- The Washington Times - Monday, August 29, 2005

A fair debate about the Dulles rail project

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly’s response to my critical analysis of the rail project to Dulles was quite interesting (“A HOT debate,” Letters, Saturday). Unfortunately, Mr. Connolly resorted to a series of personal attacks rather than actually defending the Dulles Rail project. Of the four “facts” he cited in his letter, only one was accurate.

Additionally, Mr. Connolly made no attempt to explain where the money to pay for the recent $300 million price increase will come from. When I spoke to him on WTOP on Aug. 17, he brushed aside the question of the massive price increase, saying it would cost Fairfax just $40 million to $50 million more and adding that Fairfax “can handle that.” Regrettably, even with a 2 cent to 3 cent real estate tax rate increase to cover Mr. Connolly’s fairyland $40 million to $50 million, we are still $250 million short.

Mr. Connolly attacked what he claimed was my earlier absence from the debate on rail to Dulles. The fact is that rail to Dulles was hotly debated in both of my last two elections. I also attempted to get the General Assembly to allow the voters of Fairfax to vote on whether to proceed with this boondoggle, thereby carrying on the debate at the state level — the level at which I formally participate in the governing process.

I am the only elected official in the past four years to put together a forum to address HOT lanes, rail to Dulles, and interstate transportation issues. That forum took place in August 2003, and it was such a tremendous success (more than 200 participants) that a variety of organizations have commenced their own annual forums.



The next apparent invention in Mr. Connolly’s response was his statement that Metro covers more than 70 percent of its operating costs with fares. Not even Metro makes this outrageous claim. One is forced to ask Mr. Connolly what he includes in the phrase “operating costs.”

Metro’s 2005 budget is $1.29 billion; just $459 million of that comes from fares. Does that sound like 70 percent to you? The repetition of such errant statistics gives much credence to the old adage about the ability of figures to lie.

Finally, Mr. Connolly closed with an attractive thought: “As responsible stewards of the public interest, we must look at the facts presented and decide on the best solution.” True. So why won’t Mr. Connolly or any of the other proponents of rail to Dulles debate the facts?

Could it be because they know they can’t win a debate on the facts of Dulles rail? Perhaps the extension of rail is actually not the best way to handle present and future transportation needs in the Dulles corridor. If not, shouldn’t every taxpayer and commuter in the region be very concerned, unlike Mr. Connolly?

KEN CUCCINELLI II

Virginia State Senate

Fairfax

Wage trends

Who would have thought that your conservative Editorial Page would come to the defense of economist and liberal Paul Krugman? That’s just what happened in an Aug. 25 editorial, “The fact on wage trends.” The editorial accuses me of “stridency” and of making errors in the use of economic statistics in one of my series of critiques of Mr. Krugman published on National Review Online.

The Washington Times is being very generous to Mr. Krugman, considering he once called the newspaper “the administration’s de facto house organ”in a column titled “Feel the Hate.”

The thrust of your editorial was that Mr. Krugman raised a valid and alarming issue when he pointed out in a recent New York Times op-ed that “adjusted for inflation, average weekly earnings [through June] have been flat for the past five years.” According to the editorial, it was “strident” of me to ask the New York Times to publish a correction of Mr. Krugman’s statement, though the editorial admits that earnings have grown 0.5 percent — they have not, in fact, been “flat.”

Is 0.5 percent close enough to “flat” so that the matter is too trivial for America’s “newspaper of record” to correct? The Washington Times editorial thinks so, and ordinarily that might be right. But not when it comes to Paul Krugman. A former Enron adviser, Mr. Krugman’s columns in the New York Times are littered with lies, errors, distortions and misquotations, many designed to suggest that the economy is in crisis, and thereby to discredit the Bush administration’s policies. I’ve deeply documented this in two-and-a-half years of columns at National Review Online and on my blog.

Even the New York Times’ own ombudsman declared that Mr. Krugman has a “disturbing habit of shaping, slicing and selectively citing numbers.” So I don’t feel I’m being strident when I ask that he be required to say “almost flat” instead of “flat” — because that’s the truth.

Is it too strident to point out that The Washington Times itself has erred? Three times the editorial wrongly claims (and again on Sunday) that the production or nonsupervisory workers to whom Mr. Krugman’s “flat” earnings statistics apply “comprise about 80 percent of the employed labor force.” This is simply not true. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the agency that produces the weekly earnings statistics, they apply to private sector workers only. They comprise 63 percent of the employed labor force, not “about 80.”

The editorial also erred when it faulted me for citing the five-year 9.6 percent growth in real disposable income, claiming that it is in fact 8.5 percent through the first quarter of 2005. The Bureau of Economic Analysis, the agency which publishes these statistics, is constantly backward-revising them. In fact, 8.5 percent is the correct number today — and 9.6 percent was the correct number when I cited it in June.

The editorial takes me to task for claiming that real disposable income is “comparable” to the average weekly earnings cited by Mr. Krugman, as though I were glossing over the methodological differences between the two series. They are indeed different in various ways, but I stand by my view that they are comparable — both statistics are ways of looking at how much money working Americans earn. There are others I could cite too, each different but all comparable — and all showing better earnings growth than the one cited by Mr. Krugman.

Mr. Krugman deliberately cited the statistics showing slower growth, because those help him discredit the administration’s economic policies. And he made the statistics seem even worse by failing to put “flat” five-year growth into historical context. Real average weekly earnings have fallen considerably since their peak in the mid 1970s. The average five-year period since June 1975 has seen a decline of 2.1 percent. Even literally flat growth is better than that. But that good news is not mentioned or analyzed — not by Mr. Krugman, and not by The Washington Times.

I applaud the Editorial Page for wanting to take an unflinching look at seemingly negative economic statistics and for encouraging a conversation about how to improve economic performance. The editorial is right about one thing: “Expressing concern does not make one a liberal class warrior.” But I never said it did. And no good cause is served by looking only at the most pessimistic statistics, papering over the deceptions of America’s most dangerous liberal pundit and unfairly nit-picking an earnest conservative critic.

DONALD L. LUSKIN

Chief Investment Officer

Trend Macrolytics

Menlo Park, Calif.

Your Thursday editorial “The facts on wage trends” points out that one need not be a leftist to be concerned about stagnant wages. May I point out that one major cause is an increased share of gross national product going to land rents?

The housing boom — some say bubble — is notorious and is primarily a boom in land, not bricks or plumbing fixtures. Land under factories or office towers also has been booming, as has vacant land near prosperous factories, shops and office buildings.

If businesses have to pay more of their revenue for land, less is left to pay wages. If housing costs skyrocket, what wage increases there are may be largely absorbed there, leaving little to increase workers’ standards of living.

We should cut taxes on earned income and on capital, including buildings, and instead raise taxes on land. That would do more to aid the poor and middle classes than most of the ideas usually discussed — and without the ill effects of other soak-the-rich schemes.

NICHOLAS ROSEN

Arlington

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