Counterfactuals

Daniel Davies (via Brad Delong) in a classic blog post explained his reasoning for calling bullshit on the Iraq War in the summer of 2002:

Anyway, the secret to every analysis I’ve ever done of contemporary politics has been, more or less, my expensive business school education (I would write a book entitled “Everything I Know I Learned At A Very Expensive University”, but I doubt it would sell). About half of what they say about business schools and their graduates is probably true, and they do often feel like the most collossal waste of time and money, but they occasionally teach you the odd thing which is very useful indeed.

  • Good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance.
  • Fibbers’ forecasts are worthless.
  • The Vital Importance of Audit.

I did not have an MBA but my graduate work was in a similar field where the entire point of attending that school was to drink really good beer and have the phrase “WHAT IS THE COUNTERFACTUAL” beat into your head until you have very odd dreams concerning low probability counterfactuals.

Austin Frakt at Incidental Economist has a good post from 2012 on the importance of counterfactuals:

 

When you want to know the causal effect of an intervention (policy change, medical treatment, whatever) on something, you need to compare two states of the world: the world in which the intervention occurred and the world in which it did not. The latter is the counterfactual world. Since most of us only get to live in one world (most of the time), observing the counterfactual is a rather tricky thing to do. Of course, there are various worthy techniques….

What we really want to know is how the world is different due to the intervention and only the intervention….

The most important point is that almost nobody is explicit about this in policy debates, even when the policy is crucially important. Will health reform cause employers to drop coverage or not? Well, we only have one world. The counterfactual needs to be constructed. It can’t simply be assumed to be the pre-reform world, because employers have been dropping coverage for years. There’s a trend. Other things may change (the economy, the nature of the labor market, etc.), so we’d want to control for those. And so forth.

This is worth thinking about. Next time you’re involved in a policy debate, ask your opponent, what (s)he is taking as the counterfactual? If (s)he doesn’t even know what you’re talking about, you’ve already won, even if (s)he won’t admit it.

This is extraordinarily egg-headed.  It is extraordinarily valuable to know what counterfactual people are talking about and arguing forth.  However, on the political level, it is an impossible argument to make.  We know for a damn near good fact that ARRA/stimulus was a success when compared to a counterfactual world of no ARRA/stimulus.  It probably kept the US out of a Depression and only in a nasty recession.  However the American public rightly decided that things still sucked in 2010 and blamed the party in power by giving power to arsonists, nihilists, and idiots.  Counterfactual arguments are needed for policy purposes but they suck for political purposes. 

 

76 replies
  1. 1
    Richard Shindledecker says:

    Wow! and Yes.

  2. 2
    The Snarxist Formerly Known as Kryptik says:

    Counterfactual arguments are needed for policy purposes but they suck for political purposes.

    This is pretty much the story of why politics is so infuriating, depressing, and deflating: all too often, the best policy is the worst politics, and vice versa, and all too often, what we get tends to be far closer to the pole of ‘best politics’ rather than ‘best policy’, because what gets perceived as ‘middle ground’ tends to be so far slanted to the wrong side of things.

  3. 3
    Tissue Thin Pseudonym (JMN) says:

    @Richard Shindledecker: Those two bands have nothing in common.

  4. 4
    maya says:

    So the problem with politics is counterfeit counterfactuals.

  5. 5
    catclub says:

    Except the most telling phrase at the Democratic convention in 2012 was:
    “Osama bin Laden is dead and GM is alive”

    Which is counterfactuals all the way.

  6. 6
    Richard Mayhew says:

    @maya: Not even that strong of a statement

    The problem with politics from this perspective is that the overwhelming majority of people don’t think and more importantly don’t vote according to counter-factuals. They vote on their current perceived realities.

  7. 7
    R. Johnston says:

    Here’s a direct link to the Daniel Davies post cited..

  8. 8
    Belafon says:

    We’re already starting to hear the “insurance companies will be raising rates next year” even though they’ve been doing that for forever.

