walsh refers can be seen at Ezra Klein’s site. The four lines on the graph represent "total government employment" during and after our last four recessions. (Please note: Despite some visual imperfections, all four lines are supposed to be starting at the same place: 1.00.)

Based on that graph, we see no sign that government employment increased under President Reagan until long after the recession was over. We know, we know! Klein seemed to say different on the Maddow Show, and he seems to say different at his own site. This is what you’ll find him saying at his own Post site:
KLEIN (6/11/12): In the graph atop this post, I ran the numbers on total government employment after the 1981, 1990, 2001 and 2008 recessions. I made government employment on the eve of the recession equal to “1,” so what you’re seeing is total change in the ensuing 54 months, which is how much time has elapsed since the start of this recession.

As you can see, government employment tends to rise during recessions, helping to cushion their impact. But with the exception of a spike when we hired temporary workers for the decennial census, it’s fallen sharply during this recession.
In fact, we see no sign in Klein’s graph that “total government employment” rose during the recession which started in 1981. Three years in, employment seems to be down by one percent. Nor so we see any vast increase in government employment during the Bush 41 recession, the one which started in 1990. Roughly two years into that recession, it looks like “total government employment” had risen by one percent. (We assume this includes state and local government, but Klein doesn’t specifically say.)

The outlier seems to be the Bush 43 recession, which started in 2001. But here’s a question to which we don’t know the answer: Did government employment rise after 2001 because Bush was a diehard Keynesian? Or did it rise in security fields in response to 9/11?

If we had our druthers, the federal government would be helping state and local governments maintain their previous levels of employment. But was Ronald Reagan a die-hard Keynesian? And beyond that formulation by Walsh, does Klein’s own post make sense?

How about the things he said on Monday night’s Maddow Show? (To read the transcript, click here.) His monologue may have been scripted by staff. This raises the question with which we began:

Do our liberal intellectual leaders actually know what they’re talking about? Or are we increasingly handed pleasing pap, not unlike a group of people who watch a different “news” channel?

For ourselves, we don’t know what happened to government employment during those earlier recessions. But go ahead. Treat yourself!

Walsh hasn’t gotten over Klein’s graph. Just as an intellectual exercise, we'll suggest that you give it a look.


  1. Well, maybe it seems like niggling to mention it, but it bugs the hell out of me that Klein (ow whoever is responsible) couldn't get those lines to commence at 1.

    Does anybody know anything at the Wash Post?

    And, for Christ's sake, couldn't they have noted where each recession ENDED, as common sense would demand, and as one would find in any competent representation?

    How do you trust these people to get anything right?

    1. highly_adequate, haven't you heard? It doesn't matter, as "it's not as bad as FOX"

      Really, to even mention it, without stressing quite strongly, with a number of a examples, how very awful FOX is in comparison... -- Well, it just means our host is a terrible, terrible person bent on helping out the right wing as usual.

    2. Ooops!

      As you see below, I forgot about that other time-tested strategy: "What mistake? It's perfectly correct. Nananana I can't hear you!"

  2. Since the graph shows unambiguously that at this point in Obama's term, all the other [Republican] presidents presided over significant public sector growth, while Obama, and Obama alone, has weathered a steep decline, what exactly is your difficulty?

    The fact that the 1981 line first shows a temporary, short-lived decline, before ascending, exactly as Klein has claimed? Or the fact that Reagan's line is largely flat in the early years, whereas Obama's drops steeply?

    Did it not occur to you that even the flat growth of the 1981 line, compared to the steep drop for Obama, is stimulative? And that we'd be positively rejoicing now, if there had been no public sector losses in the last 2 year or so, because we'd be several hundred thousand jobs richer, and those folks would be spending money instead of collecting it?

    Or is it just that anything Joan Walsh contends (and which Krugman has also been promoting over the last few months, btw), must be false?

    1. It's your reading comprehension that makes us so batty, lad!

      Saying that "they were die hard Keynesians" and that "they knew that the antidote to recession was government spending."

      Can you read that?

      Can you understand that it doesn't make sense if the "antidote" was administered *after* the recession ended?

      Or is it just that anything that appears in the Daily Howler gets your goat, little man?

    2. Funny, how the Bobettes can't keep insults out of their posts. The sign of high intelligence and sound arguments, for sure!

      For starters, "little man", did it not occur to you that keeping public sector employment flat -- i.e., avoiding the kind of losses we've seen in the last two years -- is in fact Keynesian, because it requires increased spending, in the face of reduced local and Federal revenues? Where do you think the money for those salaries come from, if government is collecting less?

      Have you looked at deficits under the Reagan years, including the early years? Are you under the impression that government spending declined under Saint Ronald? And did you looked at the other lines on the graph? Do they show declines? When do they begin rising?

      Don't bother to answer, "little man". One bleat of your goat is more than enough.

    3. so. no, you cant see the contradiction. but we knew that. gad you're thick.

  3. The Public Sector is at *full* employment according to some pundits on the right. Are they right?

  4. The graph is an all too common example of BS. The blahblahblah of the graph's creator and the further comment found in Salon-land is also BS.

