Harvard history professor and political pundit Niall Ferguson has once again found himself in the middle of controversy with fellow academics and the media criticizing his incorrect, ham-handed Newsweek attack article on President Barack Obama’s time in office. A former adviser to 2008 presidential hopeful John McCain, Ferguson has been critical of Obama in times past, but with the inclusion of Paul Ryan to the Mitt Romney ticket, the professor seems to think that this is Romney’s election to win.
Ferguson has been playing the promises card, explaining that the president has broken his word and not delivered for the American people. Categorically ignoring several facts and speaking on issues outside his field of study, Ferguson, who is actually a historian, not an economist, attempted to paint Obama as the reason for America’s sinking economy.
Ferguson’s most-visible contemporary — and most-formidable critic — is Paul Krugman, Princeton University Economics professor and New York Times writer. Krugman, like many others writers, has picked apart Ferguson’s Newsweek article, particularly his incorrect assessment of Obama’s Affordable Care Act:
For Newsweek, Ferguson wrote:
The president pledged that health-care reform would not add a cent to the deficit. But the CBO [Congressional Budget Office] and the Joint Committee on Taxation now estimate that the insurance-coverage provisions of the ACA [Affordable Care Act] will have a net cost of close to $1.2 trillion over the 2012–22 period.
In reaction, Krugman hit back in the New York Times:
Readers are no doubt meant to interpret this as saying that CBO found that the Act will increase the deficit. But anyone who actually read, or even skimmed, the CBO report (pdf) knows that it found that the ACA would reduce, not increase, the deficit — because the insurance subsidies were fully paid for.
As Krugman points out, Ferguson chooses to ignore the fact that the Affordable Care Act will help reduce the deficit because poor families would receive subsidies that would make health insurance and treatment affordable to them.
More to the point, the ACA does not have a negative effect on the deficit, and in fact, the CBO agrees with that assessment. Ferguson also ignores the fact that while the subsidies will be costly, they are paid for by other measures in the Act.
Krugman’s criticism of Ferguson’s article doesn’t stop there. Calling Ferguson’s work “unethical,” Krugman also demands that Newsweek issue a correction to the article for its misrepresentation of facts:
We’re not talking about ideology or even economic analysis here — just a plain misrepresentation of the facts, with an august publication letting itself be used to misinform readers. The Times would require an abject correction if something like that slipped through. Will Newsweek?
Unfortunately, Ferguson and his conservative cronies seem to be in the business of spinning misinformation as fact. When they’re proven to be incorrect, though, it only makes Romney and other foes of Obama appear to be desperately grasping for straws.