The Silly Fact-Check Genre

I do not agree with Mitt Romney's implied protectionism in his ads, particularly when he says

Obama took GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy and sold Chrysler to Italians who are going to build Jeeps in China

The problem with Obama's intervention in the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies was cronyism -- the protection of favored insiders to the detriment of the operation of the rule of law -- rather than any accelerated globalization.  The auto industry is a global business, deal with it. We should be thrilled that Chrysler is participating in the Chinese economy, an opportunity they would not have had a generation or two ago.  This kind of populist BS is exactly why I voted Johnson, not Romney, this morning.

Anyway, this statement has been subject to a lot of "fact-checking."  Chrysler head Sergio Marchionne wrote a letter in the Detroit News, and while he did not attempt to deny the part about Italians (though that would have been funny), he did write:

Chrysler Group's production plans for the Jeep brand have become the focus of public debate.

I feel obliged to unambiguously restate our position: Jeep production will not be moved from the United States to China.

OK, thanks for the clarification.  But wait, the letter goes on.  He spends a lot of time explaining how Chrysler is investing a lot in Jeep SUV development and production, and that many jobs are being added making Jeeps.  In fact, Jeep SUV's seem to be the big bright spot in the Chrysler turnaround, which is funny because Obama's logic for handing Chrysler over to Fiat for about a dollar was that Fiat would turn Chrysler around with all of its great small car designs.

Anyway, the really interesting part comes late in the article, where he says in paragraph 9:

Together, we are working to establish a global enterprise and previously announced our intent to return Jeep production to China, the world's largest auto market, in order to satisfy local market demand, which would not otherwise be accessible.

So Chrysler ... is going to build Jeeps in China.

This is why the whole "fact check" genre is so stupid.   We could fact-check this three ways, depending on what political axe we want to grind:

  1. We could say that Romney's ad was exactly correct, that Chrysler's CEO says it is going to build Jeeps in China, just as Romeny said.  Romney's statement is literally true as written, which one would think might be a good criteria for a fact-check.
  2. We could say that Romney's ad was misleading, because the implication was meant to be that Chrysler is shifting North American production to China, and they are not (Politifact took this tack).
  3. We could argue that Romney's entire premise is wrong, because what matters to long-term economic health and wealth creation in this country is that Chrysler is making the optimum production decisions, wherever the factories end up.  And further, that making these decisions the subject of political discourse virtually guarantees they will be made for reasons other than optimizing efficiency.  This is the fact-check I would make but you will not hear in mainstream media fact-checks, because the level of economic ignorance on trade in most of the media is simply astonishingly high.


  1. Kevin R:

    You can just leave that last statement as "the level of ignorance"; you don't really need to get more specific.

  2. me:

    One observation I have is that it is astonishing to me that I'd prefer most people I interact with on a daily basis for the office of President of the United States to the two candidates most likely to succeed. What's wrong with the system if the big two choices on offer represent such low quality?

  3. Mark:

    Here is the difference between "Romney Protectionsism" and "Obama Protectionism", and how you view it depends on your own subjective interests.

    For Romney, the reason why Jeep production in China is "bad" is that it proves that the economic environment for production in the United States is not optimum. It is too expensive, too regulated, and business will transfer production to an environment where they can maximize their profits. THe way to improve this is to radically improve the investment environment in the United States to make countries want to invest here.

    For Obama, it is a matter of protecting his constituent union voters by artificially prohibiting trade with lower cost countries. The consumer/taxpayers will pay in the end to prop up his voters. The proof is in the GM/Chrysler bankruptcy pudding.

  4. sabre_springs_mark:

    I think you miss the point of the Romney Ad. Obama is jumping up and down saying he has saved all these auto jobs, and now Fiat wants to move them offshore - so Obama didn't save much. That is the point of the ads and this counts as an Obama failure.

    The fact that Fiat is actually threatening to move the jobs to Italy and not China is merely an aside. Fiat is threatening the jobs Obama claims to have saved for Americans.

    Now whether it is good or bad to manufacture in another country is another issue altogether.

    But for your point to fact checkers - they usually reflect the bias of the checker. James Taranto, likes to point out the more egregious fact checks and found one where the fact checker admitted all the Romney facts were correct, but taken together the checker feels they are misleading and therefore Romney gets all the Pinocchios.

  5. Dan Sherman:

    You might as well have said, "This kind of populist BS is exactly why I acted like a child who isn't getting their way and voted Johnson, not Romney, this morning."

    Because it's tantamount to the same thing. Rather than add your voice to the process, you were spiteful because of the process. I expected more from you. Still love you... but expected more.

    I was just as unimpressed with Mitt as the next truly conservative minded person. But having Obama for another 4 years is tantamount to whizzing on America. I can't do that.

  6. mahtso:

    I did not see the full ad, but (based on other information I've seen) I suspect the ad was not about protectionism, but rather to counter (or deflect) the criticism that Mr. Romney's business operations involved moving jobs out of the US.

  7. LarryG:

    RE: "
    So Chrysler ... is going to build Jeeps in China."

    that's true but is Chrysler moving US jeep production jobs to China or are they ADDING jobs in China to build Jeeps for Chinese?

    the simple truth here if you really want to deal with it.

  8. Tim:

    Chrysler is going to construct a new assembly plant in China to build vehicles for the local market. It is doing this because China's restrictive trade practices require local assembly, with local (government) corporate partners. But neither candidate is going to stand up and say what really needs to happen -- we need a full, open, trade market; then Chrysler can build Chinese market Jeeps in Toledo.

  9. markm:

    And the reason China requires Jeep (and many other products) to be produced in China is so that they can learn how to manufacture these products themselves and eventually cut the American companies out of the market.