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The Day In Hackery

Today brings us a couple examples of hackery so dumbfounding I pass them on without comment. Okay, with less comment than usual.

First, Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard bemoans the fact that Phil Gramm was denounced by the McCain campaign merely for speaking the truth. Ferguson:

Earlier this month, Gramm gave an interview to the Washington Times in which he asserted that the U.S. economy wasn't in a recession. We are, however, in a "mental recession," he said--a loss of consumer confidence, stoked by hysterical media reports, that threatens to tip the economy into a real recession.

This is all true. You could look it up: A recession is two consecutive quarters of economic contraction, and the economy didn't contract last quarter. But Gramm was pilloried for his factual statement.

Anybody who has followed this story knows that the really damaging part of Gramm's commentary was his claim that we are a "nation of whiners." But Ferguson (who is capable of good work) does not mention this line anywhere in his article! Hey, Weekly Standard, here's another article pitch: 1,500 words about how unfair it is that Jeremiah Wright was pilloried merely for noting that terrorists attacked the United States on September 11, 2001.

Meanwhile, Atlantic writer and gritty third base coach Ross Douthat uncovers an even more 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't—not 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.

Douthat comments:

I know where to find those statistics right off the top of my head, and I'm a rank amateur: Just head to, click on Historical Budget Data, and flip to page 8, where you'll discover that in 2001, when Bush took office, discretionary domestic spending accounted for 3.1 percent of GDP, and in 2007 it accounted for ... 3.3 percent of GDP.

I'm no economist and I could have produced that statistic in less than thirty seconds. I kind of hope Cogan knew perfectly well where to find that statistic and what it would generally say, and simply lied because he knew it would undercut his argument. Because if a self-described "expert in public policy" at the Hoover Institution really can't find a number like that in half an hour, then Stanford needs to re-examine its hiring standards.

--Jonathan Chait