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Economist Wars At The MRC

Amid its touting of biased economists who peddle right-wing, anti-Biden narratives, the Media Research Center obsessively attacked Paul Krugman for not playing along -- and ignored Larry Kudlow apologizing for his doomsday economic predictions.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 5/17/2024

Joseph Vazquez

One of the things the Media Research Center loves to do when talking down the economy for partisan gain is to call on economists to repeat those right-wing talking points without explaining that they are also partisan actors as evidenced by their employment with right-wing think tanks. Joseph Vazquez dutifully did just that in an Aug. 24 post:
The Washington Post’s third-rate “fact-checker” Glenn Kessler butchered the facts when he claimed that the sky-high inflation brought on by Bidenomics barely made a dent in Americans’ spending power. Economists interviewed by MRC Business were having none of it.

Kessler went after presidential candidate Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) for his nuanced assertion during the GOP presidential primary debate that the average American family has lost “$10,000 of spending power” in President Joe Biden’s economy. “This seems wildly overstated,” objected Kessler. He then attributed Scott’s argument to an analysis by Heritage Foundation Research Fellow EJ Antoni, estimating that American families have lost roughly $7,000 in spending power since Biden first took office. Without being specific, Kessler vaguely pointed to some string of “economists we contacted [who] were dubious about the math, which relied on a change in purchasing power and a change in borrowing power.” But Kessler’s true-to-form retort to protect Biden would be fallacy-riddled and devoid of context that would actually blow up his argument.

MRC Business reached out to Antoni, who, in his response, didn’t mince words about Kessler’s shoddy argument. Kessler’s assessment of the numbers is “just flat-out wrong,” rebuked Antoni. Kessler “should know better,” Antoni reproached. “I literally explained [my calculations] to him both on the phone and via email in a previous conversation. I explained how these figures are actually calculated.”


Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Brian Riedl was blunt in comments to MRC Business that Scott was correct in his assessment and Kessler was wrong:
I understood Sen. Scott to suggest that inflation has cost the typical household roughly $10,000 in higher prices over the past two years. Using the economist rule of thumb that each 1% of higher inflation costs the typical household $650 annually (which renews the next year as prices remain elevated) produces a figure of roughly $10,000 in higher prices (compared to under the typical 2% inflation) since Biden took office. Sen. Scott is correct,[emphasis added].

Vazquez failed to disclose that both the Heritage Foundation and the Manhattan Institute are both right-wing institutions whose paid economists would be expected to follow right-wing talking points.

Vazquez pulled the same stunt again -- using one of those very same economists -- in a Sept. 19 post:

Philadelphia Inquirer national columnist Will Bunch gaslit the American public in an outrageous full-throated defense of “Bidenomics.” 

Bunch’s Sept. 14 column headline speaks for itself: “The problem with ‘Bidenomics’? It didn’t go far enough.” The columnist doubled down on his absurd logic in the sub-headline: “New census data shows how ‘Bidenomics’ was helping America's working class and poor — until a key anti-poverty program was killed.” Economists interviewed by MRC Business showed why the argument was nonsense.


“If [not expanding the Child Tax Credit] were the only reason [for the increased poverty rate], then poverty rates would’ve simply returned to the level they were at before Biden’s expanded child tax credit,”Heritage Foundation economist EJ Antoni told MRC. “Instead, poverty rates greatly increased. What changed was inflation.” 

Antoni ripped Bunch for deceiving readers into believing that anything other than the inflation crisis was responsible for the spike in poverty:


Center for Freedom and Prosperity President Dan Mitchell pointed MRC Business to three analyses he conducted illustrating why Biden’s “per-child handouts” Bunch haphazardly celebrated were a textbook case of government stupidity, not benevolence. “The bottom line is that the United States already has a big problem with government dependency. Per-child handouts will make a bad situation even worse,” Mitchell wrote in a June 27, 2021 blog post. Mitchell also directed MRC Business to an X post by American Enterprise Institute Center on Opportunity and Social Mobility Director Scott Winship, who directly addressed the propaganda Bunch was pushing: “You'd be wrong if you think the expiration of the expanded CTC was the most important factor in raising SPM child poverty or if you think child poverty would have fallen had it not expired.”