    One of the fun ones I heard was that, because of the ACA, hospital profits are up. Well yeah, where did you think money spent on patients was going to go?

  9. 9
    srv says:

    If we’d just let it burn for awhile, we’d be free of Wall Street and have a socalist utopia.

    Bread lines make great politics.

  10. 10
    Richard Mayhew says:

    @Belafon: Exactly — the relevant question is “Did PPACA change the trend of price increases for insurance”

    Right now, the evidence seems to say “Yes, something changed the trend of price increases for insurance and medical care downward… PPACA is probably some of that change, but the trend is still upwards at a gentler slope than before…”

    That is a correct and wonky answer.

    The public perception is that insurance prices still went up in 2015, so PPACA must be responsible for something that has happened every year for fifty years.

  11. 11
    Mike in NC says:

    Even Rand Paul has come out to denounce the Iraq war as something that was done to profit Halliburton.

  12. 12
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    The use of counterfactuals requires critical thinking skills that the vast majority of Americans never aquired, or absolutely refuse to aquire, in the case of teahadists.

  13. 13
    catclub says:

    @Mike in NC: But is now wishing that he never had. That kills his future with the GOP.

  14. 14
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Richard Mayhew:

    They vote on their current perceived realities.

    No matter how out of synch with actual reality those perceptions are.

  15. 15
    Dave says:

    Had no idea counterfactual was so complicated. Here it is:

    Now I’m really confused.

  16. 16
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    “If Al Gore assumed the Presidency to which he was actually elected in 2000, the war in Iraq would not have taken place.”

  17. 17
    Roger Moore says:

    Sure, but what if there were no hypothetical questions?

  18. 18
    TooManyJens says:

    Wonks talk about counterfactuals, while right-wingers screech about countertops. And they’re winning. Yay.

  19. 19
    Cacti says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    “If Al Gore assumed the Presidency to which he was actually elected in 2000, he doesn’t ignore the August 6, 2001 PDB entitled ‘Bin Laden Determined To Strike in US’.”

  20. 20
    Snarki, child of Loki says:

    I recall the Fall before the Iraq war, when Bush and his co-conspirators were trying to gin up panic.

    Every week. EVERY week, on Monday, on the front page there would be a new “OMFG! Iraq/Saddam is sooooo scary!” story. Aluminum tubes. “Uran” from Turkey. Mobile bioweapons labs. Balsa drones, secret meetings in Budapest, AQ in (Kurdish) Iraq.

    And EVERY week, by Thursday (sometimes earlier), the story would fall apart and be retracted/debunked. On page A19.

    Around November they started running out of new scare stories, and had to recycle them.

    It was utterly, completely, transparently, cynically an enormous pile of BS, obvious to anyone that cared to look with the tiniest bit of skepticism.

    And yet was swallowed whole by the political “elite” and their media fluffers.

    The cherry on top of the BS pile was when a Postdoctoral student working at the IAEA completely debunked the “uranium ore from Africa” story, in one afternoon with Google.

  21. 21
    C.V. Danes says:

    Counterfactual arguments are needed for policy purposes but they suck for political purposes.

    As, you know, the whole ability to keeping opposing arguments in your head at the same time, which at least 27% of the population is demonstrably incapable of doing.

  22. 22
    J.Ty says:

    @Richard Mayhew: That’s one of the things that’s so frustrating about these sorts of programs, politically… “But under this bill, the second derivative is going to do this!” is a lot harder to sell than “Death panels! The president’s black! Mexicans!”

    ’twas ever thus, and ’twill be so until the Faustian bargain that the Founders struck between the urbanites and the rural folks is undone, I fear. John Birch/Tea Party/Southern Strategy are just the latest incarnations…

  23. 23
    jl says:

    Thanks. Excellent post making an important point.

    I have two cents.

