Walking Backwards with Senator Whitehouse

Eyeglasses with newspaper and coffee cup

Ever since the start of the Great Recession, liberals have claimed austerity is either happening or on the rise. On Tuesday, the Senate Budget Committee held a hearing on the alleged negative effects of austerity in Europe.

The hearing would have been useful for the viewing public, had Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) not launched into a completely dishonest seven-minute rant against one of the witnesses, Salim Furth of The Heritage Foundation.

The Senator’s lecture can be seen in its entirety at the link above, but here are the basics from a Budget Committee aide:

  1. Furth used OECD data to show there has been little austerity in Europe since the start of the recession – in fact, most nations have increased spending.
  2. What “austerity” has taken place are primarily tax increases, not spending cuts.
  3. Thus, austerity can’t account for Europe’s slow recovery.

So far, simple, right? Enter stage right, Senator Whitehouse:

  1. Senator Whitehouse lectured Furth on his own version of OECD data, which shows austerity is widespread in Europe.
  2. Thus, Furth’s data and conclusions are wrong.
  3. Senator Whitehouse then harangued Furth, including by telling him the Senator contested “whether you have given us fair and accurate information.”

According to the aide – and Furth in a response at Heritage’s blog – it is the Senator who is actually being dishonest and presenting inaccurate information. While Furth’s data is of past actions, the majority of Senator Whitehouse’s information is for expected budgetary actions. From Furth:

My data were dated—clearly—as changes from 2007 to 2012. The title of the graphic I used reads, “Most governments have increased spending since 2007.” It says “2007–2012” on each axis. Not subtle.

Senator Whitehouse’s numbers, which he provided Tuesday evening, are also clearly labeled. In the subtitle, it identifies that the changes are dated “2009–2016.”

That’s a big difference.

Furth also notes that the Senator is considering coming down from historically high spending as “austerity”:

Between 2007 and 2009, many countries, including the U.S., implemented large temporary deficit spending increases. When dating from a point at which spending was temporarily high, it’s easy to find spending reductions.

If you see a man taking two steps forward and one step back, do you say he is walking backward? Senator Whitehouse wants to consider only the step back without taking into account the two steps forward that most countries took.

Unfortunately, much of the damage has been done to public understanding of the facts. New York Times blogger Paul Krugman, who should know better given his Nobel Prize in Economics, called Furth’s information “false, deliberately misleading data and analysis” at his blog. Over at the Washington Post Wonk Blog, Dylan Matthews – who should also know better, writing for a “wonk” site – gave Senator Whitehouse’s argument a long defense. And Huffington Post’s readers were given a definitively one-sided view of the dispute.

Senator Whitehouse’s dishonest rant is exactly why so many Americans distrust Congress. Rather than rely on facts, the Senator used his bully pulpit to mislead the public. Add the sycophantic repetition of his lies by Krugman, Matthews, and Huffington Post; it’s easy to explain why the American people don’t trust the media much, either.