The Center for Freedom and Prosperity is also a right-wing group, which Vazquez failed to disclose. He also included a quote from the Wall Street Journal editorial board, which of course is also right-wing -- and whose political slant went undisclosed.

Tom Olohan touted another right-wing economist repeating right-wing talking points in an Oct. 30 post:

Economist Stephen Moore pointed out Monday that despite government subsidies and companies pushing electric vehicles (EVs), Americans are rejecting them.

Moore told Fox Business anchor Stuart Varney on the Oct. 30 edition of Varney & Co. that extremely generous federal and state subsidies for electric cars have not been enough to push Americans towards them, simply because “car buyers do not want” electric vehicles. After mentioning that only 10% of cars being sold “off of lots” are electric vehicles, Moore said, “I’ve talked to dealers around the country, auto dealers, and they are telling me they have lots full of EVs, Stuart, and people come in and they say, ‘Wait a minute, I want to buy a gas car where are they?’ ‘Oh we don’t have many of those, but are you interested in this EV over here?’ And people say, ‘No, I don't want it.’”
As usual, Olohan didn't disclose Moore's partisan bias. Instead, he hyped how Moore used a separate column to "compare[] the present push to electric vehicles to the disastrous launch of the Ford Edsel Sedan." Olohan didn't bother fact-check Moore, otherwise he would have known Moore got basic facts wrong, starting with the name "Ford Edsel sedan." In fact, Edsel was a separate nameplate Ford tried to launch in the late 1950s; there was never anything called a "Ford Edsel," and the nameplate offered a full range of vehicles, not just sedans. In the column Olohan referenced, Moore falsely claimed only 10,000 Edsels were sold; in fact, about 116,000 were sold over the three years the nameplate existed. Moore also blamed Edsel's failure on company executives not "bother[ing] to ask car buyers what THEY thought of the new car"; more prominent factors include the fact that the cars were overhyped prior to launch, Edsel's place in Ford's brand hierarchy was not well defined, and the brand was introduced during a recession at a time the U.S. auto market was undergoing a brand shakeout.

Vazquez trotted out Antoni again in a Dec. 13 post for more recitation of talking points:

There seems to be no end in sight for the media gaslighting on President Joe Biden’s abysmal economy. One economist has had it.

Business Insider had the audacity to publish an asinine piece of economic propaganda Dec. 3 that reeked of a public relations stunt by Biden’s press team: “After 3 years of pain, America has finally achieved economic nirvana.” The author, Renaissance Macro Research Head of Economics Neil Dutta, celebrated how supposedly “[t]he signs of a well-balanced economy are everywhere.” He continued: “Current economic data is consistent with a soft landing for the economy — a situation in which inflation cools without causing a recession or sudden spike in unemployment.” 

But Heritage Foundation Public Finance Economist EJ Antoni laid waste to Dutta’s argument in an exclusive interview with MRC Business: “Articles like that can only be written by those who are woefully ignorant of the data at every level.”

Antoni was right on target.

“The most obvious example” of Dutta’s illusory “nirvana” was “the slowdown in inflation,” cherry-picking how core consumer prices — which excludes food and energy — allegedly rose at “an annualized rate of 2.8 percent since June.” Of course, nowhere did Dutta mention that prices are still up 17.6 percent since Biden took office.

It's ironic that Vazquez called Dutta's piece "economic propaganda" -- even though he and Antoni are being paid to push their own economic propaganda that is deliberately designed to hurt President Biden's chances of re-election.

In none of these posts were the targets of the MRC and its favored economists given an opportunity to respond to their criticism.