    Counterfactual thinking dressed up in egghead stuff is very hard to fit into political mud fights. But people need to try, and also try to put the counterfactual into plain simple English so that they are easy to understand. We need to use counterfactual thinking in our everyday lives, otherwise things would be even worse than they are: we would be broke, or injured or dead by now. So try to put the conterfactual in every simple day intuitive terms, and make it part of the essential argument for a policy, not something you add after the fact.

    Also policy makers have to consider all counterfactuals, and pay attention to them. Take the Obama stimulus. Some counterfactuals, such as an ‘L-ish’ recession with a very slow and weak recovery, were discounted by the Washington Consensus people that that the WH took seriously (for example, the pre recession Larry Summers, and the corrupt regulator who does not know nearly as much as he thinks he does, Timothy Geitner, who Obama called a soul make or something like that). But people like Dean Baker, Krugman, DeLong, James Galbraith were very loudly warning about an L-ish recession, but they were deemed to be D Fing Hippies. Even though the historical trend in recessions has been that they have been indreasing L-ish for decades, this was ignored because it was not consistent with the common ideology.

    Related to that is that counterfactuals have to be taken seriously. The proposed stimulus was too small, something else that many prominent economists pointed out before the stimulus was passed. IIRC, the stimulus requested was trimmed for political reasons. Doing that very seriously harmed the common sense counterfactuals that the Obama administration could have explained to voters when the results of the stimulus package actually enacted were disappointing.

  24. 24
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Snarki, child of Loki:

    It was utterly, completely, transparently, cynically an enormous pile of BS, obvious to anyone that cared to look with the tiniest bit of skepticism.

    And yet was swallowed whole by the political “elite” and their media fluffers.

    That’s why I frequently want to line up everyone who bought into the Iraq bullshit and slap them. I mean, I was a freakin’ graduate student in screenwriting and I was able to figure out it was bullshit by listening to NPR, like, twice a day. How could those people seriously claim to have been fooled?

  25. 25
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @J.Ty:

    until the Faustian bargain that the Founders struck between the urbanites and the rural folks is undone,

    You mean between those who actually believe in the ideal of all men are created equal and those who think that some people should be their property?

    Because the Koch brothers, who seem to be of the urban persuasion, firmly believe the latter.

  26. 26
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Roger Moore: OK, is that a hypothetical, or a rhetorical question?

  27. 27
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    That’s why I frequently want to line up everyone who bought into the Iraq bullshit and slap them.

    In the case of the Villagers, I want to do much more than slap them. Because eventually the sting of the slap will wear off, and they will have learned nothing from it, being who and what they are.

  28. 28
    Goblue72 says:

    @Richard Mayhew: Bingo.

    Liberals lose because they they think the average voter examines politics the way all their friends do – as educated, generally empiricistic, vaguely logical, “reality based”, quasi-atheistic cosmopolitans. See Pauline Kael. Or DougJ’s totebaggers.

    Meanwhile, in the rest of America where 1 in 4 thinks the Sun revolves around the Earth and less than half believe in evolution, the lizard brain wins.

    Libs need to grab that lizard brain and not let go. We need more cynicism not less. Even if it means lieing to the rubes to get our way. LBJ probably committed wholesale election fraud to win his first Congressional race. And he got us Civil Rights & the Great Society.

  29. 29
    gnomedad says:

    The counterfactual needs to be constructed.

    You mean the smoking gun / mushroom cloud?

  30. 30
    Anoniminous says:

    @Snarki, child of Loki:

    Thus the importance of grounding discourse in Scientific Skepticism wherein the default position is agnosticism for a claim until the claim has been demonstrated True (Logic) and Accurate (Empirically evidenced.)

    But see: @Villago Delenda Est. Using the necessary expenditure to create a Narrative disseminated through the appropriate communication channels a sufficient number of people can be persuaded (propagandized) into accepting just about anything, as our plutocratic elites have come to discover.

