Political Animal


February 16, 2013 10:17 AM Joe Scarborough Is a total hack (but don’t take my word for it)

By Samuel Knight

In his latest salvo in his back-and-forth with Paul Krugman over the significance of the national debt, Joe Scarborough, writing in POLITICO today, displayed such a foul misunderstanding about economics, Krugman must have choked on his oatmeal laughing as he read it.

In “Paul Krugman is wrong - but don’t take my word for it,” the MSNBC host made the following point:

Investors may be growing skittish about U.S. government debt levels and the disordered state of U.S. fiscal policymaking.
From the beginning of 2002, when U.S. government debt was at its most recent minimum as a share of GDP, to the end of 2012, the dollar lost 25 percent of its value, in price-adjusted terms, against a basket of the currencies of major trading partners. This may have been because investors fear that the only way out of the current debt problems will be future inflation.

It also may have been because space aliens raided the Treasury in the dead of night because Nicholas Cage and Chuck Norris were off duty, having been contracted by the Navy to fight a flotilla of krakens in the Caribbean the week before. Scarborough may as well have argued that, because it would have displayed a better understanding of how foreign exchange markets actually work. The value of the dollar is determined by foreign countries’ demand for it and our supply of foreign exchange. And while foreign investors in 2002 may have begun to fear widening debt that was eventually caused by a recession in 2008 — despite the fact that the housing bubble was far from inflated in 2002 and that these investors eventually failed to foresee the crash itself — it’s more likely that the value of the dollar fell because our current account deficit essentially doubled between 2002 and 2006 (but don’t take my word for it).

Scarborough continued to make arguments that could be debunked by a remedial high school economics teacher shortly after:

More troubling for the future is that private domestic investment—the fuel for future economic growth—shows a strong negative correlation with government debt levels over several business cycles dating back to the late 1950s. Continuing high debt does not bode well in this regard.

While it’s true that government borrowing can “crowd out” private investment by bidding up interest rates, it isn’t currently happening — interest rates remain low. Furthermore, investors seem to have more confidence in U.S. Treasuries than they do in the market (but don’t take my word for it, “investors continue to buy U.S. government debt as a refuge against a renewal of turmoil in global financial markets and concern the U.S. recovery may falter”). The real reason that private investment and government debt appear to have an inverse relationship, both now and during any recession, is that economic contraction causes both tax revenue and private investment to fall.

So whose word should we take?

If you believe that I am wrong and Paul Krugman is right…then take it up with the RAND Corporation whose senior economist wrote everything you have read here other than this concluding paragraph. The debt crisis is real and waiting another decade to fix it is not an option. Anyone who suggests it is operates well outside the mainstream of where serious economists reside.

If the recent financial crash has taught us anything, it’s that “the mainstream of where serious economists reside” is less credible than a bootleg DVD salesman convention. But what’s even more troubling about Scarborough’s column — and POLITICO’s decision to publish it — is that he doesn’t even say whose words we should take or what those words actually are. Scarborough names neither the “senior economist” nor the study or studies that he is citing. Nor does the RAND Corporation even have a single “senior economist” — a search for “senior economist” on RAND’s website indicates that the think tank has at least a dozen “senior economists” on staff. So we can’t even debunk the man inspiring Scarborough to spew such noxious filth. At least we can debunk him.

Samuel Knight is a freelance journalist living in DC and a former intern at the Washington Monthly.


  • Mudge on February 16, 2013 12:04 PM:

    But Krugman did insult G.W. Bush. But let's see. On one side we have a long time Republican hack with invisible (economic or otherwise) credentials. On the other side we have a tenured professor at Princeton with umpteen refereed publications and a Nobel Prize.

    And keep in mind that most deficit hawks do not care about the deficit, which is shrinking. They care about giving more money to the wealthy through lower taxes and privitizing Medicare and Social Security (which is giving more money to the wealthy). Also, the confidence fairy.

    Let me think about who to believe on this one.

  • Senior Rand Economist on February 16, 2013 12:07 PM:

    Perhaps we should consult Lori Klausutis.

  • c u n d gulag on February 16, 2013 12:16 PM:

    Nice symbiotic relationship Cup O' Schmoe has with Politico, eh?

