Give the NY Times some credit for an interesting idea. They apparently asked all of their regular columnists to write a column for today about something they got wrong. I think the idea is to humanize them a bit while also preventing any one columnist from being singled out. If everyone makes an admission like this at the same time the blowback won’t be as intense on anyone in particular.
I’ve read a few of these and I’m not sure the columnists really understood the assignment. For instance, Paul Krugman’s piece about being wrong about inflation. That seems like a pretty consequential mistake for an economist to make but Krugman spends the entire column explaining how the people who who right (Larry Summers) were right for the wrong reasons.
In early 2021 there was an intense debate among economists about the likely consequences of the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion package enacted by a new Democratic president and a (barely) Democratic Congress. Some warned that the package would be dangerously inflationary; others were fairly relaxed. I was Team Relaxed. As it turned out, of course, that was a very bad call…
Even so, historical experience wouldn’t have led us to expect this much inflation from overheating. So something was wrong with my model of inflation — again, a model shared by many others, including those who were right to worry in early 2021. I know it sounds lame to say that Team Inflation was right for the wrong reasons, but it’s also arguably true.
Even if that’s true, isn’t your job as a prize-winning economist to be the person who identifies the correct reasons to reach the correct conclusion? To his credit, Krugman does seem to admit it in his final paragraph:
In any case, the whole experience has been a lesson in humility…But in retrospect I should have realized that, in the face of the new world created by Covid-19, that kind of extrapolation wasn’t a safe bet.
I’d give Krugman a C+ on this assignment. Not a failure. He at least picked a consequential current topic but still there’s a lot of self-justification about why he got the biggest story of the last year (in his area of expertise) really wrong.
That’s still a lot better than the column turned in by Gail Collins who belatedly admits she went a little overboard with a story about presidential candidate Mitt Romney and a dog named Seamus back in 2012. If you’ve forgotten all of this, someone published a story about Romney putting a sick family dog in a dog carrier on the roof of the family station wagon during a road trip. This story became the focus of a great deal of attention with partisans on the left summarizing it as “Romney hates dogs.” (There was an equally blunt response from the right who took a story about Obama’s childhood out of his first memoir and replied, “Obama ate dogs.”) In any case, the thrust of Collins’ piece seems to be that she went overboard but that Romney deserved it.
When Romney was running for president, I tried to see how many times I could find a way to mention that the candidate once drove to Canada with a dog strapped to the roof of his car.
The result was sort of epic. People wound up counting and I used the story more than 80 times. Which was … kind of a lot….
Those of us who were around then also won’t forget his claim that as governor he pressed for more sexual balance in staff hiring and got himself “binders full of women.”
Collins is using the dumbest attack against Romney as a justification for the 2nd dumbest (the one about the dog). Democrats were nervous and borderline desperate after Romney put in a very strong performance in the first presidential debate with Obama, arguably winning that debate. Dems needed him to lose the 2nd debate and they turned what was a mostly solid answer about seeking out women candidates for cabinet positions into a huge deal all because he forgot to add the word “candidates” to the end of the sentence. If you watch his reply there’s no doubt that’s what he meant and the rest of his answer was fine. But the left jumped on this minor verbal gaffe with both feet and made it into the moment of the night because, well, they had to have a win even if it was dumb and trumped up.
The fact that “binders” and the dog story are the things partisans like Collins latched on to in 2012 ought to embarrass them, but she doesn’t seem embarrassed at all. She’s just having a good laugh about it all again. Her column deserves a solid “F” for failing to stick to the assignment.
There are several more from the Times’ other columnists. Thomas Friedman admits he was wrong about China moving toward a free press. Michelle Goldberg says she was wrong to call for Al Franken to resign without a Senate investigation. And Bret Stephens says he was wrong to lash out at Trump voters back in 2015:
The worst line I ever wrote as a pundit — yes, I know, it’s a crowded field — was the first line I ever wrote about the man who would become the 45th president: “If by now you don’t find Donald Trump appalling, you’re appalling.”
This opening salvo, from August 2015, was the first in what would become dozens of columns denouncing Trump as a unique threat to American life, democratic ideals and the world itself. I regret almost nothing of what I said about the man and his close minions. But the broad swipe at his voters caricatured them and blinkered me…
When I looked at Trump, I saw a bigoted blowhard making one ignorant argument after another. What Trump’s supporters saw was a candidate whose entire being was a proudly raised middle finger at a self-satisfied elite that had produced a failing status quo.
At least Friedman and Stephens sound as if they actually believe they were wrong and aren’t just offering excuses for why they were wrong.
The overall effort is a mixed bag but again an interesting idea from the NY Times. They should have all their columnists do this once a year. There’s no lack of material for them to regret.
Update: Here’s Krugman explaining himself.
.@paulkrugman on getting inflation wrong: "Partly it’s that there is stuff that I didn’t — that nobody saw coming. Nobody saw Putin invading Ukraine. I think nobody thought about logistic supply chains or any of that stuff until suddenly it became a big problem." pic.twitter.com/F4nprqImlu
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) July 21, 2022