  31. 31
    scav says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: I personally would like to hear the explanation of where the collar counties, beltway and villagers fit into this suspiciously tidy Faustian Bargain.

    Aside: Are there Faustian Bargain Basements and Outlet Malls?

  32. 32
    J.Ty says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: The urban/rural distrust runs much deeper than slavery, actually. It’s one of the reasons the post office has such a prominent place in the Constitution, for instance.

    And the Kochs wouldn’t be where they were–or at least their party of choice wouldn’t be nearly as powerful as it is–without millions of rural rubes to fleece, not to mention other original sops to the countryside like the inherently, and intentionally, anti-democratic nature of the senate.

    Urban, manufacturing-based oligarchs weren’t exactly as numerous in the 18th century as they are now, anyway. Inexact parallel is inexact, admittedly…

  33. 33
    Goblue72 says:

    @Mnemosyne: because they lied then and are lieing now.

    War is good for ratings in the newsroom. They learned that in the first Gulf War.

  34. 34
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Anoniminous: Well, hell, that was figured out and thoroughly developed in central Europe back in the 30’s, based on work dating back to at least the middle ages.

    They’ve just gotten so much better at it, now that they’ve got a more pervasive way to spread the bullshit around.

  35. 35

    There is very strong evidence that people really don’t understand the importance of counterfactuals. The reason is that, in some cases, the appropriate comparison is not with something counterfactual. Those cases include controlled trials. A large fraction of people ignore the control (say placebo) subset of controlled trials when asked to assess them.

    Notably, however, this is not correlated with failure to understand what some data would suggest (in the counterfactual case in which they were real data and not made up) about gun control and crime. I am referring to Klein post numero uno at Vox (hey a quadrilingual sentence) http://www.vox.com/2014/4/6/55.....-us-stupid

  36. 36
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    OT, but Noisemax, being the simpleton fascist tools that they are, have as one of today’s headlines (we were discussing this yesterday, btw):

    Kim Jong Un’s Latest Purge: Death by Flamethrower

  37. 37
    Elizabelle says:

    I wish politics wasn’t so damn tribal.

    The Rwandans are learning. Why can’t we? (I know, SATSQ coming.)

  38. 38
    scav says:

    @J.Ty: Wait, could you quick go back and explain how the senate is a sop to the countryside? Senate favored the elite (which at the time could be either urban or ruralish–VA, Chesapeake etc), the Reps counterbalenced and was dirty mob (urban and rural) heavy is what I’m remembering. What have I forgot (not my period).

    ETA: is it about the disproportionate influence of a rural voters vote has on the composition of the senate when compared to an urban voter? but that has more to do with the total population of the state, not the rural urban divide.

  39. 39
    J.Ty says:

    @Robert Waldmann: Only if we pretend ‘Klein’ is an adjective, in which case it’s misspelled :-D

  40. 40
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Elizabelle: One of my NCOs once told me that “significant emotional events” are required for some soldiers to actually change unwanted behaviors.

    Of course, that assumes a controlled environment like the military.

    So many things that were so simple to address when I was in the service are next to impossible to even hope to do so in a wider society where a commonality of purpose does not exist.

  41. 41
    Another Holocene Human says:

    Is it assumed we all know you can easily compare similar countries and how they apply different policies, so rather than a ‘counterfactual’ you have a non-blinded experiment. This is why conservatives love to talk about “culture”, it’s a stupid x-factor they blow up into a 1st order variable to wave away the fact that certain policies are demonstrably more effective than others. Actually, it’s 2nd order at best.

    You can compare the EU and the US and see austerity versus stimulus in action. Look at the weaker EU states versus the more 3rd world US states*, look at government intervention in both cases, now look who has more hate crimes and fascism. And unemployment. Good going, Europe.

