How the New York Times used identity politics to shield outlandish leftist economics from criticism

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The New York Times recently published a glowing puff piece on a left-wing economist and her far-fetched ideas. When the countless glaring flaws in these arguments were pointed out, the New York Times and its allies on the Left cheaply used identity politics as a shield to batter down their critics.

The controversy started after New York Times reporter Jeanna Smialek published a profile of Modern Monetary Theory economist Stephanie Kelton. Kelton famously authored a book called The Deficit Myth and argued that governments that control their own currency can, in certain circumstances, simply print unlimited money to fund whatever spending programs they desire with no real consequences.

Even though we’re living in a time of surging inflation that’s costing the average family $250 per month, the New York Times bizarrely claimed that Kelton and her ideological allies have been vindicated — and deserved “a victory lap with an asterisk.” After all, the COVID-19 era has served as something of a natural experiment for this far-fetched theory. The government did create trillions of new dollars out of thin air and run up massive deficits in “stimulus” spending.

But far from stimulating the economy, these initiatives didn’t produce the promised jobs. They also led to the rampant inflation that’s eroding the savings and paychecks of everyday people. So, naturally, even left-of-center economists were highly critical of the New York Times's puff piece and its favorable painting of Kelton’s ideology.

“I am sorry to see the [New York Times] taking MMT seriously as an intellectual movement,” former Obama economist Larry Summers tweeted. “It is the equivalent of publicizing fad diets, quack cancer cures or creationist theories. I greatly admire [Smialek’s] reporting but I was very disappointed this time out.”

“This article aroused the anger of just about every macroeconomist on Twitter, and with good reason — it demonstrates very little understanding of the issues at play or the state of the policy debate, and it rhetorically elevates a fringe ideology to a position of importance and centrality that it neither occupies nor deserves,” left-leaning economist Noah Smith wrote in a Substack post.

“The real question, in my mind, is why the NYT let MMT’s advocates do all the shaping of their own narrative,” he continued. “The fact is, MMT is a meme whose star is already falling, and inflation is almost certainly the reason why.”

What was the response to this outpouring of substantive criticism?

“Male economists are freaking out over a NYT profile,” blared a cranky Axios headline.

“The gender dynamics — male economists piling on against a female economist and a female journalist, Times' reporter Jeanna Smialek, in ways distinctive from typical academic arguments — look terrible here,” Axios’s Emily Peck wrote. (Side note: It wasn’t actually much different from a typical online debate between economists.)

Kelton tweeted this pathetic article out and added, “It’s been a banner start to the New Year for some of us women economists. We can take it but shouldn’t have to.”

This cringeworthy affair typifies everything that’s wrong with woke media. As Manhattan Institute senior fellow Allison Schrager said on Twitter, “This article is what's wrong with everything. Equality means being called out for a bad idea.”

Modern Monetary Theory is a fringe leftist theory that relies on absurd assumptions and rejects basic economic principles. It says a lot about how far gone the New York Times is that it decided to prop up and shill for such an outlandish fringe within economics. But it says even more about the merits of this movement and its media defenders that when substantively critiqued by left-of-center economists, they baselessly played the victim card.

Brad Polumbo (@Brad_Polumbo) is a co-founder of Based-Politics.com, a co-host of the BasedPolitics podcast, and a Washington Examiner contributor.





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