I shouldn’t have talked to Max Zahn.

Hello Prof. Henderson,

I’m a reporter at Yahoo Finance working with Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer on a story about President Trump’s economic performance so far. I would like to speak with you today on the topic.

Please get back to me as soon as possible, as I’m on deadline for tomorrow morning. The conversation should take no more than 5-10 minutes.

My phone number is xxx-xxx-xxxx.


Max Zahn

So read an email I received from Max Zahn last Wednesday. I called back and we arranged to talk early Thursday morning. You might think that with his statement, “I would like to speak with you today on the topic,” that he meant the topic he mentioned in the previous sentence, namely “President Trump’s economic performance so far.” When I called him Thursday morning, I asked him if he had contacted me because he had seen my two Defining Ideas pieces (here and here) on Trump’s economic performance. He said yes. Then he asked me to say what I had said in the articles.

That’s sometimes a red flag. It can mean that he wants to get me talking so that he can move on to other things. It can also mean that he wants me to come up with slightly different ways of saying what I said in the article so that he can honestly say that he was quoting me instead of just referencing the article.

In this case, it was, unfortunately, the former. He ended up using literally nothing about that I said about Trump’s economic performance, even though that was at least 8 minutes of our 10-minute conversation. He used nothing from my two articles and nothing from my response to his questions about the minimum wage and infrastructure. On the minimum wage, Zahn had told me that Trump had promised during the campaign to raise the minimum wage to $10 an hour, and Zahn claimed that that was a modest increase. I told him that a 40 percent raise in the minimum wage is not a modest increase and that I was glad Trump didn’t keep that promise; indeed, I said, one reason we have such great employment numbers is that the federal minimum wage hasn’t increased so that it’s easier for unskilled workers to find jobs. On infrastructure, I said that, given the players involved–Republicans and Democrats–I was glad there was no infrastructure bill because it would have been full of expensive subsidies. It would be far better, I said, if they encouraged infrastructure by allowing state governments to toll interstates (and maybe even cut the gas tax) and got rid of the Davis-Bacon Act, which makes infrastructure projects so much more expensive. I pointed to the fiasco with the expansion of the New York subway as an example where the Davis-Bacon Act was probably one of the culprits.

None of this made it into the article. Here’s the only part of Zahn’s article, written with his boss, Andy Serwer, that refers to our conversation:

“There is one thing I like about him.” says David R. Henderson, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and a professor of economics at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. “I like a Republican who fights back. [But] I think he’s a nasty man. I don’t think I’d want him as a friend, I don’t know if he even has friends.”