    *-one is a sovereign state, one is a province, but in terms of the economic relationships–money, taxes, trade–there are a lot of parallels, it turns out you can compare US states just like you can compare countries, another thing conservatives want to wave away

  42. 42
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @scav: The Senate was created as a counterbalance to the more populous states, like the evil Virginia and Massachusetts, which had large populations compared to the Carolinas, for example. Then there was the 3/5ths rule to further fluff up the southern states which were decidedly less populous than the mid-Atlantic states and New England.

    This is why Wyoming has the same number of votes in the Senate as California, even though Wyoming’s entire population is about half that of the average congressional district in California.

  43. 43
    Another Holocene Human says:

    Keynesian economics is really easy to grasp, but hard to implement politically as long as your politicians are as greedy and short-term driven as CEOs. Can’t we do better?

  44. 44
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @jl: I don’t think “counterfactuals” are doing you any good in that analysis, though. I would guess that it was precisely because the policymakers knew that counterfactual arguments are a hard sell that they decided they’d be better off getting the best deal possible — i.e., a smaller stimulus than would have been ideal in strict economic terms — than continuing an argument about why a bigger stimulus would be better. “We need more because think about how bad it will be if we get a lot but not quite enough” is incredibly hard to translate into politics or effective political rhetoric.

    IOW, none of the people involved actively thought a small stimulus was preferable from an ideological standpoint. They were being cautious about the perception and the politics.

  45. 45
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Another Holocene Human:

    Can’t we do better?

    Under current circumstances, no.

    However, circumstances will change over the next 50 years.

    The outcome of that change is uncertain. But it’s going to be very, very painful, and many will not live to see the outcome. Which may be a blessing.

  46. 46
    cmorenc says:

    @Richard Mayhew:

    We know for a damn near good fact that ARRA/stimulus was a success when compared to a counterfactual world of no ARRA/stimulus. It probably kept the US out of a Depression and only in a nasty recession. However the American public rightly decided that things still sucked in 2010 and blamed the party in power by giving power to arsonists, nihilists, and idiots. Counterfactual arguments are needed for policy purposes but they suck for political purposes.

    It’s important to look deeper into what the American public “decided” in 2010 that caused the 2010 electorate (who actually showed up at the polls) to give power to the GOP. It was not a monolithic decision, but rather the combination of democratic, progressive, and independent leaners inclined to break toward the dems who lost their mojo to be willing to show up at the polls, coupled with the substantially greater motivation of reactionary conservatives to stop and reverse the slow progressive transformation of the country while they still had a plausible chance to do so. 2010 was a nearly pure “turnout” election, in which one side succeeded grandly in motivating their likely voters, and one side failed to succeed nearly enough.

    But the key underlying point is that for a substantial majority of the eleigible electorate in 2010, no active decision was made to oppose the dems or Obama – too many of them simply were insufficiently motivated to take the effort to turn out at the polls. The GOP wins of 2010 were not the voice of anything like a majority of the country. But legitimately, it was the voice of a majority of those who cared enough to turn out and vote.

  47. 47
    scav says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: Yes, but that has more to do with balancing state populations, state inflence and maintaining power at that level than rural/urban stuff. Rhode Island isn’t exactly classically rural. Joe small-town Farmer’s impact on the senate is a byproduct of the Elite of small pop states duking it out with the elite in large pop states.

  48. 48
    Goblue72 says:

    @scav: its actually because of the Great Compromise. Small states feared being overwhelmed by the power of the large population states (PA, MA, VA & NY) in a proportional representation scheme for both houses. So the 2 Senator from each state thing was set up as a counter-balance compromise.

  49. 49
    liberal says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    That’s why I frequently want to line up everyone who bought into the Iraq bullshit and slap them.

    Yawn. What if it turns out (not yet proven, but…) that Sy Hersh is correct and those chemical arms attacks in Syria were really false flag attacks planned by Turkey? IIRC you were on the side of “bomb bomb bomb…Syria.” Would you now claim we should bomb Turkey? Or are chemical arms attacks perpetrated by allies magically different?

