David R. Henderson  

The Biggest Loser: Lester Holt

Who is Peter Navarro?... Charles L. Schultze RIP...

Although Donald Trump is a very close second.

And, I agree with Paul Krugman but he left something out.

I tried to watch last night's "debate" between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I really did. Unfortunately, I lasted only about 50 minutes. I thought they were both horrible but I thought that in the time I watched, the Hill dominated the Don.

But let's go beyond that to the issues. I want to highlight two.

First, with his first question, Lester Holt led the two contestants on a tangent. Here's what he asked:

So, let's begin. We're calling this opening segment achieving prosperity and central to that is jobs. There are two economic realities in America today. There's been a record six straight years of job growth and new census numbers show incomes have increased at a record rate after years of stagnation. However, income inequality remains significant. And nearly half of Americans living paycheck to paycheck. Beginning with you, Secretary Clinton - why are you a better choice than your opponent to create the kinds of jobs that will put more money into the pockets of American workers?

No. Central to achieving prosperity [I take as given that we have prosperity and that he, and everyone else, understood that he meant increased prosperity] is not jobs. Central to that is economic growth. How do we achieve more than 2 percent growth in real GDP? So he gets them off-track from the get-go, talking about jobs instead of growth.

Granted that neither candidate seems to understand basic economics, and so they would both would have probably gone to jobs instead of growth anyway. But Holt shouldn't have been an enabler.

Second, free trade took a horrible beating last night. Here's how Paul Krugman put it:

More broadly, Trump's whole view on trade is that other people are taking advantage of us -- that it's all about dominance, and that we're weak. And even if you think we've pushed globalization too far, even if you are worried about the effects of trade on income distribution, that's just a foolish way to think about the problem.

So don't score Trump as somehow winning on trade. Yes, he blustered more confidently on that subject than on anything else. But he was talking absolute garbage even there.

But you know who else talked mainly, though not absolutely, garbage? Hillary Clinton. She started off well, saying:
Well, I think that trade is an important issue, of course. We are five percent of the world's population - we have to trade with the other ninety five percent.

I could nitpick and say that it's not literally true that we "have to." But we certainly should be allowed to.

Then the Hill went downhill. She didn't defend free trade and, like virtually all mercantilists, judged trade deals by whether they increase exports without taking account of the other half of benefits: lower prices and higher quality on imports.

*By the way, if you want to see an unintentionally hilarious piece on the debate, check out NPR's transcript with fact checks at various points. When they fact check the Don, they do it generally accurately and sometimes with a lot of attitude. E.g.,

There is no truth to the charge that the Clinton campaign or Hillary Clinton started the birther movement, as we've written. Donald Trump, however, for several years was the chief spokesman for it and the principal person pushing the falsehood. And Trump still has not apologized to the president of the United States for an effort that many African-Americans saw as an effort to delegitimize the first black president. Undoubtedly, Clinton and Obama fought a bitter 2008 primary campaign. Fringe supporters and advisers did go after Obama's "otherness." One of Clinton's informal advisers, Sidney Blumenthal, told a McClatchy bureau chief based in Africa to look into Obama's birthplace, according to that McClatchy bureau chief. But Clinton certainly did not take the show on the road. The false equivalence Trump is trying to draw isn't even remotely close to the same thing as what Trump did. For the record, once again, Barack Obama was born in Hawaii, something proved over and over again. Here's his birth certificate, the legitimacy of which Trump called into question explicitly as late as 2014.

Notice the schoolmarmy "And Trump still has not apologized to the president of the United States for an effort that many African-Americans saw as an effort to delegitimize the first black president." As if that is relevant to a fact check.

When they fact check the Hill, they do it well also. But what's interesting is how often they fact check him and how little they fact check her. E.g., the Hill's statement:

Trickle down it did not work. It got us into the mess we were in 2008-2009.

In context, she seems to mean by "trickle down" tax cuts for high-income people. But it got us into the mess we were in in 2008-2009? I hadn't heard that one. That was crying out for a fact check. NPR's answer: blank out.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (17 to date)
John Hall writes:

I view the fact-checkers as partisans more often than not. Trump sometimes gets criticized for things very harshly when a more charitable interpretation should give him the benefit of the doubt.

