Pink Himalayan Calculator Problems, Part (n)

Further to DougJ’s catch of this morning:  last night I actually found myself reading (why, oh why, dear FSM?) the McArdle post in question, a bit of fappery in which she paraded her above-the-fray disdain for the idea that the Obama administration might take action to clean up a mess the Republican rump plans to deposit on his lawn.  (No linky ’cause I’m not in the business of giving any hint of value to McArdle’s employers/enablers.)

It’s really a sad effort, in which McArdle attempts to compose a ~1,600 word piece on the failure of governance implied by a discussion of a platinum coin on the US balance sheet without seriously implicating anyone other than President Obama.  She does make a couple of nods in the direction of “both sides do it” faux-balance, chiding the Republicans for their role in the last debt-ceiling debacle and noting that the GOP side of the aisle seems even less prepared for the consequences of actually blocking the measure this time around.

But those are head fakes.  She reserves the full blast of McArdle scorn (as always, queue cue Denis Healey’s “savaged by a dead sheep” line here) for Obama in particular and the Democrats in general (whodathunkit!). A sample complaint: Obama’s election campaign went pitiably small (an argument that relies on ignoring most of what Obama discussed on the trail), and that he and his party simply ignore the “fact” of federal over-spending.

I’m not going to do my usual obsessive 4,000 word fisk on all the failings of fact and logic that permeate this, as so many of McArdle’s effusions.  Life is too short; I’m on (self-imposed) deadline; and frankly, the slow erosion of McArdle’s career makes the task less pressing, at least to me.  The Daily Beast ain’t The Atlantic, and you can see the impact the difference in audience makes.  I actually waded into the comment thread on the post in question (the shallow end — didn’t have the stomach or the time for the deep dive) and there were plenty there heading for Red State territory.

Agostino_Carracci_-_Hairy_Harry,_Mad_Peter_and_Tiny_Amon_-_WGA4398

I’ve no doubt that McArdle is unlikely to want for a reasonably well-paying gig for the indefinite future; she’s pretty well situated on the Wingnut Welfare railroad.  But there is a big difference between those who intone their harmonies inside the Wurlitzer and those who play out a bit, and it seems to me that she’s heading the wrong way on that particular arc.  Could be wrong, of course, and constant vigilance and all that.  But really, there are bigger fish to fry (looking at you, BoBo, et al.).

So, in the interest of everyone’s time, let me here just take note of the fact that McArdle’s calculator is performing as well as ever.  Her post’s coffee-spray-on-the-screen moment came on reading this gem:

For a while, Democrats could pride themselves on being the reasonable ones. Now they, too, are choosing words over math.  “We don’t have a spending problem,” President Obama apparently blithely told the Speaker of the House.  Which is technically true . . . if we’re willing to raise the government’s tax take to north of 50% of Gross Domestic Product. [ellipsis in the original]

Err.

Just to dot the “i”s: 2011 GDP?

$14,991,300,000,000.  Call it $15 trillion. (via the World Bank.)

2011 federal spending?

$3,598,000,000,000.  Call it $3.6 trillion. (Via the CBO.)

Now, I don’t know about y’all, but I’m not sure I even need to pull out my slide rule to see that 50% of $15 trillion is $7.5 trillion.  And I can probably get by without digging up a working model of a Curta to confirm that $3.6<$7.5.

But perhaps I should do the calculation anyway.  Using the rounded numbers, it seems that federal spending in fiscal 2011 amounted to ~ 24% of GDP.  Or, for those of you keeping score, right in the range  Bernard discussed yesterday.

All of which is to speak the obvious; McArdle’s number is simply bullshit.

I actually have no idea what she was thinking there; it really is one of the least well hidden secrets in US budget discussions that the feds spend a bit under one quarter of GDP.  That’s a number that’s been out there a lot, not least in the context of not-exactly-obscure proposals like the Ryan “Path to Prosperity”* budget plan, which called for long-term government spending to fall to 19% of GDP.

Just to belabor the point:  getting this proportion scaled right is not rocket science — it’s just part of the assumed knowledge in discussions of US fiscal stuff.  Which is to say that anyone can, of course, screw up and type a number in error.  But then, if you’re numerate at all, you get that tingle that tells you there’s something just off — and you fix it.