  50. 50
    scav says:

    @Goblue72: That’s it exactly. State level power politics, large v. small states, not necessarily rural urban.

    ETA Rural farmers in CA are not disproportionately represented the same way farmers in OK are.

  51. 51
    Anoniminous says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:

    In my more cynical moments I conclude Human History is a compilation of the Same-Old drivel, endlessly repeated.

  52. 52
    SatanicPanic says:

    @Goblue72: No thanks. I know it’s fashionable amongst liberals to say “we’re losing” but really, we’re not. The other side wants to go back to 1776 and we haven’t.

  53. 53
    jl says:

    On the importance of doing a through analysis of counterfactuals before making policy decisions:

    Is it a good idea to have a ‘roast’ in the middle of a scandal? Should the roastee understand how ‘roasts’ work before attending the ‘roast’?

    Here’s Joy Behar’s Brutal Roast Of Chris Christie

    ‘ …Christie said something out of earshot and Behar responded, “Why don’t you get up here at the microphone instead of being such a coward?” Christie stood up again and moved in front of the lectern as Behar retreated.  “At least I don’t get paid for this,” he said. Christie sat down and Behar continued, though she was noticeably rattled. “I really don’t know about the Presidency,” she said. “Let me put it to you this way, in a way that you’d appreciate: You’re toast.” ‘

    http://talkingpointsmemo.com/l.....stie-roast

  54. 54
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @Robert Waldmann: Actually, this has been known a long time that the motivated thinker will fit every fact into their existing ideology/theory/worldview, no matter how much they have to cut or discard to make it fit. You see this with YECs faced with evidence of the ancient Earth.

    More recently, research has been done directly on political attitudes and it was found that information that contradicts someone’s convictions only hardens them.

    AFAIK, the research shows that you break down someone’s ideological wall with ridicule. Mockery. Make them feel silly to assert something and they start to question it themselves.

  55. 55
    Roger Moore says:

    @Mnemosyne:

    How could those people seriously claim to have been fooled?

    They were fooled because they wanted to believe.

  56. 56
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @scav: The missing piece is that rural populations plummeted drastically in the mid-20th century during the automation of agriculture and the massive industrial expansion. So the entire political landscape changed.

  57. 57
    liberal says:

    @FlipYrWhig:
    Not really. It’s pretty clear that while they might have thought a bigger stimulus would be better, they also thought that the one that they proposed was big enough, even though simple back-of-the-envelope calculations based on demand lost when residential investment collapsed showed that it was too small by a factor of three IIRC (Dean Baker posted such calculations on his blog).

  58. 58
    Goblue72 says:

    @cmorenc: and yet they also won in 2012 too. And will do so in 2014 too. We fail to give them enough credit.

    For 15 of the last 19 years, the GOP has controlled the House. For 12 of the last 19, the Senate. 26 state legs in GOP control vs 18 Dem (rest split). 29 Govs GOP. Control of SCOTUS and majority of Federal judges.

    They are winning and have been for 20 years.

  59. 59
    Bill Arnold says:

    @Snarki, child of Loki:

    Every week. EVERY week, on Monday, on the front page there would be a new “OMFG! Iraq/Saddam is sooooo scary!” story. Aluminum tubes. “Uran” from Turkey. Mobile bioweapons labs. Balsa drones, secret meetings in Budapest, AQ in (Kurdish) Iraq.

    There were also weapons inspectors, finding nothing. And the simple fact that the administration was beating war drums was itself a strong suggestion that the administration believed that Iraq had no significant WMDs, else an invasion would be too risky.

  60. 60
    J.Ty says:

    @scav: That’s true, but I’d have to add that the rural/urban divide becomes much clearer in the ensuing decades. Don’t forget that the Great Compromise was reached alongside the 3/5 Compromise, and that the slaveowning states rather rapidly became the more sparsely-populated ones. I can think of some symbolic examples too, like the expansion of the Franking privilege and the weird rules that the USPS was pressured to write favoring rural newspapers over urban ones, but the urban/rural thing has been quite present from the beginning, even if it did only become more obvious a bit later.

