The Corner

Correcting Mr. Chait

Jonathan Chait has posted this on the website of TNR:

Atlantic writer and gritty third base coach Ross Douthat uncovers [a] staggering case of hackery. Hoover Institution Fellow and sometime economic advisor to prominent Republicans John Cogan has produced a chart purporting to bolster the common conservative argument that domestic spending has exploded during George W. Bush’s presidency. In a laudatory interview on National Review Online, Cogan is asked:

Q:  The chart shows the increase in spending in dollar terms.  Haven’t you been able to find a chart that shows the increase in spending as a proportion of GDP?

A:  No, I haven’t­not in the time I’ve had available for Googling this weekend, which, since I’ve been scrambling to get the family ready to go back East for a couple of weeks (we’re off at 4.30 this very morning) amounted to a little under half an hour.  Sorry about that.  And I’ll check in the from the beach when I can.

But I didn’t post an interview with John Cogan.  Not at all.  Instead I posted a chart from an article that John Cogan and Glenn Hubbard recently published.  Then, after readers peppered me with questions about the chart, I posted replies to a few of the most common queries.  Several of the answers incorporated clarifications I’d received in swapping emails with John Cogan, but all were my own answers.  (The context made this quite clear—at one point in the post, after all, I quote the Cogan and Hubbard article, introducing the quotation with the very explicit words, “Here’s the way John Cogan and Glenn Hubbard put it.”)  It wasn’t John Cogan who’d proven unable to find a chart showing spending as a proportion of GDP, it was this writer.  (John Cogan, who served in the Reagan Office of Management and the Budget,  knows more about the federal budget than all but half a dozen people other people on the planet.)  And when a reader happened to send me info on spending as a proportion of GDP, I went right ahead and posted it.

Now, back to the family vacation.

Peter Robinson — Peter M. Robinson is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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