Fact checking Niall Ferguson

Eric Garland Uncategorized Leave a Comment

In my post yesterday, I was reacting primarily to the lazy, sloppy, presumptuous and partisan narrative put forth by Niall Ferguson on why he – a British citizen living as a guest worker in the United States – believes that we should cease to have Barack Obama as our president. I have absolutely no problem with his conclusion in the sense that there are many valid criticisms of Obama’s time in office. It’s just the structure of the piece, the ramshackle use of data points mortared together with bloated doses of authority trips and unexamined opinions that is so troubling. The piece is something that can only be written by somebody already famous, as this sort of reasoning is normally condemned to the bickering comment section of a website somewhere.

But, as it turns out, the piece is also rife with factual inaccuracies and intellectual dishonesty. Matthew O’Brien at the Atlantic tears the piece down point by point, not for its partisan conclusions, but for the things that are just plain incorrect.

Here’s a tour of some of the more factually challenged sections of Ferguson’s piece.

“Certainly, the stock market is well up (by 74 percent) relative to the close on Inauguration Day 2009. But the total number of private-sector jobs is still 4.3 million below the January 2008 peak.”

Did you catch that little switcheroo? Ferguson concedes that stocks have done very well since January 2009, but then says that private sector payrolls have not since¬†January 2008. Notice now? Ferguson blames Obama for job losses that happened a full year before he took office. The private sector has actually added jobs since Obama was sworn in — 427,000 of them, to be exact. For context, remember that the private sector lost 170,000 jobs during George W. Bush’s eight years.
Ferguson has written several excellent books on the structure of empires, the role of money and some of the underpinnings of Western civilization. He is a justifiably celebrated intellectual, though he is succumbing to the temptation of believing that his raw opinion is somehow more important than his well-reasoned scholarship. Not all of the sentences you bang out on a keyboard are of equal weight. Ferguson seems to have forgotten this uncomfortable truth.