  61. 61
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Goblue72: Oh, I don’t think they’re winning. They’re fighting a holding action. Which is beginning to crumble.

  62. 62
    Roger Moore says:

    @FlipYrWhig:

    IOW, none of the people involved actively thought a small stimulus was preferable from an ideological standpoint. They were being cautious about the perception and the politics.

    IOW, the politicians were considering a political counterfactual rather than an economic counterfactual. This shouldn’t be a surprise, but policy wonks tend to forget that kind of thing.

  63. 63
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Bill Arnold: The malassministration was beating war drums for Iraq from 9/12 on. Osama bin Laden provided them with the cover they needed for their glorious little war of aggression to get their mitts on the oil.

  64. 64
    mclaren says:

    This is actually an incredibly shitty way of discussing public policy because it opens the door for the proponent of crazy policies to make wild scare claims.

    What was the counterfactual of the Iran invasion in 2003?

    Condi Rice told us: a mushroom cloud. Washington D.C. disappears in a giant thermonuclear explosion.

    People ran around like chickens with their heads cut off after she presented that counterfactual, and no amount of statements by liberals to the effect that “This is absurd bullshit, there’s no evidence for that whatever” could prevent the Iraq invasion.

    Counterfactuals open the door to an infinite lala-land of fantasy doomsday scenarios. Avoid ’em.

  65. 65
    Berial says:

    Most people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so.
    – Bertrand Russell

  66. 66
    Another Holocene Human says:

    @cmorenc: There’s another piece to it, though–the Summer of Hate. The GOP isn’t stupid. They pay for a lot of research to try to give themselves the edge. It was no mistake that there was magically a runaway screechfest about the “Ground Zero Mosque” which up until then had been an unremarkable project to all but a Muslim-baiter like Pamela Geller. It’s been shown that unconscious xenophobic attitudes persist three months later–just the timeline from the cable news parade until the election. They were attempting, of course, to do the same thing to Obama with the birther conspiracy.

    The entire notion is to whip the olds into pants-pissing fear and then when the election rolls around, all is quiet. None suspect the connection. But they are voting Big Daddy without realizing why they are doing it.

    Olds were trending D in advance of the 2012 election. The GOP failed to wrest the narrative away that year. Instead, Romney got exposed as a cold, klepto class job cremator who laughed about the harm he’d caused and insulted his victims as “takers”. So if the olds were trending D, what caused them to go R two years prior–?

    This summer will be very interesting.

  67. 67
    patrick II says:

    @jl:

    Yep.

    Richard Mayhew:

    Counterfactual arguments are needed for policy purposes but they suck for political purposes.

    Wrong. Counterfactuals, ignored by the Obama administration, led them to assert that the stimulus bill would be enough to bring back the economy. Krugman warned that not only was the stimulus not large enough to bring back the economy but additionally it was a political blunder to assert it would. Republicans would then claim, because the stimulus did not bring the economy all of the way back that the stimulus was a failure. Krugman was right on the economic counterfactuals and the politics.

    First, you have to respect facts whether they are counter to your political wishes or not. Summers actually saw the higher stimulus number estimated, but removed them from the options given the president because Summers did not see the 1,8 trillion estimate as politically possible. (If I were Obama, I would have fired him the moment I found that he withheld information).

    Knowing the actual facts, Obama could have tried to sell a higher stimulus, but when he did actually have to compromise, he could have called the stimulus a start instead of a remedy, and blunted the knife that he pointed at himself.

    In the long run, reality happens regardless of political wishes. A more frank, if politically aware, discussion at the beginning would have been helpful both politically and towards finding a real solution.