    In picking this item, I sympathize with the dailyhowler's daily frustration when trying to choose from day to day which howling idiocy out of the major media voices to present here -- a hard task to dish up on a Friday, for this is the day of the week all the parrot shows start coming our way...on cable, NPR, the networks, propaganda channels like Fox...endless weekly chat shows where overpaid talking heads vehemently demonstrate that they don't know what they're talking about as they "summarize" what is supposedly "newsworthy" from the past week.

    When the occasion strikes and I visit here, as today, it's always so as to find some comfort in knowing I'm not alone in being endlessly frustrated by the misinformation, misrepresentation, misinterpretation, etc. that gets blown our way by these overpaid parrots.

    And my point being? I view the nasty personal turn in even the few comments found here -- from the apologist for the idiocy from Klein and Walsh as well as the fellow who is critical of that commentators intelligence -- as how we, the members of the insignificant class, have in our own pathetic way adopted the habits of those cretins who regularly appear on the parrot shows.

    C'mon folks, stop turning on each other, missing the point, and try to bring to your critical thought in dealing with each other (as opposed to the overpaid cretins) the sentiment behind this frequent throwaway line from the late great Lenny Bruce: "Go be nice to people."

    1. Referring to unwelcome arguments as "BS" and idiocy, while offering no factual refutation, isn't often regarded as a model of civil behavior.

      OTOH, it's great to hear you have respect for Lenny Bruce, if none for Paul Krugman (who's been making the same argument for months), Ezra Klein, Joan Walsh, and any commentator here who takes a point of view different from your own.

      Would it be unfair to judge Somerby by the friends he attracts here? Maybe so, but his allies do offer a constant reminders of why discussion is truly hopeless in this country, for reasons having nothing to do with liberals or liberalism.

      Anyway, it's amusing to see someone who dismisses the opposition as bullshitters and idiots, playing at being a being a peacekeeper and arbitrator. Hilarious!

    2. You don't get the argument.

      When Krugman makes a point, he produces a graph and commentary that really argues that point.

      When Klein tries to do the same, he seems to botch it, at the very least in how he presents the case, and when Walsh invokes Klein's presentation, it's as if all is hunky-dory.

      One takeaway from this is that Klein and Walsh are in way over their heads, as, it would seem, are all their fervent admirers.

    3. I'm the guy who referenced Lenny Bruce, and I'm un-amazed, but amused, at the bizarre response of my Anonymous cousin. WTF does Krugman have to do with this?

      (Though I like the little dude, in fact, loved the little dude when he dropped this line at the LSE last month:
      "The Eurozone has a deep structural problem in the fact that it has a single currency without a single government, and that has turned out to make it very, very difficult to cope. The United States has a deep structural problem which is that one of our two major political parties is completely insane.")

      As for my "amusing" you cousin Anon., well, yeah, that's the only point of these idiotic comment sections isn't it, to amuse ourselves and others? It's why our little brains spin round and round, yes?
      And how we spin sometimes reveals the missing teeth from our brain's hour wheel, as my cuz does here when he posits this "dismisses the opposition" nonsense.

      Ya see, Cuz, out here in Flyover Land, we don't think of folks as the opposition, instead we think of them as fellow fools, who perhaps are a little too full of themselves, but given their ability to steal and grasp unearned wealth, who can blame them?

      Peace, love, Woodstock, free the Uighur Three and the Fortune Five Hundred!

  5. @highly_adequate

    Your point being then, that Klein & Walsh offered inadequate explanations, but that the claim is accurate? Or that the claim is nonsense and the explanations are therefore necessarily nonsensical?

    Or you are just repeating Somerby -- claiming you don't know the facts of the matter, and have no intention of finding out, if the answer might vindicate the claims of persons who aren't up to your and Somerby's presentation standards? It's an odd approach to media criticism, which is indifferent to the underlying reality.

    One also gathers that, according to you, who professes no knowledge of the facts, that any commentator here who does argue the facts of the matter is a "fervent admirer" of K&W, and is over his head.

    Again, it's remarkable that Somerby defenders here are either incapable or disinclined to make factual argument, much preferring to dismiss the opposition as idiotic.

    It would seem, in this respect, Bob is getting readership he deserves.

    Is maintaining levels of public sector employment during a recession -- which involves falling tax revenues and automatic increased government outlays -- Keynesian or not? A simple question which you, Bob and previous commentators flat out refuse to answer or respond to. And for good reason, apparenty.

    1. Anonymous, you are deeply confused. I can offer no physic for that.

    2. Thanks once again, highly_adequate, for confirming my point: commentators of your stripe routinely decline to offer factual arguments and instead claim that their antagonists are either stupid or mentally ill.

      In this respect, however, you're in excellent company at this cite, as the bulk of the comments make clear.

      In any event, consider the place yours. It's not the destination of a serious person.

    3. Look, anonymous,

      Nothing could be more obvious than that every good point and argument is lost on you. If you want to understand what I mean, you need only read with comprehension what I wrote.

      I'm not going to waste my time re-explaining what you didn't have the faculties to grasp the first time around.

      What I'm trying to say is that I can't really make you smarter, which is what is required here.