Thaomas writes:

On "jobs" he did ask about the "kind of jobs" that should have elicited something about TFP growth as a necessary condition. But really, politicians have been criticizing "regulations" and "environmental protection" and even minimum wages as "job killers" for years. How much better is a journalist expected to be?

As for their positions on trade, we hope that Sec. Clinton is lying and fear that Mr Trump is telling the truth. :)

EB writes:

David, I don't share your concern about Trump, Hillary or even PK's econ ideas.

I agree with Don. Earlier today he wrote:

… is from page 161 of Princeton University economist Thomas Leonard’s excellent 2016 book, Illiberal Reformers, which is a study of how the scientistic pretenses of late-19th and early-20th century “Progressives” led them to endorse illiberal – indeed, often vicious – social-engineering schemes, including eugenics and minimum-wage legislation:

"John Stuart Mill had long before warned that politicians will not accept instruction from their technocratic betters, and that even instructed government can do more harm than good."

Mill was correct. Anyone who believes that politicians will sincerely try to govern society apolitically, according to the ‘scientific’ precepts and findings of technocratic experts – or that politicians will even try to run the government along such technocratic lines – is someone who believes that, properly instructed, rhinoceroses can flap their horns in order to fly. Similarly, anyone who believes that society should be controlled and manipulated as if it is an engineering project not only has no regard for the dignity of individuals but, also, has no understanding of what society and an economy really are.


As all business, the business of politics can be improved but there are limits that can only be discussed within a shared framework of what that business is about.

David R. Henderson writes:

David, I don't share your concern about Trump, Hillary or even PK's econ ideas.
I agree with Don.

Those statements can’t both be true.

The Original CC writes:

DH: I think EB meant Don Boudreaux, not Don Trump.

zeke5123 writes:

It is an open secret that the fact-checkers are partisan. Let's say they eschew editorializing facts and really stick to merely verifying facts, as opposed to interpreting statements (they don't). You can still be partisan by choosing which facts to check. Unless you pre-commit to fact check every Nth fact, fact-checkers bias can creep in and allow fact-checkers to paint one client as more trustworthy compared to another based on the sample of facts checked.

As I understand most fact-checkers pick and choose which facts to check, I put little weight in any overall finding. This is before the issues pointed out by Dr. Henderson.

David R. Henderson writes:

@The Original CC,
DH: I think EB meant Don Boudreaux, not Don Trump.
I’m positive he meant Don Boudreaux. That’s why I responded the way I did. Don regularly defends free trade and would have the same reaction that I had.

Greg G writes:


>---"most fact-checkers pick and choose which facts to check"

They do and they should. They pick the most controversial and surprising claims to check.

Since there are plenty of rival fact checkers the effect is to cause people to cite their sources which is a good thing.

"I heard it." is not the same as "We have it on tape."

Any Presidential debate moderator getting a fact check wrong would ruin his reputation. Not so for the candidates apparently. We need more, not less, fact checking.

The moderators are a whole lot more trustworthy than the candidates when it comes to getting the facts right.

AntiSchiff writes:

Dr. Henderson,

Yes, obviously there is no known relationship between fiscal policies like those of Bush and financial crises/recessions. Perhaps Clinton was referring to the fallacy on the left of believing that redistribution downward is important for maintaining velocity, even on a secular basis. It is a sad state of affairs that someone that ignorant on economic policy should be the most serious candidate for President. She gets credit for at least not believing that exploding the deficit on a combination of tax cuts and spending increases and then "renegotiating" our debt is a good idea.

Zeke5123 writes:

@Greg G,

First, picking and choosing which facts to fact-check opens up partisan interpretation of "the most controversial and surprising claims to check." Maybe fact-checkers should choose "the most controversial and surprising claims to check," but then don't claim you are non-partisan.

Second, Politifact has been shown time and again to be erroneous or unfair -- yet they are still treated as a "nonpartisan" gold standard. I don't think a fact-checker incorrectly checking the right candidate (pun-intended) would lose reputation.