    He invites Mike AlienLifeForm and Jim VanderHighOnVillageCocktailPartyAssFumes on his morning 'Ode to me, Joe," show, and they let him publish his idiotic screeds unedited.

    And I happened to have Schmoe's show on the morning Dr. Krugman was on - and, Jayzoos H. Keeeeerist doing his final stand-up routine to his Apostles at The Last Supper, it was feckin' funny!!!
    Krugman might as well have been lecturing them on economics in ancient Hindi, for all Joe and his Morning Zoo Crew understood.
    They were like the poor computers on the old Star Trek episodes, melting-down when something 'didn't compute!'

    What Joe knows about economics would fit on the back of a postage stamp - and still leave room for a nice haiku... or two... or thirty-three.

    Joe's like some guy who pitched an inning of Little League Baseball, trying to tell Mariano Rivera that he knows better how to close a game.

  • biggerbox on February 16, 2013 12:45 PM:

    Wow, this is a new low in the art of argumentation.

    It's bad enough when Scarborough basically says "Krugman is a foo-foo head," but this piece isn't even that. This is "I said Krugman was a foo-foo head, and someone else does to! No, it doesn't matter who. But they should know! And they are really smart! So there!"

    Scarborough seems to have learned his debate skills from second-graders, or perhaps from watching Jersey Shore.

  • Peter Belenky on February 16, 2013 12:50 PM:

  • Joe Friday on February 16, 2013 1:00 PM:

    Scarborough: "From the beginning of 2002, when U.S. government debt was at its most recent minimum as a share of GDP, to the end of 2012, the dollar lost 25 percent of its value"

    Except that decline occurred during Chimpy Bush's terms. The dollar is actually UP since Obama took office:


  • simplx on February 16, 2013 1:03 PM:

    Here is the Rand blog post he is quoting:


    (Ah, google, is there nothing you can’t find?)

    It is written by C. Richard Neu, who does, in fact, claim the title of "Senior Economist": http://www.rand.org/about/people/n/neu_c_richard.html

    No comment on how that makes the thing right...

  • JPS on February 16, 2013 1:44 PM:

    That Politico(!) published Scarborough's rant is hardly surprising. They are nothing but a mouthpiece for the right. A mere frontispiece for the Reagan library.

  • Ron Byers on February 16, 2013 2:20 PM:

    There is a reason Monnig Joe didn,t give attribution to Neu. His area of expertise is the economics of counter terrorism. In a match of credentals Krugman wins.

  • jkl; on February 16, 2013 2:29 PM:

    Joe Scarborough is a total hack indeed. His attacks on Paul Krugman have become both abusive and personal, as well as offensive.
    Past a point of being defamatory.
    An intervention is required from MSNBC heads.

    The last time the Nobel Laureate as on Morning Joke, Mr. Krugman absolutely owned Scarborough, out-classing him and by-passing him with actual facts.
    That clearly exacerbated the intellectually weak Scar.

    Ever notice how the Morning Joe white males kind of sit there yieldingly meek, compliant and submissive as Joe goes through his anti-intellectual rants.
    Fear in the eyes of groan-men. (Spelling intentional)

    Joe is unable to redeem his vices with his virtures. And his jealousy of the president is palpable.

    I can't stand the show anymore. Joe Scarborough has been in full melt-down since the election.
    It is surely affecting Joe beyond a preponderance of the evidence as his ego forver raises up to speak of his time in congress. Even when irrelevant to conversations.

    I think his animosity toward Dr. Krugman is evil.

  • jkl; on February 16, 2013 2:35 PM:

    Sorry for the spelling errors. Spell check said it was ok!!! That is it for that tool.

    Speaking of tools, I would like to ad that Politico has remained a routine @$$-k$$er with people like Mike Allen and Jim Vanderhei getting regular face time on the Morning Joe Program, brewed by Starbucks. I boycott all.

  • jkl; on February 16, 2013 2:43 PM:

    Oh--like minds. Cun d gulag also mentioned the Politico hacks appearing on the show. I had not read comments.
    I might have a crush on you, gulag!!

  • Oh my on February 16, 2013 2:44 PM:

    America's biggest problem isn't wrapped around the value of the US dollar, nor is it Neu's fear of losing the country's "soft power", nor even is it the nation's $14 trillion debt.