    4. Contrary to your assurances, highly_adequate, you're apparently all to eager to waste your time explaining and re-explaining, to anyone who'll listen, that those who disagree with you are quite plainly mental defectives. This would seem a strange occupation for a fellow of your commanding intelligence and wide-ranging grasp of policy and graph reading -- surely your intellectual achievements take your further than this blog?

      But no matter, I wish you well of the place, you deserve it.

    5. On the evidence though, hi_ad was right -- you either don't get it or pretend not to. Should we care which?

  6. This brings to mind an old adage; "Figures don't lie but liars sure can figure" (and make graphs!)

  7. The "Keynsians" reference is snark, which of course doesn't excuse it. Adding recessions to the equation, and omitting a time frame is laziness at best that suggests some level of dishonesty.

    The graph does raise questions of Republican performance in contrast to their rhetoric. A given considering it's the same crowd that seriously insists again and again the ideal, if not only way to increase government revenue is via tax cuts for the most wealthy. If that isn't their guiding principle then what the hell is?

    BTW, anyone catch Colbert's hilarious take on Romney and his Dressage? No getting around it Republicans, windsurfing is MUCH cooler than those velvet-hatted antics.

    1. "No getting around it Republicans, windsurfing is MUCH cooler than those velvet-hatted antics."

      Americans secretly crave a monarchy and a King. Dressage fits that bill. Wind-surfing looks fun, but it doesn't much look like royalty. Advantage: Dressage. Conclusion: Most Americans will have no problem with it.

  8. "did it not occur to you that keeping public sector employment flat...requires increased spending"

    That didn't occur to any reasonable person, because in real terms it isn't true.

    The comment on the graph -- "they knew that the antidote to recession was government spending" -- is spectacularly muddle-headed.

    If "they" knew that, the graph doesn't show it, because in some of the adduced cases the "antidote" clearly is not administered until *after* the recession is ended.

    Arguing that "even keeping employment flat" would be Keynesian may be comforting to you (if you are a Klein- or Walsh-ophile) but it does not speak to Bob's essentially unrebutted point.

  9. "Spectacularly muddle-headed"?

    This is evidently what happens on a blog whose owner routinely boasts of not knowing the facts, but being horrified, simply horrified, by the level of coverage, and which he blames for keeping him uninformed. There's simply no way of learning the facts, except from Joan Walsh!

    I'll try this one more time, take it or leave it. During recessions, government revenue falls, thanks to reduced tax receipts. At the same time, automatic government payments -- unemployment insurance, food stamps, etc. -- rise. All this leads to a loss of money.

    If that money isn't replenished with borrowing, to make up for the tax collection short-fall and the increased government outlays, government will need to fire public sector workers because, at the local level, public sector jobs -- teachers, fireman, police, etc. -- are by far the largest operating expense.

    But something funny happened. Public sector employment didn't actually fall in the early years of the (for example) Reagan-era recession. How could this be, if there was less money to pay public sector workers?

    The answer is, they were kept on the job by increased government borrowing. And what do we call government spending meant to offset reduced activity in the private sector? The usual description is "Keynesian".

    The only "essentially unrebutted point" Bob has made, is that he was confused the graph. That's perfectly valid. It's not a model of clarity, and he's entitled to remain willfully in the dark, especially if it provides him an opportunity to go after the usual suspects. Our national discourse would be so very different, if only we could get rid of Joan Walsh!

    As previously noted, if you want to feel sympathy for contemptible corporate media, including the contemptible Matthews-toady Joan Walsh, just tune in to The Daily Howler.

    1. You're wasting your breath, anon. When the leading economists of the Republican party have been making fatuous predictions for at least 30 years, you can't expect their rank and file to accept common sense.

      Reagan's tax cuts will decrease the deficit! Clinton's tax increases will bring about another Depression! Bush's tax cuts will spur a renaissance of job creation and besides, it's your money anyway! Obama's deficits will bring on hyperinflation and sky-high interest rates, 6 months from now (whenever 6 months is on the time-line)!

      The idea that increasing government spending during a recession to maintain public sector employment is actually a "stimulus" won't find many takers among this crowd, now that "stimulus" is a dirty word among Republicans.

      If these folks were intellectually honest, we could make them a simple proposition: forget about the public sector job growth seen in these earlier Republican administration. Just urge the Republican congress to restore 2008 levels of public sector employment for Obama, since Congresses during Republican presidencies gave that much to Republican presidents, just as those presidents demanded. And we promise not to use the word "stimulus".

      But of course they're not intellectually honest. Then again, we're all the same, according to Bob Somerby. What he doesn't consider is his own contribution to the general idiocy.

  10. You can drone and drone, but if government employment was flat during the recession, real government spending on employment was not being increased, and certainly not through Kenyesian stimulus.

  11. And if you say "they knew that the antidote to recession was government spending," the burden is on you to show that during the recession affirmative action was taken to increase spending.

    You haven't come close.

    By the way, that you borrow more when revenue is down doesn't increase spending.

    But that's math.

    It is apparently beyond you.

  12. By the way some more automatic stabilizers, "unemployment insurance, food stamps, etc" are not what we're talking about.