Which leaves me with the usual McArdle conundrum:  is she simply so tone-deaf quantitatively that she really didn’t catch the absurdity of the claim?  Or is she so reckless a polemicist that she did, and didn’t care?

One last thought.  Back when McArdle was securely perched at The Atlantic, I often ended these rants by pointing out that her work colored the output of the whole site.  Sometimes I called out the writers I did (and do) admire there to sharpen the jab.  The same obtains today:  McArdle’s work is a measure of The Daily Beast.  If they choose to publish her, they own whatever good she may produce — and all the bad, with every bit of reputational and credibility damage that may follow to the site and everyone else who takes a byline there. In which context, whatever your feelings about Andrew Sullivan, I’ll say this:  he’s not stupid about his career.  It’s not (or not just) the manner of his leaving Tina’s playpen; it’s the fact of his abandon-ship that, to me, speaks volumes.

*Doublespeak alert

Image:  Agostino Carracci, Hairy Harry, Mad Peter and Tiny Amon, between 1598 and 1600.  I have used this before, but it really seems to fit here.

74 replies
  1. 1

    Where n–> infinity.

  2. 2
    Cassidy says:

    She reserves the full blast of McArdle scorn (as always, queue Denis Healey’s “savaged by a dead sheep” line here) for Obama in particular and the Democrats in general (whodathunkit!).

    Ahhh, so McArdle is an emoprog purity liberal.

  3. 3
    Scott de B. says:

    At least she’s only off by a factor of two rather than a factor of ten this time.

  4. 4
    Boots Day says:

    My favorite part is where she pretends that Obama wanted to increase taxes on the rich for no purpose whatsoever. I guess she’s too busy to have spent much time reading up on the deficit or the Fiscal Cliff or anything like that.

  5. 5
    Belafon (formerly anonevent) says:

    When you are used to the following math properties:
    40 > 60
    27% > 73%

    Any number can be rounded up to prove that Obama is black ruining the country.

  6. 6
    Bulworth says:

    he and his party simply ignore the “fact” of federal over-spending.

    Because the debt ceiling has never been raised before by any administration or any congress. The need to raise the debt ceiling now is thus completely unprecedented and reflects only the administration’s “over-spending”. /

  7. 7
    MikeJ says:

    Cue, not queue. Signal to begin playing the quote, don’t put it in line.

  8. 8
    matt says:

    mcardle is probably referring to projections that have costs of medicare, etc. going up to levels like that without cost containment.

  9. 9
    Tom Levenson says:

    @MikeJ: Well, yeah, dammit.

    Fix’t

    I do love the act of typing “q/u/e/u/e”. Not much of an excuse for the error, I guess, but mine own.

  10. 10
    catclub says:

    It seems to me that the most effective argument of conservatives ( to them certainly) is the slippery slope.
    For people who are known to be resistant to change, any change is bad because it is the start of more change.

    Seen in that light: “Well of course 50% is wrong now, but just you wait a little and those camelnoses in the tent will get there, consarn it.”

    The effectiveness of the slippery slope also comes through in the fundamental difference of conservatives versus sane people vis-a-vis the size of the government:
    Conservatives think it must be smaller. Sane people think it should be no bigger than it needs to be to do the things we (as the members of a democracy) decide we want it do.

  11. 11
    Chris says:

    The latter, I think. And justifiably so, because her readers will eat it up. They don’t give a shit.

  12. 12
    Bulworth says:

    Which is technically true . . . if we’re willing to raise the government’s tax take to north of 50% of Gross Domestic Product. [ellipsis in the original]

    Well, the govenment’s “tax take” is even less than it’s spending, so I think her 50% claim is off by even more than the numbers you used.

  13. 13
    bleh says:

    @Belafon (formerly anonevent): Exactly so. The argument — such as it is — follows from the conclusion, not the other way around. It’s faith-based.

  14. 14
    Tom Levenson says:

    @matt: She might be. But that ain’t what she said, and probably for good reason.

    That reason would be what you imply: that’s actually a policy argument, not primarily a fiscal one. The question is not whether or not the government or anyone else can or will pay for health care bills rising on some projected trajectory. It’s what you do to alter that trajectory.