MRC's year of Krugman-bashing

The MRC has a bizarrely deep animus toward New York Times economics columnist Paul Krugman, which showed itself repeatedly over the past year. Vazquez, the MRC’s biggest victim of Krugman Derangement Syndrome, ranted in a January 2023 post:

The often wrong but never in doubt New York Times economics columnist Paul Krugman is clearly neck-deep in denial about how bad the Biden economy really is. He whipped out a new catch-all to accuse so-called “election deniers” of also being “economy deniers.”

Krugman railed in his Jan. 9 column, “Election Deniers Are Also Economy Deniers,” that “G.O.P. economic views are almost as divorced from reality as their political fantasies are.” It’s a mystery how Krugman can legitimately bellyache about people being “divorced from reality” in the face of his own dirty laundry list of terrible “transitory” inflation calls and gaslighting Americans on a made-up “Biden boom” in 2022. But Krugman, suffering from a complete lack of self-awareness, babbled against Republican congressional members for daring to “believe that the U.S. economy is in terrible shape, with the federal government at great risk of going bankrupt.” Talk about arrogance. 


Krugman’s elitism clearly precludes him from seeing economic danger signs that don’t comport with his leftist politics.

Forbes released a Dec. 31 piece headlined: “Outlook: 2023 Recession Likely Deeper And Longer.” The magazine noted that “in 2022 we just experienced a flat (no growth) economy (at least through Q3).” In November, Forbes also noted that “[a]ccording to the general definition—two consecutive quarters of negative gross domestic product (GDP)—the U.S. entered a recession in the summer of 2022.” [Emphasis added.]

However, in Krugman’s distorted view, “There wasn’t a recession in 2022. Indeed, the U.S. economy ended the year with continuing strong job growth and the unemployment rate all the way back down to what it was before Covid.” He also touted the “seriously encouraging” data on “wages” as part of his premature celebration about inflation supposedly cooling off. He linked out to a tweet by economist Jason Furman alleging “stable/negative growth of around 4.5%–consistent with about a 3.5% inflation rate (and somewhat lower in the last few months).” [Emphasis added.]

But as we all know, the alleged recession did not get “deeper and longer” in 2023, despite Forbes’ and Vazquez’s hopes — as ConWebWatch has documented, GDP turned positive in the final quarter of 2022 and has stayed positive since. Meanwhile, inflation ended the year at 3.4 percent — even better than Krugman’s predictions. Vazquez hasn’t exactly rushed to correct the record.

Vazquez spent another January 2023 post ranting at Krugman for calling out Republicans (and their fellow travelers, like Vazquez) who want to hold the government hostage (and ruin the economy) to force ideological budget cuts:

Have legitimate concerns about the national debt? Well, you may just be one of those GOP “economic terrorists,” according to New York Times bloviator-in-chief Paul Krugman.

Krugman’s Jan. 19 column spewed bile at GOP congressional members seeking spending concessions from President Joe Biden on the debt ceiling issue. “Don’t Try to Appease Economic Terrorists,” the headline read. Yes, Krugman actually used the word “terrorists.” [Emphasis added.]

He sugar-coated the issue falsely claiming that raising the debt ceiling “simply allows the government to honor its promises, which include everything from paying interest on its debt to sending checks to Social Security recipients.”

He lectured that “[n]o, raising the debt limit doesn’t give the president free rein to spend whatever he wants.” This is just dumb semantics. Raising the debt ceiling ad infinitum gives the government a pass to borrow as much as it wants to service the current debt, thereby sinking the U.S. economy further into debt by racking up the bills (the U.S. national debt is over $31 trillion now).

This rage at Krugman, over both his economic and political opinions — mostly from Vazquez — continued throughout the year:

Even as the economy continued to improve at the end of the year, the MRC continued to be in denial and be more interested in lashing out at Krugman for noting it. Vazquez ranted in an Oct. 24 post:

Paul Krugman, New York Times economics columnist and chronic escapist, can’t help making himself look even more clownish by casting Bidenomics as anything other than the inflation-stimulating mess that it is.

“The Secret of America’s Economic Success,” read Krugman’s Oct. 23 piece of propaganda. Krugman regurgitated his ridiculous flapdoodle that America has somehow beaten the scourge of high inflation.