    They aren't what anyone means when they say "they knew that the antidote to recession was government spending."

    And they aren't what's the focus of the graph. They are irrelevant to the point.

    The graph shows flat employment during at least some of the adduced examples intended to demonstrate that "they knew that the antidote to recession was government spending" therefore IT DOESN'T SHOW THAT THEY KNEW THAT.


  13. Hey Bob,

    See what you've wrought? Forget Krugman. Lenny Bruce is now the economist of choice among your supporters, and ludicrous misreadings of plain English are counted as high functioning reading comprehension.

    How much long we hear from you that, while you don't know whether voodoo economics works or not, it got a bad rap from the liberal media?

    You're right about one thing, however: Margaret Mead would have a field day here.

    1. No, I can't contradict a thing! Bob was right, I was wrong. I have a touch more snark, but (i.e., because) I have no argument.

      I am The Anonymous Idiot

  14. Anonymous Idiots are smarter because we believe borrowing increases spending!

    Yes, we are apparently incapable of comprehending that increased borrowing can simply serve to keep spending where it was when other revenue sources have declined.

    We insist, because we are dopes or pretend to be, that if borrowing went up, spending must have too!

    It makes no sense, but we claim the problem is *your* reading comprehension.

    We are The Anonymous Idiots

    1. @The Anonymous Idiots

      If you believe what you say, you need to tell the Republicans that borrowing a few hundred billion to restore public sector employment to 2008 levels isn't really a spending increase, because all we're doing is borrowing, and not spending any more on it they we did in 2008. Keeping things even isn't a spending increase even if you have to increase spending to do it!

      It gets even better because by your logic we're not even running deficits -- the additional deficit spending thanks to the Depression isn't really spending, because we're not getting any more than we did when we were running far smaller deficits.

      Borrowing more is not spending more, even if you spend it!

      If you run your personal finances in this way, one would expect you're a ward of the state?

    2. Ah, Anonymous Idiot, you're such a joy to engage! That delightful nature! That abiding wisdom! That incisive wit!

      It's a basic tenet of Keynesian economics that when the private sector contracts, the public sector makes up the difference in spending. This is known as "stimulus". The fact that total absolute spending on select services or government employment may not exceed the pre-recession levels doesn't mean there's no stimulus going on.

      You, by contrast, insist that total spending in the economy (private and public combined) exceed the full-employment pre-recession level, in order to qualify as stimulus.

      This is a view uniquely held by you -- except maybe a few other Somerby proponents, assuming you're not the only way, and that you're not Bob.

      But never mind. After fouling this place unspeakably, you're welcome to it.

    3. You pretend the question was something other than this:

      "showing the rise in government employment"

      "they knew that the antidote to recession, and a contraction in business and consumer spending, was government spending, including government employment"

      You have to, though! Since on the merits of the post, you're wrong.

      So you pretend you were asked about stimulus.

      We noticed.

  15. You're really something, Anonymous Idiots.

    Remember when the Repubs where howling that the Obama stimulus, much of which was direct grants to states to avoid the public sector layoffs, represents runaway spending and is going to explode the deficit?

    If this money wasn't really additional spending and doesn't count as stimulus, because it was just maintaining baseline employment, did you explain to Mitchel McConnel and Eric Cantor that this borrowed money is nothing to worry about, that it's not really stimulus and is even increased spending?

  16. Hell, let's put it in even simpler language.

    The great state of Zoolandia suffers a housing crash, business dries up and there's no money for police, fireman and teachers, with all ripple effects those layoffs will have on the local economy.

    The Federal government comes along and says, since you, Zoolandia, can't find the money to pay those public sector workers, we, the Feds, will borrow an equivalent amount and give to you, which you won't have to pay back. In this way, Zoolandia will have enough to keep everyone employed, and things will continue, at least in the public sector, exactly as they did before the bust.

    The Anonymous Idiots, however, along with Bob Somerby apparently, are now claiming that because Zoolandia isn't spending any more than it did before the crash, it received no stimulus.

    True, there's no increase in total spending in Zoolandia, on public sector employment, because the layoffs were never allowed to actually take place. But that's not the right comparison. You need to compare what spending on public sector spending would have been WITHOUT Federal assistance, to public sector WITH assistance. The difference is the stimulus -- the spending which prevented the economy of Zoolandia from *really* going off the rails.

    But increased borrowing isn't increased spending, you continue to say? In that event, I give up on you.

    1. If you're claiming as they did, that there was an increase in government employment --

      what part, exactly, of the quote: "the rise in government employment" don't you understand???

      -- then it is EXACTLY "the right comparison"

      FAIL. AGAIN.

  17. If you go by deficits as a fraction of GDP, then the Reagan, Bush I and Bush II administrations were as Keynesian as the first two administrations of the New Deal (which of course was pre-Keynes). Government employment did drop somwhat more during the early 80's than it has in this recession, but not so much in other recessions. In both cases it was most a matter of local, not state or federal government.

    Republican lawmakers are Keynesian (in favor of government spending) when a Republican is President or when the spending is in their own districts; anti-Keynesian otherwise.