    There’s a post brewing in my brain on this (nearly fatal, ISTM) confusion of fiscal argument and policy choice. The fiscal issues point to the necessary policy decisions; they do not (except in the most failure-rich mode) constitute them.

  15. 15
    MikeJ says:

    If you want to bring down the percentage of GDP that is gov spending, the best way is to increase the GDP. A 10% increase of $15T would make it $16.5, and drop the percentage from 24 to 21.8.

  16. 16
    Tom Levenson says:

    @MikeJ: And Bingo was his name-o.

    Spot on.

  17. 17
    Chris says:

    @catclub:

    Yep. Just saw the SS argument again on Facebook WRT gun control.

    It’s really a fantastic arguing technique. Can’t find an argument against what’s happening, so instead you argue against what MIGHT happen, as if that proved you right. They can’t argue against gay marriage, so they argue against man on turtle marriage. They can’t argue against gun control, so they argue against complete abolition of all guns. They can’t argue against universal health care, so they argue against Soviet Marxism. Etc, etc, etc.

  18. 18
    sherparick says:

    And of course there is a very specific reason right now that Federal spending is 24% of GDP, but one that McCardle, CNBC, the German Finance Ministry, and frankly most of the mainstream press this side of Paul Krugman and Felix Soloman miss constantly (and I suspect intentionally). ITS THE BUSINESS CYCLE, STUPID. There is a 7.8% official enemployment rate, a 14.4% U-6 unemployment rate (includes involuntary part-time and discourage workers – http://blog.al.com/businessnew.....e_dow.html), and a decline in Labor Froce participation rate from 66% to 64%.

    Because tax revenues are down while counter-cyclical expenses for unemployment insurance, food stamps, Social Security disability (SSI), early social security retirement, student loans (and student loan defaults), Medicaid, etc. spending are all up. If unemployment could be brought down to 6%, this couner-cyclical automatic spending would fall and the Federal budget share of GDP would probably fall to 22% or less of GDP, as it was pre-Great Recession). This is the reason for the whole absurdity of the Austerity argument since creating more unemployment and immiseration actually results in a worse Fiscal situation for Governments due to a decline in revenues and unexpected claims on even the now reduced level of benefits.

    But the ideas that McArdle propagates does serve the interests of those who want to eliminate the social insurance programs. She and her ilk are always going to dissembling to serve the greater Galtian good as they see it.

  19. 19

    @Chris:
    No writer ever went broke by telling their target audience just how awesome, special and true they are.

  20. 20
    Bruce S says:

    @matt:

    This is pretty obviously her game. She’s not simply making the huge error that is implied in this post. And, of course, the only solution to that problem – which is real – is introducing more government regulation into the entire health care system, so we bring our health care costs as % of GDP down to the level of, say, France.

  21. 21
    danimal says:

    Which leaves me with the usual McArdle conundrum: is she simply so tone-deaf quantitatively that she really didn’t catch the absurdity of the claim? Or is she so reckless a polemicist that she did, and didn’t care?

    The world, and American civil discourse, will be much improved when we don’t need to ask, and re-ask repetitively, whether conservatives are stupid or evil. And yes, the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

  22. 22
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @Chris:

    Yep. Just saw the SS argument again on Facebook WRT gun control

    The best part is how easy it is to contruct a slippery slope out of strawmen, if you just pack the straw down hard enough, i.e. using the sort of industrial machinery normally employed by ski resorts to groom the snow on their slopes. Bzzzzz! Bzzzzz! Say, what’s that sound? Pay no attention dear customer, here hold onto the sides of this sled while I strap you in. Enjoy the ride!

  23. 23
    Culture of Truth says:

    if we’re willing to raise the government’s tax take to north of 50% of Gross Domestic Product.

    Personally I don’t care what percent it is as long we’re achieving a decent society for all

  24. 24
    Violet says:

    How long will Tina keep McMegan around once Andrew Sullivan is gone? Doesn’t he toss her links now? Will he still do that once he’s paying his own way? Does she have enough of a following to hold her own without others propping her up?

  25. 25
    Jamey says:

    is she simply so tone-deaf quantitatively that she really didn’t catch the absurdity of the claim? Or is she so reckless a polemicist that she did, and didn’t care?

