Like Pepperidge Farm, Ezra Klein remembers!


Feared deficits when he was six: What kind of a writer is Ezra Klein?

At this point, we aren’t sure. For our money, his most memorable moments have earned him demerits; we refer to the various times he fawned to the wondrously sincere Paul Ryan, presumably because he wanted to keep his journalistic life lines open.

We’re also struck by the way The Channel is trying to construct a broadcast persona for Klein—essentially, is trying to turn him into a more useful Mouseketeer. For our money, it isn’t yet working.

Darling Rachel lives to snark. When the same kind of snark is written for Klein, it comes out not sounding sincere.

Has Ezra Klein made a real journalistic contribution (yet)? If so, we don’t know what it is. Yesterday, he offered this piece atop page one of the Washington Post’s Business section. And uh-oh!

Just like that, Dean Baker tore it apart. (Headline: Can We Cut the Crap on Robert Rubin and Deficit Reduction?)

Does Ezra know what he’s talking about? Yesterday, Baker said no; for ourselves, we’re not always real sure. That said, we chuckled at the way Klein’s analysis started. We’ll use the headline which appeared in our hard-copy Post:
KLEIN (1/17/13): The deficit is familiar, but the danger is different

Back in the 1990s, we knew why we feared deficits. They raised interest rates and “crowded out” private borrowing. This wasn’t an abstract concern. In 1991, the interest rate on 10-year Treasurys was 7.86 percent. That meant the interest rate for private borrowing was, for the most part, much higher, choking off investment and economic growth.
Back in the 1990s, we knew why we feared deficits? Who’s that “we,” Kemosabe? Just like that, Ezra seems to refer to something we knew in 1991. But uh-oh:

Based upon this winning profile of Klein, he was only 6 at the time!

Inevitably, people who rule the world at age 25 will emit the occasional howler. We think Julia Ioffe’s profile of Klein is funny and fair—but for our money, she left one obvious question unasked and unanswered:
IOFFE (2/12/13): When he works, Klein rarely looks up from his computer and his knee rarely stops bouncing. He is usually on the phone, listening and banging away at his keyboard with two index fingers, in the hunt-and-peck fashion. Occasionally, he walks over to the TV mini-studio in the newsroom to “do a hit” for MSNBC. He is a polished, fluent speaker, but while he waits to come on, he sits perfectly still, his hands clasped on the table in front of him, staring straight ahead at the camera and breathing almost yogically. I watched him do this for a good five minutes as his appearance kept getting pushed back. He didn’t flinch. “I tease him that he is like Mork,” says Kelly Johnson, who edits his Post column. “He arrived on the planet as perfectly formed Ezra!”

He didn’t. Growing up in Irvine, California, where his father was a math professor, Klein was—in his own words—“a chunky nerd.” He was also a lousy student, graduating high school with a 2.2 GPA. But he read a lot, mostly bad science fiction...

At the University of California, Santa Cruz—the only school that would accept him—Klein didn’t quite fit in.
Our question—why did someone as bright and (apparently) as driven as Klein have a 2.2 GPA in high school? It seems like an obvious question. Brian Williams to the side, most modern mega-achievers have been plotting their rise to the top since third grade at the latest. We’re puzzled by the low achievement of Klein’s early years, followed by the orgy of writing and networking which soon took him there.

That said, does Ezra know what he’s talking about? More significantly, does he have a real contribution to make? We expect to do a series of posts on Ioffe’s profile at some point, since we thought it raised some great points. But we recommend her piece now.

Does Ezra know what he’s talking about? Yesterday, Baker said no, but that’s neither here nor there. Ezra did know why we feared deficits back when he was in the first grade! That said, how much can the gentleman tell us now—and is he fashioning himself just a bit of a hack, as Ioffe so slightly suggests?


  1. The current deficit isn't crowding out other borrowing, because the entire deficit is being covered by printing new money. The Fed is creating new money at a rate of $85 billion/month, or $1.02 trillion/year. That's pretty close to the level of the federal deficit.

    The trouble is, we can't print money forever. What happens when we stop printing money? Will interest rates soar? Will it cause a new recession?

    Or, will we just keep on printing money until the value of the dollar is undermined?

  2. Often he does know what he's talking about, or at least gets it right. His data-based approach is far superior to the seat-of-the-pants economics of most reporters, and that aspect apparently has made an impact. But he doesn't necessarily have a coherent world view, and gets it wrong when he sees a chance to build bridges to the DC press establishment, or, unfortunately, the debt-deficit obsessives in the administration or centrist policy organizations.

  3. Klein wrote a sort of an existential cri de couer back when he and Young Master Yglesias were writing for, I think, Slate in their Corner-esque feature.

    Klein mused on his role in the war, likening himself to some random elf shooting arrows against the waves of orcs coming in. He wondered about whether he was doing anything of merit or if it was worth it, but he decided to soldier on.

    If you're looking for insight into Klein, it would be a good article to track down. (I did a quick Google to provide a link. I don't, at the moment, have the time or inclination to mount a full search.)

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