    1. You don't get it, bro. It matters not a whit that government spending and public sector employment increased far more under Reagan and both Bushes, than Obama -- that, in fact, public sector employment has actually dropped sharply under Obama, in stark contrast to Saint Ronald, whenever the line may climb (the Anonymous Idiots here demand immediately results, even before the first budget goes in!).

      But at The Daily Howler, it's all about Joan. If Joan says Repubs are really Keynesians, we have to find a way to argue against that notion, no matter how ridiculous that might make us.

      The only anti-Republican trope acceptable to Our Bob (though apparently not to his fans here) is the "looting" of GSS by Bain Capital. And if you don't use that word, you're no better than Joan.

      So yeah. Republicans are Keynesians, when in power. But what about Joan?

    2. My hero Joan Walsh can't be wrong, she can't be!!!


    3. "the antidote to recession"

      The "antidote" can come *after* the recession is over!

      Joan said it.
      I believe it.
      That settles it.

  18. Witness here the utter irresponsibility of Bob Somerby, in freely confessing he doesn't know the facts about stimulus or public sector employment, but who posts his prejudices anyway, inviting this onslaught of financially illiterate, offensive backtalk among the pro-Somerby camp, reaching levels of heretofore unattained stupidity and ignorance, compounded by the usual intellectual dishonesty.

    And will there be a correction from Bob Somerby, a confession that attacking media figures when you don't understand the substance of the claims, is very foolish?

    Maybe so, when hell freezes over, because when it comes to Somerby, we're in the blame-free zone: everybody is at fault but for Somerby.

    And to think, anybody ever took this guy seriously.

  19. "showing the rise in government employment"

    "they knew that the antidote to recession, and a contraction in business and consumer spending, was government spending, including government employment"

    WE pretend we can't read.

    We'll pretend ANYTHING to continue our love fest with Walsh, our loathing of Somerby!

    Though Greg may have abandoned us, perhaps embarrassed by our obdurate exhibition of willful misunderstanding and misrepresentation, we remain...

    The Anonymous Idiots

    1. A substantive reply to you, Idiot, is a proven waste of time, so let's conclude by noting that your incoherence, flatulence and effortlessly offensive approach to public discourse may, some day, be of passing posthumous interest to Margaret Mead.

    2. "A substantive reply" is EXACTLY what you haven't got.

  20. After reading the original post, and the various contributions of the Somerby faction, with their novel understanding of macro-economics (did you folks confer ahead of time, to develop these new understandings, or is just the same person, over and over again?), I think we could say without prejudice that Al Gore did a terrible thing, when he invented the internet.

  21. Look everyone, the issue here is pretty simple.

    Joan Walsh said:

    "Those Republican presidents were die-hard Keynesians, no matter what their rhetoric pretended, and they knew that the antidote to recession, and a contraction in business and consumer spending, was government spending, including government employment."

    Ezra Klein said:

    "As you can see, government employment tends to rise during recessions, helping to cushion their impact."

    Did, in fact, government spending and government employment INCREASE during recessions under past republican presidents? If not, then "liberal" heroes Walsh and Klein are badly mistaken, at best, and baldly dishonest, at worst. Is Somerby correct that this sort of incompetence and/or dishonesty from our "liberal" heroes is something we should be concerned about? If not, why should we not be concerned?

    1. No, employment *stressed* by Walsh, did NOT go up.

      It increased ONLY AFTER some recessions ended.

      The graph doesn't show what she wants.

  22. Yes, government spending increased under all recessions presided over by Republican presidents of the last 30 years, and government employment increased significantly in each of these administrations, though the timing of that employment growth can vary from administration to administration.

    In no event, however, did government employment over the term of these Republican presidents drop, has it has, steeply, for Obama.

    Is that sufficient?

    1. NO, it isn't because you're still wrong.

      Walsh stressed employment.

      She said it rose.

      Walsh said it rose as an antidote to recession.

      Walsh pointed to this graph.

      The graph shows, instead, employment NOT rising as an antidote applied during the recessions, but staying flat.

      The graph shows, contra Walsh, that government applied an "antidote" of increasing employment only AFTER the recessions had ended.

      You can keep talking, but you can't have your own facts.

    2. Oh dear, what a brazen liar you are.

      2 of 3 the Republican adminstrations featured in Klein's graph show IMMEDIATE increases in public sector employment.

      Reagan, the exception, merely sustained pre-recession levels of public sector employment with -- you guessed it! -- stimulus and increased spending.

      And Bob, feckless self-anointed pundit that he is, stands by, all innocent of the lies his supporters promote here and which he encouraged, and says not a word.

      Now that's integrity!

    3. "In fact, we see no sign in Klein’s graph that “total government employment” rose during the recession which started in 1981. Three years in, employment seems to be down by one percent. Nor so we see any vast increase in government employment during the Bush 41 recession, the one which started in 1990. Roughly two years into that recession, it looks like “total government employment” had risen by one percent."

      Somerby: correct.

      You and Walsh: wrong.

      Your ability to point to a "lie": non-existent.

      The relevance of "stimulus" to the question of "the antidote to recession was government employment?": nil.