    The second one. You’re welcome.

  26. 26
    aimai says:

    As she falls down the food chain she is going to have to churn stuff out faster,and with more tits if she’s going to make it. At the Atlantic she fulfilled some imaginary slot as the “thinking man’s bit of randian crumpet” but the notion that she could think at all was always wildly overblown, as was the image of her as some young prodigy of randian thought. She’s gotten a bit long in the tooth and has never been photogenic enough to make the leap to TV and someone punchier, bitchier, and more in touch with the real pop cultural references of her followers will step in pretty soon. Her career is on life support and I don’t think that even the ACA contains a provision that will defibrillate it.

    aimai

  27. 27

    @aimai: I hope you are right. I hope she takes Friedman, Bobo and Chunky Bobo with her.

  28. 28

    is she simply so tone-deaf quantitatively that she really didn’t catch the absurdity of the claim? Or is she so reckless a polemicist that she did, and didn’t care?

    Yes.

    Actually, there’s really a third category: she makes wingnut sounds without any real clue as to their meaning except they make other wingnuts squeal and clap and repeat those sounds.

  29. 29
    EconWatcher says:

    @aimai:

    She’s trying to fill a niche that doesn’t exist, and for which she doesn’t have the talent anyway.

  30. 30
    jeffreyw says:

    The world, and American civil discourse, will be much improved when we don’t need to ask, and re-ask repetitively, whether conservatives are stupid or evil. And yes, the two aren’t mutually exclusive.

    This is an excellent suggestion! I predict a reduction in stray verbiage of about 27% if it can be implemented.

  31. 31

    @aimai:
    Ironically, her best career move at this point would be to pretend to have a Road to Damascus moment and carve out a rhetorical space that’s still “business-first”, but more towards the center (ie kind of where Yglesias lives these days).

  32. 32
    ThatLeftTurnInABQ says:

    @aimai:

    the “thinking man’s bit of randian crumpet”

    Oh dear, oh dear. That’s going to leave a mark.

    Why am I suddenly visualizing the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party from Alice, with Milton Friedman as the Mad Hatter and Margaret Thatcher lurking off-stage as the Red Queen ?

  33. 33

    @Judas Escargot, Bringer of Loaves and Fish Sandwiches: May be they could co-blog, he could check her work for math errors and she could check his spelling.

  34. 34

    @jeffreyw: Thread needs kittehs, how are Bitsy and Homer and the rest of the gang?

  35. 35
    eric says:

    @sherparick: yes, yes, and yes. there is no country, only Party and there is no Party without Ideology, so to protect the Party we must protect the Ideology. So, clap louder and have your paid for minstrels in the media approve of such loud clapping whilst denouncing the other reasonable and proper alternatives as wishful and sloppy thinking.

  36. 36
    cmorenc says:

    McArdle would be the quintessential example of someone who somehow made a successful paying career out of being a college sophomore, writing sophomoric essays for her politics 101 class at some mediocre small liberal-arts college where simply turning in a 600 word paper on-time without any major grammatical or format errors is good enough to get a B+.

    Except that I note in her bio that she got a degree in English from the University of Pennsylvania, technically one of the Ivys. Which would seem to suggest it’s possible to get a B+ even there writing 600 word papers on-time without any major grammatical or format errors.

  37. 37
    rikyrah says:

    The crime here is that McArdle actually had a career. She is a stupid woman who can’t write and the thought that numerous places gave this woman a paycheck for the shyt she wrote is what’s wrong with the world.

  38. 38
    jeffreyw says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: Today they are freaked out by the vacuum cleaner and are hiding. How about a nice puppy?

  39. 39
    JPL says:

    OT…Giglio out… I still wonder why he was invited to the inauguration unless it was because of Michelle Obama’s invite to North Point Community Church a few years back.

  40. 40

    @cmorenc:

    McArdle would be the quintessential example of someone who somehow made a successful paying career out of being a college sophomore, writing sophomoric essays for her politics 101 class at some mediocre small liberal-arts college where simply turning in a 600 word paper on-time without any major grammatical or format errors is good enough to get a B+.