  68. 68
    scav says:

    @J.Ty: I’m not saying rural areas haven’t been favored in certain pieces of legislation, etc, since, just trying to work out how the ‘original‘ composition of the senate was a ‘sop’ to the rural population when it seems to be a power play between state actors (large v small pops) that was explicitly being balanced. As things have worked out, certain specific rural populations (OK v. CA) have benefitted but that’s a side effect, not the intended sop at least as I’m still seeing it.

  69. 69
    Mr. Longform says:

    @jl:

    we would be broke, or injured or dead by now.

    Hey! I’m two for three (day’s not over, though…)

  70. 70
    mclaren says:

    @Another Holocene Human:

    More recently, research has been done directly on political attitudes and it was found that information that contradicts someone’s convictions only hardens them.

    This has been Lakoff’s point for many years. Denying or refuting claims by the opposition merely reinforces their framing.

  71. 71
    catclub says:

    @FlipYrWhig: ““We need more because think about how bad it will be if we get a lot but not quite enough” is incredibly hard to translate into politics or effective political rhetoric.”

    I don’t see that. I do not see why they could not write the law to be: “We will keep doing this [stimulus programs up to $Z /yr] until the unemployment rate goes to X and the GDP growth rate goes to Y” Is that hard?

    ETA: Patrick @ 67 I agree.

  72. 72
    Goblue72 says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: the points on the board say you’re completely wrong.

    Our Federal govt remains woefully underfunded due to GOP tax cuts going back to 2000-1. Which Obama only partially undid. The majority of states are under GOP control where they are busy destroying what is left of our foot-soldiers and donor core (the Unions). SCOTUS has legalized the buying and selling of elective office. And the only meaningful safety net legislation we got in the Obama years (ACA) was knee-capped by the Roberts court. (And just wait till they gut the subsidies)

    We are “winning” like the U.S. was winning in Vietnam in 68.

  73. 73
    brantl says:

    It doesn’t suck if you do it right, Richard M. . You say: “On what are you basing this argument ? What are your assumptions, since we live in the world where this was done, and we don’t have one where it wasn’t?” . Then, you proceed to explain the CBO analysis, and tell them they are full of shit.

  74. 74
    FlipYrWhig says:

    @catclub: yes, it is hard, because a number of stupid people had to vote on it, and they had a bug up their butt about how One Trillion Dollars was incomprehensibly big. I don’t know where this stuff comes from about how the Obama administration thought they had picked a number that was just right economically. They clearly didn’t. They clearly were trying to find a number that was just right politically, and they still shot a bit too high, and The Moderate Stupids cut it down until there was daylight between the pricetag and One Trillion Dollars. And without The Moderate Stupids, the bill doesn’t pass. So the relevant “counterfactual” to consider is “if we wait any longer to get this thing passed, how much worse will things get and how much support will we lose?”

    To put it in even simpler terms, if economic conditions warranted a $10 trillion stimulus, do you think they could have gotten that if they asked in some special way? I don’t. No matter what the counterfactual scenario had been. “If we don’t do this, the earth is going to explode.” “Eh, still, it’s a lot of money, and I’m not comfortable with that, and my voters will hold it against me.” “You won’t have voters, the world will end!” “Still.”

  75. 75
    J.Ty says:

    @scav: …was at dinner. Gonna have to hand you the win here, I’m grasping at a half-finished theory from grad school and away-from-bookshelf at the moment :)

    The reason I kept bringing up the USPS is because it often functioned as a conduit for various moral panics and questions about the legitimacy of centralized vs. federalized government until about the 1860s, I remember that much, and I can quite recommend “The American Mail: Enlarger of the Common Life” for those with the time and inclination to read a book about… the post office.

  76. 76
    Nathanael says:

    “Good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance.
    Fibbers’ forecasts are worthless.
    The Vital Importance of Audit.”

    These three principles explain why James Clapper and Keith Alexander belong in prison, and the NSA and CIA need to be liquidated immediately.

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