      If the big employment rises come *after* the end of the recessions, that means they *weren't* used as the antidote in those cases.

  23. "the timing of that employment growth can vary"

    Translation: The "antidote" can be administered after the recession is already over!

    1. For the nth and last time, your hero, Saint Ronald, sustained pre-recession levels of public sector employment with stimulus -- otherwise, public sector employment would have dropped sharply.

      The other two Republican presidents, as you conveniently ignore, oversaw *immediate* public sector growth.

      But what's reality, for right-wing trolls? Merely an inconvenience!

    2. For the nth time, Yes, you concur:

      Walsh is NOT correct about "the timing of that employment growth."

      To contradict you is not to imply sainthood for anyone, it is merely to observe you intransigent stupidity -- Somerby was right; you and Walsh, wrong.

  24. I can't believe we are still arguing over two simple facts, and if we can't even resolve these after over 50 comments, maybe we "progressives" should consider just packing it in.

    2 Questions, yes or no:

    Did public sector employment increase during recessions under past republican presidents?

    Did government spending increase during past recessions under republican presidents?

    Are "progressives" even capable of agreeing on what should be two straightforward factual questions? Can we be the reality-based community that we imagine ourselves to be?

    1. But you know full well that we're not having a debate among "progressives". There is no debate -- none -- in the reality-based community that government spending and public sector employment increased under Republican administrations, that such spending had a stimulus effect, and that these policies are "Keynesian", whether Republicans like the word or not.

      The dispute is between progressives infuriated by Bob Somerby, and right-wingers drawn to the site because of it's criticism of the "liberal media".

      If you, a self-described progressive, can consult the data and read through those 50+ posts and still believe the pro-Somerby faction is arguing in good faith, we "progressives" truly *are* doomed.

    2. Asked: "Did public sector employment increase *during* *recessions*?"

      Answered: "employment increased under Republican *administrations*"

      Now, you can ask, WHY does he change "during recessions" to "under administrations?"

      Because he's pretending.
      Somerby's original post was correct.
      Walsh erred.

    3. See, you're still not answering the relevant questions, and I'm not sure if this is deliberate obfuscation or if I just haven't been explicitly clear about the exact questions that are at issue here.

      Bob has been concerned of late that progressives don't really know how to talk about, much less persuade those who don't agree with us, substantive policy issues. Before we can have a broader discussion about policy, we have to be sure we aren't wrong on fundamental facts.

      So, I will try again, attempting to be more explicit.

      DURING THE RECESSION in Pres. Reagan's term, were there more total government employees (fed and state) then there were before the recession began? Did the government spend more money DURING THE RECESSION than it did immediately before?

      and then the same for the recessions of Bush1 and Bush2.

      Before we progressives can begin to discuss economic policy as a whole, we have to be clear about what the basic facts are, and getting those wrong, even if in the service of a larger truth about the benefits of Keynesian stimulus, will only serve to discredit us.

  25. I can't bear for Somerby's original post to be correct.

    Anyone who points this out must be a right-winger.

  26. I'm as puzzled as majneb.

    Putting aside anon's argument that preventing public sector employment from falling in a recession also represents a stimulus andis also Keynesian, what is the position of the anti-Keynesians for the two other Republican administrations?

    Are you guys arguing that the two other Republican adminstrations didn't see rapid and immediate growth in public sector employment? Or just that Walsh is wrong about Reagan, despite the immediate stimulative effect of the Reagan deficits?

  27. Walsh made a broad statement about what the graph showed about government employment increases.

    She was wrong in at least two of the instances: there was not a significant increase *during* the Reagan or Bush I recessions. There is tepid growth during the Bush I recession, but it is very weak and hardly the stuff that makes a good argument that there was a pro-government growth stimulative agenda at work -- it's below population growth rates, for sure. The Reagan recession didn't have gov't employment growth, it had decline.

    Any real significant increases came after the recessions were already over. You really can't say about those two cases that the administrations increased government employment as an antidote to the recessions -- that they were trying to use an increase in government employment as a Keynesian way to get out of recession. You can't say it, because the employment boom came after, not during, the recessions.

    Somerby called the 3rd GOP case in the graph an "outlier."


    That case is Bush II. There *is* a sustained increase there, and during the recession. Even so, there is reason to doubt the Walsh meme. Did Bush II increase government employment quickly because he thought growing the government was a good way to combat the recession? Or was it significantly due to post-9/11 security concerns?

    You can ignore the question if you like. It sounds like a legitimate one to me.

    NONE of the soi-disant "progressives" have made a case against Somerby's point: this is very sloppy work indeed.

    Frankly, the idea that one must accept Walsh's (or Klein's) flimsy story here to be a legitimate progressive (as at least one individual above has implied) is a grotesque inversion of reality.

    To state the obvious:

    Observing that the case regarding GOP gov't employment growth stimulation as made by Walsh and Klein is very weak is *not* the same as thinking that Keynesian stimulus doesn't work.

    These clowns then have the temerity to call those who call out their many-layered bullshit, "right wing."

    Their own distortions and misdirections have been multiple -- recounting them here is beside the point, but...

