Heritage Foundation economist defends Sam Brownback, attacks Paul Krugman, but then ... oops

07/25/2014 1:10 AM

07/25/2014 12:15 AM

Poor Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback. Even when he gets some high-profile love, things can go wrong.

The tax-cutting efforts of the embattled Brownback were praised in a recent opinion column by Stephen Moore, chief economist at the Heritage Foundation, a well-known conservative think tank in Washington, D.C.

However, my research shows Moore used outdated and inaccurate job growth information at a key point in his article in early July. It appeared in slightly different versions in The Star, The Wichita Eagle and on websites such as the Heritage Foundation’s.

The wrong data undermined one of Moore’s arguments — that low-tax states have shown tremendous job gains and that employment often doesn’t grow as strongly in high-tax states.

Moore is a supporter of the low-tax mantra of Arthur Laffer, an economist who led Brownback and Kansas into the tax-cut wasteland and the subsequent decimation of state revenues in 2014.

In part of his article, Moore pointedly criticized a column written by Paul Krugman of The New York Times, who had lambasted the Kansas tax cut strategy and wondered “how did the charlatans and cranks end up dictating policy in Kansas...?”

Moore responded that states following “Krugman’s (and President Obama’s) economic strategy to a tee are getting clobbered by tax-cutting states.”

Revved up, Moore then added:

“No-income-tax Texas gained 1 million jobs over the last five years; California, with its 13 percent tax rate, managed to lose jobs. Oops. Florida gained hundreds of thousands of jobs while New York lost jobs. Oops.”

I reread Moore’s column a few days ago, after I had finished research for an editorial on the anemic job growth rate in Kansas under Brownback’s time in office.

Here are the four problems I subsequently found in that single paragraph written by Moore, which led to a corrected version of his column being posted on The Star’s website. Moore approved the correction in an email exchange with The Star.

No. 1: When Moore wrote about job creation “over the last five years,” he told The Star that he had measured from December 2007 to December 2012, using federal Bureau of Labor Statistics information.

That was an odd and ultimately misleading decision for readers. The bureau’s data is updated monthly, so “the last five years” easily could and should have been from mid-2009 to mid-2014. That would have provided more up-to-date figures, not 18-month-old data.

No. 2: Texas did not gain 1 million jobs in that 2007-2012 period. The correct figure was a gain of 497,400 jobs.

No. 3: Florida did not add hundreds of thousands of jobs in that span. It lost 461,500 jobs.

No. 4: New York, which has one of the highest income tax rates, did not lose jobs during that time. It gained 75,900 jobs.

As someone who has pored over the Bureau of Labor Statistics sheets for many months, I know figures can be skewed and cherry-picked by people on both sides of this tax-cut debate.

(For example, California since December 2012 — when Moore stopped measuring employment growth — has added 541,000 jobs, which is more than Texas’ 523,400. So, high taxes are good?)

The problems with Moore’s opinion article damaged his credibility on the jobs issue.

They also didn’t help bolster Brownback’s case that the tax cuts are going to work out just fine for the state’s residents in the future.

To reach editorial page columnist Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. Twitter @YaelTAbouhalkah.

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