    No, this country's biggest problem, and by extension its biggest modern threat, is its rich pricks. The rich pricks who buy politicians to cut their taxes. The rich pricks who buy politicians to scream about the hole their tax cuts just blew in the budget. The rich pricks who buy politicians to deregulate markets. The rich pricks who buy politicians to bail their asses out from said deregulated markets. The rich pricks who fatten their wallets by outsourcing American jobs with no sense of nationalism. The rich pricks who feign nationalism as they lobby for the "exceptional" wars that get them defense department contracts and access to new oil reserves.

    America's rich pricks don't care about America, neither its land nor its people. They care about the fact that they are rich, but never quite rich enough. That's why everything seems to be going to hell in hand basket these days Mr.Scarborough and Mr.Neu.

  • hells littlest angel on February 16, 2013 3:31 PM:

    Scarborough is pretty intelligent for a Republican -- which is to say, he's a dipshit.

  • Rick B on February 16, 2013 5:38 PM:

    I didn't used to see people commenting on the fact that the insanity from the Republican Party is directed by a number of wealthy conservatives. I am really happy to see more people recognizing that.

    Bob Altemeyer in his excellent book "The Authoritarians" made the point that he had to analyze right-wing organizations by the members and by the leaders separately to make sense. The book is vary readable and published on line, but when I read it I felt it was so good I bought it in hard copy. It's a clear and easy read and makes a lot of sense when the ideas are applied to the Republican party.

    Using Altemeyer's analysis, it is clear that the wealth of the conservative super rich give them great power to sway the issues the party will demand (who else cares about the inheritance tax - but it weakens the aristocrat-wannabees) and who is allowed to run for office (Newt Gingrich?? Romney was bad enough but he is one of them!)

  • Doug on February 16, 2013 7:12 PM:

    I particularly liked the extract:
    "More troubling for the future is that private domestic investment - the fuel for future economic growth - shows a strong negative correlation with government debt levels over several business cycles dating back to the late 1950s."
    I believe the correct response was: "Could you be a tad more specific about 'late 1950s'?" Was it 1955 or 1956? 1957 or 1958? Or maybe it was 1959? What was the Federal government spending money on during those years, above and beyond the amounts being taken in by taxes and why? The same applies to the "other", un-named cycles.
    That Scarborough considers this a refutation of Dr. Krugman merely shows Scarborough needs to get away from his cronies more often and actually put himself in a position where he has to defend what he spouts with those rare and elusive things known as FACTS!

  • James M on February 17, 2013 12:41 AM:

    In defense of Joe Scarborough

    Let me start by saying that I always enjoy Mr. Knight's posts. I also consider Paul Krugman to be leading economist of our era (a near guru…)and Joe Scarborough to be wrong on almost every issue concerning economic policy.All that being said,I think it is unfair to call Mr. Scarborough a hack.

    I define a hack as someone who promotes ideas or causes they know (or suspect) to be false for financial gain. I have seen no indication that is true in Joe's case. If you regularly watch the show you will know that the political figures he most admires are Churchill, Thatcher and Reagan. He appears to be a believer in 'redemption through suffering' and respects political leaders who effected change through pushing through big-but at the time unpopular-ideas. I think that Mr. Scarborough really does see the national debt as an existential threat and longs for a leader willing to step up the challenge. I don't agree but have no reason to assume that he is being deceitful.

    Other arguments for Joe Scarborough not being a hack are:

    1. His views on the national debt, though wrong in my opinion, are shared by a huge number of major political and media figures.

    2. He is respectful to his guests and lets them speak, even when he obviously disagrees with them.

    3. He has been an outspoken critic of prominent conservative media figures and politicians who have espoused or tolerated hateful personal attacks on President Obama such Birtherism of the President being a radical, American-hating socialist, etc.

    4. He made a moving appeal for the regulation of assault rifles and high capacity magazines and has repeatedly called out the NRA for extremism.

    I usually watch Morning Joe on my computer and often have the urge to throw stuff at the display when Joe speaks. However, he is simply wrong or misguided: not a hack.

  • Sharon on February 18, 2013 11:17 PM:

    Most of the previous attacks are laced with a venom that has little place in political discourse by intelligent people. Unfortunately, we have become a nation of hatred spewing, self important people who are unable to behave with civility. Consequently, even if their views could clarify and elucidate, they instead alienate.