He pointed to a graph by blockchain-based firm Truflation purporting to give a more accurate inflation depiction to proclaim a “steep decline in inflation over the past year.” But there’s a problem. The graph Krugman pointed to just shows a slowing inflation rate, not a “decline in inflation” as Krugman deceptively insinuated. 

In fact, ongoing inflation has caused prices to skyrocket more than 17 percent higher on average since President Joe Biden first took office. That trend has not reversed.

But Krugman went right ahead and attributed this illusion of economic success largely to Biden’s absurd pursuit of an “aggressively expansionary fiscal policy.” Despite Americans showing profound disapproval for the Biden economy in recent surveys due to their current struggles, Krugman still chose to double down: “[O]ne thing is clear: We have been remarkably successful, even if nobody will believe it.”

A Dec. 20 year-end post by Nicholas Schau similarly berated Krugman for not talking down the economy like a right-winger:

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, a master in the art of being perpetually wrong, stayed true to form by making the ludicrous claim that 2023 was a stellar year for the U.S. economy under President Joe Biden.  

Krugman brazenly claimed in a Dec. 18 column that “2023 will go down in the record books as one of the best years ever” from an “economic standpoint.” Yes, you read that right.  Krugman continued to spew nonsense by characterizing 2023 as a “year in which inflation came down amazingly fast at no visible cost, defying the predictions of many economists that disinflation would require years of high unemployment.” This is misleading. Inflation hasn’t come “down” as Krugman’s choice of words implies. “Disinflation” means prices are still increasing at a slower rate, and they’re over 17.6 percent higher than when Biden first took office. 

Schau continued to insist that a recession was coming any day now, citing right-wing economists who have been wrong about a recession so far:

Further, economists such as Harry Dent predict that current state of the market in particular is just a massive “everything bubble.” When that bubble pops, Dent told Fox Business that “2024 is going to be the biggest single crash year we’ll see in our lifetimes.”  Economists Steven Hanke and John Greenwood also wrote in a Dec. 13 National Review piece that the economy was effectively running on “fumes” based on the drastic drop in the money supply. Both economists analyzed that this all pointed to a recession: “[T]he U.S. economy is on schedule to tank in 2024.” 

Schau went on to huff that “Krugman is notorious for ridiculously predicting positive economic outcomes under Biden, before moving the goalposts when his predictions inevitably go wrong.” He refused to admit that Krugman’s prediction about lower inflation at the beginning of the year was correct.

Kudlow's mea culpa -- and MRC silence

One of the Media Research Center’s favorite people when it needs someone to talk down the economy under President Biden is Larry Kudlow, host of a show on right-wing Fox Business. For instance, a January 2023 post touted Kudlow attacking John Kerry for his climate change initiatives while insisting that, in writer Renata Kiss’ words, “The robber barons of America turned the nation into the economic success it is today.” A February 2023 post by Kiss hyped Kudlow ranting about the economy:

Fox Business host Larry Kudlow ripped President Joe Biden’s abysmal economy and had a few choice words for the 2024 GOP presidential candidates.

Kudlow recounted the many failures of Biden’s economy during a Feb. 24 segment on Fox Business’ Kudlow. In addition, the host went tough on the 2024 GOP presidential candidates for their apparent lack of effort to address America’s urgent economic needs. “Where’s the Republican presidential campaign growth and prosperity solution plan?,” he asked. “So far I haven’t heard any of the leading candidates on this topic. Bidenomics has failed, so how is the GOP gonna turn failure into success?”

Kudlow blasted the soaring inflation rates in the Biden economy being exacerbated by reckless government spending. 

“All the inflation reports in January were shockingly bad,” he said. “Energy is up almost 10 percent, food (is) up 11 percent, producer prices up 6 percent, consumer prices up 6.4 percent. The deficit is expected to double from 1.4 trillion today to nearly 3 trillion over the ten year window. Total deficits will come to 20.3 trillion dollars or an incredible 7.3 percent of GDP. Outside of wartime or a national emergency, these are shocking numbers never seen before.” 