    That pretty much defines the world of wingnut welfare. And as long as major media outlets believe they need pundits to defend the indefensible, some of these beneficiaries of the infamous “soft bigotry of low expectations” will wind up on the op-ed pages of major newspapers and magazines, and on the panels of the Sunday morning politalk shows.

  41. 41

    @schrodinger’s cat:
    They could ask Ezra Klein to help them out with the occasional informative chart, also, too.

  42. 42
    different-church-lady says:

    24% of GDP. Which is roughly — my gosh, what a coincidence — the percentage of my income I pay in income taxes. Whoda fuckin’ thunk it?!?

  43. 43
    Punchy says:

    Can anyone ballpark what she makes a year writing directly from her ass? Six figs?

  44. 44
    David in NY says:

    I find it interesting that the so-called “economists” that the right enlists to publicize its positions tend to have been English majors. See, Schlaes, McArdle.

  45. 45
    max says:

    @Bruce S: This (medicare projections) is pretty obviously her game. She’s not simply making the huge error that is implied in this post.

    Actually, I don’t think she’s making an error either (although she’s trying to cause her readers to commit one), but it doesn’t involve medicare, or likely doesn’t. I read her as referring to all federal/state/local revenues/spending.

    If you combine all state and federal spending/taxing, it’s a lot more than 22% of GDP, depending on how you count. (Current spending is ~37% of GDP is I’ve done the % right in my head, and taxation is less, unless you’re a wingnut, in which case it’s more.)

    I initially thought she was referring to the ‘Tax Freedom Day’ people, but actually, there’s no telling, and also, even if there was, I’d have to read her to find out and I’ve been avoiding that for heading towards a decade now and I refuse to break my streak.

    max
    [‘So. Could be anything really. Might be the percentage of dumb fucking shit she has to say to fall asleep that gets makes her eyelids droop. Who knows.’]

  46. 46
    Cassidy says:

    McArgle Bargle deliberately writes so that later, after she’s been confronted, can go “but no, this is what I meant”. Trying to decipher any of the bullshit before her first retort is an exercise in frustration.

  47. 47
    WereBear says:

    @Bulworth: Because the debt ceiling has never been raised before by any administration or any congress. The need to raise the debt ceiling now is thus completely unprecedented and reflects only the administration’s “over-spending”. /

    Sadly, this is not snark. I have met people who think they are winning the argument by saying, “We never heard about the debt ceiling before!”

    Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain.

  48. 48
    mainmati says:

    Denis Healey was the funniest man in the Labour Party back in the day.

  49. 49
    scav says:

    @ThatLeftTurnInABQ: Didn’t Doug Adams write a brief encounter with a High End comfort girl who’s job was to call into cars with bankers and tell them the market and/or theory made them do it and they were really ok? Can’t find it easily with and those keywords and I’m really altering my google-profile (huzzah!)

  50. 50
    Roger Moore says:

    @MikeJ:

    If you want to bring down the percentage of GDP that is gov spending, the best way is to increase the GDP.

    The best way, perhaps, but not the easiest. The easiest is to gut government programs, and the easiest programs to gut are ones that serve people who are politically underrepresented. IOW, fuck the poor and helpless.

  51. 51

    McMegs just went through a 14 tweet explanation on how she “inadvertently” blogged for so many years as Jane Galt. Fucking hilarious. No one is convinced. Not even megs.

  52. 52
    Surly Duff says:

    You are being to hard on her. Just like the rest of her “math”, those numbers are solely hypotheticals

  53. 53
    Roger Moore says:

    @WereBear:

    Against stupidity, the gods themselves contend in vain.

    I think in the case of wingnuts, it’s more like “there are none so blind as those who will not see.”

  54. 54
    scav says:

    @ranchandsyrup: Does she mean there was no advertising? There’s a confession, implying she did something for other than the money.

    @Surly Duff: As she’d agree, hypodermical numbers. (hollow but somehow managing to be pointless, although that last may be searching D Adams imagery aftereffects).

  55. 55
    Tom Levenson says:

    @ranchandsyrup: Wha?

    Not even going to begin to bother to parse. Life really is too short.

  56. 56

    @Tom Levenson: DougJ is doing some fine trolling work over there. I can’t stop laughing at her “explanation”. I’m sick as a dog and this is the only thing making me feel better.
    It “never occurred to her” that someone may think that a blogger called jane galt is an objectivist…………….