Greg G writes:


I'm NOT claiming I am non -partisan. I AM claiming that debate moderators chosen for their history of doing their job in a non-partisan way, and getting the facts right, are the best you can do to have as non-partisan a debate as possible. By the way, right after the debate, Kellyanne Conway said that Lester Holt did a great job.

You can't get the judgment out of the moderator's job. Close scrutiny of that judgment is the best you can do. A moderator can bring in plenty of bias just with question choice and no fact checking.

You can trust the candidate of your choice to get the fact check right if you like. I trust the moderators a whole lot more than any candidate on the fact checking.

Zeke5123 writes:

Greg G --

Loose words on my part. I wasn't making a statement about you; instead, I was stating that fact-checkers who choose which facts to fact-check are partisan. I think they only could be non-partisan if ex ante they choose to fact-check every Nth statement and stick merely to facts.* Otherwise, bias creeps in.

What does Kellyanne Conway have to do with anything?

* E.g., In 2012, Romney stated that, if I recall correctly, the CBO estimated Obamacare could cost up to X# of jobs. This was accurate, but the number was derived from the worst projection by the CBO, which presented a range of projections. Thus, the fact checker rated the statement as not truthful. That is not sticking to the facts. It is one thing for the fact-checker to provide context; it is another thing to say a factual accurate statement is untrue. But it is all too common.

Greg G writes:


>---"What does Kellyanne Conway have to do with anything?"

She is Trump's campaign manager.

Both campaigns thought Lester Holt did a good job before the spin really began. I think that reveals a lot about how fair Lester Holt was.

Maniel writes:

Prof. Henderson,
Congratulations on lasting as long as you did on the debate. My son and daughter were laughing so much that I was having trouble actually hearing anything – I don’t think I missed much.
It would be nice if the debates focused on a serious issue, such as: “How do we get the country off of Hayek’s ‘Road to Serfdom’?” During the early, heady days of the Reagan administration, the meme (as reported by Peggy Noonan) was, “don’t just stand there, undo something.”
Absent an overarching theme, the so-called debates reduce to part American Idol, part Jerry Springer. Disclaimer: I do realize that a primary part of a politician’s job is humor, intended or otherwise (credit here to W Rogers and HL Mencken).

Jesse C writes:

[Comment removed. Please consult our comment policies and check your email for explanation.--Econlib Ed.]

Alex writes:

I watched half an hour. I prefer Trump over Hillary, but he was doing so bad. Always on the defensive, without taking advantage of the great vulnerabilities that Hillary has. When Hillary told him that his wealth was inherited he seemed so hurt.
I still think he will win the election, but certainly not because of this debate.

Rich Berger writes:

As a matter of fact, the Clinton campaign did push the Obama born in Kenya line, via Sid Blumenthal, a long-time Clinton associate. It is easy enough to determine this with a few searches.

I support Donald Trump, but I do cringe at his trade statements. Nevertheless, I am beginning to wonder how good these trade deals really were. The TPP is shrouded in mystery, with legislators only able to view the documents and not take notes or copies. Given the misleading nature of much law (e.g., The Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act), I wonder if such laws as NAFTA are as advertised.

I do not share the enthusiasm for open borders that Prof Henderson and other libertarian commenters espouse. I favor a liberal immigration policy, but only based on laws, not the fiat of the Obama regime. Do you think it is an accident that the Democrats would welcome in low-skilled labor from Latin America? They want dependents and Democrat voters with no particular allegiance to the founding principles of this country.

Trump raised the problem of regulations - is anyone else doing this? I thought he missed a golden opportunity to point out that the real trickle-down economics comes from ideas like the failed 2009 stimulus. Give the government money from borrowing or taxation and the spending will start the economy whirring. Didn't happen.

I believe a large part of the intelligentsia's hatred is Trump is that he is not their kind of person. He is a braggart, crass, a TV personality. All true, in addition to some of strange economic ideas. But he is blowing a hole in the stranglehold that the left is exercising on acceptable speech and I believe that is the most valuable asset he brings to the campaign. I support him but will watch him carefully and trust the Republican Congress to act as a brake on some of his wilder ideas.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top