Kudlow drove the point home by pointing out that “growth and prosperity is the single biggest issue out there and will remain so.” He continued: “There are a lot of issues, always are, but the lack of growth and prosperity dwarfs them all. I’m blowing the whistle on all of them. This here is tough love. We need economic stewardship, and we need it right away.” 

But Kudlow has always been a bad prognosticator, particularly on economic issues — to the point that a 2019 Washington Post article was headlined “Maybe it’s time for Larry Kudlow to stop making predictions.” That record has continued: Last March, Kudlow declared that Donald Trump would not be indicted an hour before he was. Still, the MRC loves him. Nicholas Schau wrote in a Jan. 5 post:

The disastrous effects of Bidenomics are angering Americans in droves, and the media and politicians need to understand the reason behind this.

Fox Business anchor Larry Kudlow laid into the Biden administration’s horrible policies in the Jan. 2 edition of his eponymous show. “Right at the start of his term,” Kudlow said about President Joe Biden, “he front-loaded massive federal spending, regulations and his socialist Green New Deal war against fossil fuels. The result? Skyrocketing inflation.” Kudlow pointed out that the “legacy of Bidenomics mistakes” is “about plunging affordability.” He explained: “It’s the falling level of wages and the rising level of prices that has caused high anxiety” for Americans in Bidenomics.

Kudlow also noted the massive disapproval of Biden’s economy earlier in his remark.  “President Biden and his staff are mystified at their continued basement-level economic polls,” Kudlow said. He cited a Fox News poll saying, “Biden’s economy is rating at just 21 percent, with 78 percent saying it’s in bad shape.”

The Fox Business host laughed about Biden’s reaction, saying, “Now, President Biden is blaming the media. Ha! Ha! Ha! But he should blame his own policies!” 

But shockingly -- since Fox employees typically don't correct the record except under legal threat -- Kudlow walked back his economic doomsaying a month later. As Mediaite reported:

Fox Business host and former Trump White House economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, offered an earnest “mea culpa” on Thursday for having predicted a looming recession – or even a slowdown.

“Sandra Smith, so you’re writing, texting me early in the morning, and all kinds of bad news. You know, I was kind of,” Kudlow began as Smith jumped in.

“Who else am I going to talk to about the economy?” Smith joked.

“I mean, my, mea culpa!” Kudlow replied, “I was wrong about the slowdown and the recession.”

“I think don’t think you were wrong,” offered Smith encouragingly.

“So was the entire forecasting fraternity. Well, the Fed, everyone was wrong. Ok. But you mentioned all these job layoffs. Tomorrow is the jobs numbers,” Kudlow continued[.]

The next day, Kudlow called out his fellow right-wingers for trying to cherry-pick numbers out of the January employment reports in an attempt to make Biden look bad:

Larry Kudlow extolled Friday’s jobs report showing that the U.S. added 353,000 jobs in January, which lowered the unemployment rate to 3.7%. The Fox Business host noted that conservatives may try to downplay the data, but, “It is what it is.”

The number of jobs added far exceeded economists’ expectations of 185,000. The former economic adviser to former President Donald Trump is a frequent critic of President Joe Biden, but on Friday’s edition of Kudlow, he offered a glowing assessment of the latest employment figures:
We had a blowout jobs report – more than twice the consensus expectation. Now, I know many of my conservative friends are trying to drill holes in this report. But you know what, folks? It is what it is. It’s a very strong report. Not every economic stat should be viewed through a political lens. I’ve been in this business a very long time, and sometimes you just have to throw away the ballot box and just recognize the numbers. They are what they are. This was a very strong report.
Kudlow says the data “is a good thing no matter what your party registration is.”

The MRC didn’t tell its readers about any of Kudlow’s praise for the Biden economy — it’s more important to perpetuate the narrative of economic ruin under Biden, no matter how inaccurate that is.

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