  57. 57
    Yutsano says:

    @Tom Levenson: That just screams that way lay madness good sir. Best to just keep moving forward…

  58. 58
    MikeJ says:

    @Tom Levenson: She claims her nym “was never a political statement” and was done just to piss off lefties.

    So she didn’t pick it because of a political philosophy that only 12 year olds appreciate, she picked it because, “ha ha you’re a poopy head!”

  59. 59
    johnny aquitard says:

    I’m not going to do my usual obsessive 4,000 word fisk on all the failings of fact and logic that permeate this

    To be fair, there is always so much fact and logic fail from McMegan that a 4,000 word fisk is about the bare minimum necessary to cover it all.

  60. 60
    WereBear says:

    @MikeJ: I thought EVERYTHING they do is chosen to piss off lefties.

    That is their compass needle.

  61. 61
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @MikeJ: What is the difference?

  62. 62
    danimal says:

    For conservatives, it’s always 1981, inflation is always out of control, liberals are always subverting the will of the conservative American majority, the heathens are always out to corrupt your kids, the Commies Islamofacists are at the gates and St. Ronnie, leader of conservatives, is always the bulwark against all that threatens the American Way.

    McMegan, like all right-thinkers, simply hasn’t needed to adjust to a world that is 180 degrees from 1981. Her arguments are sloppy because there is a market for them. Until conservatives start engaging with the reality-based world, this style of lazy, stupid punditry will continue to fill the void.

  63. 63

    @jeffreyw: Cute puppeh, Thanks!
    Bad vacuum cleaner, plz not to be frightening the kittehs.

  64. 64
    Roger Moore says:

    @MikeJ:

    She claims her nym “was never a political statement” and was done just to piss off lefties.

    So doing something just to piss off lefties isn’t a political statement? This tells you everything about McMegan you need to know.

  65. 65
    Jebediah says:

    @jeffreyw:
    What a sweet pup!

  66. 66
    Howlin Wolfe says:

    @Roger Moore: Roger, except that gutting the programs that help the poor and helpless enough to reduce the spending to the level that teh wingnutz want will cause a recession so severe that the GDP will implode, and it’s back to cutting more and more. Eventually there would be a revolution with the plutocrats heads on pikes,or a realization by enough powerful people that wingnut economics don’t work.

  67. 67
    rachel says:

    @Surly Duff: Or “hypocriticals”.

  68. 68
    AHH onna Droid says:

    @schrodinger’s cat: Chunky Bobo is a man, dear. Like the Apostles. An important voice which must be given due consideration on the opinion pages of the Grey Lady. (Another theory hold he is their Jeff Jacoby, their amiable token con baboon.)

    Friedman, of course, married money. Lots of it. Making him the editors’ better and the publishers peer. He stays until NYT goes bankrupt and no plitocrat buys it as a vanity organ opening the way for the workers to purchase and operate as a collective, ie never.

  69. 69
    Betsy says:

    @aimai: If the “thinking man’s bit of crumpet” has a face like an Idaho baking potato that’s been dipped in glue, then sand, and stuck with two little raisins for pig-eyes.

    No offense to real pigs.

  70. 70
    asiangrrlMN says:

    Tom, thanks for the amuse-bouche. It was tasty, but you’re right. MM2 is on her way down, so there’s no need to spend too much time on her. Still, it’s enraging that she gets paid (probably fairly-well) to write the shit she does. Ugh.

    @jeffreyw: Awwwww! So cute!

  71. 71
    Craig says:

    Well, I did get out my slide rule, just to check, and half of 15T is in fact 7.5T. It did take me a minute to remember how to set up a division problem, and then you have to add a zero back in for going the wrong way on the slidestick.

  72. 72
    Arundel says:

    Ha, I’m actually getting an ad for Pink Himalayan Salt on this page. Too funny.

  73. 73
    xian says:

    @danimal: Upton Sinclair nailed it: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it.”

  74. 74
    xian says:

    @danimal: ’cause in the mind of Ronald Reagan, wheels they turn and gears they grind, building collapse in slow motion, and trains collide. Everything is fine, everything is fine, everything is fine.

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