    1) changing the subject from employment to spending
    2) miscounting debt as spending
    3) pretending timing wasn't important

    have all been employed in an attempt to defend the shoddy work by Walsh and Klein.

    And yet.

    Bob Somerby was correct.

    To say so though, well, it marks one as a sheep, a Somerby fanboy, and it would seem a "right winger." Welcome to the world of the American self-styled "progressive."

    1. This "self-styled progressive" would suggest you examine Obama's public sector employment record, to get a good sense of what happens to employment levels when Keynesian stimulus runs out in a recession.

      Flat employment (as in the case of the early Reagan years) or rising employment (as in the case of Bush I and II) represents, by contrast, Keynes at work and represents anywhere from .5 to 1% in the nationwide unemployment rate -- a huge number of workers. One could also argue that rising employment in the later Reagan years was also designed as stimulus -- you don't have to be in a recession, to seek stimulus -- but never mind.

      It's so much more important to talk about Joan Walsh -- in a medium which necessarily trades in generalities. In standard Howler fashion, the only thing of value is to subject the utterances of people Bob insists on calling liberals to literal and perverse levels of scrutiny.

      And of course, there's a reason why some here love to focus on such matters -- because it makes it so much easier to deny policy realities.

      But never mind. How about we all agree that, despite running huge deficits and vastly increasing public employment rolls, Republicans aren't really Keynesians, because Joan Walsh said something or other.

    2. In the first sentence of this post which has spawned such a lengthy comments section, Somerby asks "Do our liberal intellectual leaders actually know what they’re talking about?"

      I think we can all agree that Joan Walsh and Ezra Klein, regardless of whether they deserve to be, are both widely recognized, high profile liberal pundits. Unfortunately, in attempting to support the principles of Keynesian economics, they made some important factual blunders and overstatements. How much of this was a result of incompetence and how much the result of dishonesty is not clear, but it is hard to argue that having "liberal intellectual leaders" of this sort is something not to be concerned with.

    3. Right on manjeb.

      At the last, the reflex Somerby detractors have retreated to their final position:

      They're wrong on the facts, but Somerby should shut up anyway.

      It's "perverse scrutiny" to point out their errors.

      The only reason to point out Walsh's or Klein's error is "to deny policy realities."

      That NOT ONE POST correcting the many Somerby detractors shows *any* evidence of disagreement on the policy matter of whether Keyensian stimulus is effective is irrelevant, apparently.

      The most recent corrective post EVEN EXPLICITLY STATED "Observing that the case regarding GOP gov't employment growth stimulation as made by Walsh and Klein is very weak is *not* the same as thinking that Keynesian stimulus doesn't work."

      But whatever.

      The evidence is that they're here to bash Somerby and anyone who might agree with him, not discuss anything.

    4. Sorry majneb about the typo.

    5. @majneb

      Unfortunately, your assessment makes both unwarranted assumptions and completely ignores the dishonesty and sophistry found in many of the preceding 60+ posts.

      The fact that Joan Walsh and Ezra Klein are employed by corporate America does not make them persons who have to be answered for by liberals or progressives. When you claim that "we can agree that Joan Walsh and Ezra Klein, regardless of whether they deserve to be, are both widely recognized, high profile liberal pundits," I'm not sure who you're speaking for, other than yourself. If they're "widely recognized" it's only because corporate America has chosen to make them so. If you want to debate liberal economists, I suggest you check out Dean Baker, Jamie Galbraith or Paul Krugman. They're also "widely recognized", but for reasons of achievement, not corporate convenience.

      More to the point, the vast bulk of discussion in this thread does not concern what Joan Walsh did or didn't say. It involves, rather, the nature of Republican administrations and basic economics, contains many absurd claims and non sequiturs.

      You haven't attempted to address any of these claims. And you may have noticed that those who adopt Somerby's point of view have yet to concede that Republican administrations run large deficits and increase public sector employment as a matter of policy -- that Republicans are, in fact, Keynesians when in power.

      And it's no coincidence that they don't. Bob Somerby ended his post by acknowledging that, as usual, he doesn't know the facts of the matter.

      His supporters, by contrast, claim they do know the facts of the matter. And the facts, according to them, is that reality is what they say it is.

      Until you're prepared to take on and examine their assertions, one by one, it's a little silly to come here and purport to rule on the discussion. While I confess to despising the man and his tactics, we're not really talking about Bob Somerby at this point. We're talking about a pile of nonsense, adduced by Somerby's supporters, to deny the basic facts of Republican governance. Just start reading at the toip.

      Until you're prepared to take on that pile of waste, assess its truthfully, and the good faith of those who make such arguments, kindly spare the rest of us your Solomonic rulings.

    6. You got nothing, 10:02.

      It's not a matter of "conceding that Republican administrations run large deficits."

      Walsh made specific claims about government employment during recessions.

      Those claims were wrong.

      Somerby pointed it out.

      A lot of effort was expended in trying to deny Somerby was correct.

      That's all been refuted.

      It's only your effort now to deny this that falls under the heading "reality is what you say it is."

      You have nothing at all in your supposed "pile of nonsense" from Somerby's supporters.

      You have no one at all "denying basic facts of Republican governance."

      You've got, as always, nothing.

  28. I can't remember whether the "you got nothing" guy is Sherrlock or Swan (or maybe Bob Somerby?), but it hardly matters, the tune is all too familiar.

    As usual, you declare victory, all arguments vanquished because you say so, and therefore it must be so.

    If one accepts that Republican administrations don't give a damn about deficits and pursue Keynesian economic policies, either consciously or as a analog to crony capitalism, than nothing either Klein or Walsh said is wrong in any serious way. Krugman says much the same thing -- that Republicans don't give a damn about deficits and pursue Keynesian policies when in power -- but no doubt Dr. K. also has "got nothing".

    To arrive at the opposite conclusion, you've got to accept the aforementioned pile of nonsense, which passes for "economics" in this thread. We're talking about absurd claims that increased borrowing doesn't mean increased government spending (hell, we're just borrowing for the heck of it!; the money stays in the vault!). And because employment doesn't go it, there can't be any stimulus in place. Preventing job losses isn't stimulus!

    You get the idea: one absurdity after another. But as you say, anybody who doesn't take your point of view has "got nothing", so that pretty much ends it.

    Good luck, Swan. Or is it sherrlock? Or Bob? No matter, it's all one big happy family here.

    1. Hey, try your hand at some math:

      "If in the non-recessionary year 5000 the gov't gets $100 in revenue, and borrows $30, and spends both the financing and revenue streams, that's $130 in spending.

      If in the year 5001 there's a recession and revenue is only $80, and the gov't increases borrowing to $50, and spends both the financing and revenue streams, that's still $130 in spending."

      "absurd claims that increased borrowing doesn't mean increased government spending"

      Borrowing: Increased by $20.
      Spending: Flat.

      "One absurd claim after another."

      You're a self-caricature.

      A cipher, dressed as a clown, who fancies himself a genius.

      All arguments aren't vanquished because I say say so. Yours is vanquished because it's nothing at all. Bring something next time.

  29. "To arrive at the opposite conclusion" -- where is that happening other than in your head?

    You are changing the subject, again. Not a good strategy. The refuge of someone who has no case. Who's got nothing.

    Walsh's claim. The graph. It's about employment growth during recessions.

    "Republicans don't give a damn about deficits" is what you want to talk about, because you're wrong on the merits of the argument about Somerby's post.

    Arguments you refuse to address.

    Except with tripe such as "absurd claims that increased borrowing doesn't mean increased government spending" -- But it doesn't, of course.

    If you can't do math, just admit it.

    "June 17, 2012 9:04 AM" laid waste to your nonsense.

    Only for people who can do math, of course.

    Revenue: down 20%; Borrowing: up 67%; Spending: flat.

    When you can do math, come back to us.

    You've loved to imply "right wing" as an epithet. Or accuse adoration of "Saint Ronnie" Reagan.

    Which of course makes it doubly hilarious when you are the only one to have appealed to the GOP as an authority on anything: "tell the Republicans that borrowing a few hundred billion isn't really a spending increase."

    Hilarious, because you're wrong -- borrowing isn't spending.

    Hilarious again, because you say "tell the Republicans" -- they're *your* go-to-guys on economic sense -- not mine.

    Identity is important to you? You don't have one. In fact, you've got nothing.

  30. sherrlock, Swan, Bob, whoever:

    This is positively my last post on this subject, but I would simply inquire, for your future reference, whether you believe these that tough-guy video game frothings ("you ain't got nothing!", etc.) and your adding of two and three digit numbers in public, convinces anyone of anything?

    The devastating "June 17, 2012 9:04 AM" post which supposedly savages my position is no doubt your own sterling contribution, and I don't have the heart or the patience to revisit it. One wouldn't have supposed that arithmetic principles which were settled several thousand years ago would have be re-argued here, but live and learn.

    One wonders, in passing, whether you take actually this nonsense seriously, or it's just a rhetorical strategy, to exhaust and demoralize the opposition. Not that it matters much.

    On the other hand, this thread (and, of course, many others) is a defining illustration of the self-serving irrelevance of the Somerby program. While it's certainly true that the voters who ultimately decide American elections, the ones who routinely vote against their own interests, are not of your stripe, and wouldn't make these kinds of arguments, there's no means of reaching them. All one can encounter in the public sphere are your types, who drown out everyone else with bluster, novel innovations in arithmetic and cowboy locutions. Hell, it worked great for GWB, so perhaps that's the plan. Remember "fuzzy math"?

    But no matter. This is how the world works. Anyone who looks today to the public sphere for satisfaction is going to live a very disappointing life.

  31. "I don't have the heart or the patience to revisit it."

    You never "visited" it in the first instance.

    You appeared to think self-confident ridicule would carry the day.

    You (or anyone at all of course) are welcome to point out any "innovations in arithmetic," any at all. No one has, and no one will.

    The disappearance of your substance-free contributions will be welcome, and whether you intend it or not will be taken as concession.

  32. I Solomonically rule this thread extinguished!!

  33. Much of the problem with this blog is that Somerby is frequently unclear and erratic in his writing. It is often very hard to even know what he is getting at.