A frustrating day here for me — I whacked my funny bone and it hurts to type for me more than a few minutes, but there’s a ton to blog about today!
But here’s a short New Yorker piece on the new meme (pushed by Bobo and throughout Kaplan, for example) that the economy sucks because Obama hurt Mort Zuckerma’s fee-fees and made all the business geniuses go Galt:
There’s also a pervasive feeling that Obama’s tone—as evidenced by tough rhetoric against Wall Street and BP—is dampening the spirits of business leaders, making them unwilling to take risks. The implicit idea here is that when businesspeople feel poorly treated they’ll just take their ball and go home, even if that means giving up chances for profit. This isn’t a completely crazy idea: as Keynes argued, “animal spirits” play an important role in driving business decisions, and there are historical examples of so-called “capital strikes”—where investors pulled capital out of an economy in reaction to anti-business policies. But there’s no evidence that anything like this is happening in the U.S. right now. Corporate profits are healthy. Investment may be low, but, given how slowly the economy is growing, it’s about where you’d expect. If businesses truly were holding back on hiring new workers or building new plants in the face of real opportunities, we’d see them working their current employees and factories to the limit. But they aren’t: weekly hours worked have scarcely budged in two years, and factory usage is at just seventy per cent of capacity, which is historically quite low.
If businesses aren’t hiring or investing, in other words, it’s because they don’t need to: they have enough workers and factories to meet the demand for their products. And there are few signs that this is going to change any time soon: consumer demand remains weak, economic indicators—inflation rates, consumer confidence, the stock market, bond rates—aren’t forecasting a quick return to boom times, and, just last week, the Fed chairman, Ben Bernanke, told Congress that the state of the U.S. economy was “unusually uncertain.” So it’s no wonder that companies are feeling cautious. The uncertainty that’s keeping businesses from spending or hiring isn’t uncertainty about what Barack Obama is doing or saying. It’s uncertainty about whether the economic recovery is going to stick.
Megan McArdle sees someone suggest that Bush’s tax cuts for the rich should be eliminated and the money used for better purposes, and she decides that it just wouldn’t make any difference. McArdle’s problems with the argument:
Dylan Matthews at the Washington Post has asked what we might be able to do for the economy if we repealed the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and spent the money on something else. The result is a nice post full of graphs, but the answer seems to be “not much”–the very best estimate is that we get about $75 billion in added economic activity, or about $25 for every person in the country.
The first two commenters correct her math. “Or $250, whatever,” says the first. The second: “Using current census data, I get $244 per person, but yes let’s call it $250, Megan was off by a factor of 10.” McArdle and math are two ships that pass in the night, never to have contact. Fortunately her commenters are available to do her long division for her.
It’s not a small error — no one would argue that a $25 rebate check (say) per American would help the economy much, but it might be argued that a $250 one would (I have no idea if it really would, but that would be about the same size as the 2008 tax rebate). We all make mistakes, but if you make an order-of-magnitude error that potentially affects your argument, shouldn’t you make a correction and revisit the argument, using the time-honored method of the strike-bar and the update?
This burns me up, whether it’s David Brooks (failed math in high school, no evidence he’s improved) wanking about some graphs he saw on iSteve or claiming that Clinton had an approval rating “in the 20s”, Emily Yoffe critiquing global warming research from a first-grade math level, or McMegan not admitting that $25 and $250 are not the same number, I wish that truly innumerate people would shut the fuck up about everything related to quantitative analysis.
Update. In her very next post:
And we would all of us–not just academics–like to be immune from getting fired for making stupid remarks.
Update. Finally a correction, it’s because the calculator on her computer “won’t go into the billions”. In fairness, I just tested out the calculator on my Mac and if I try to enter 75 billion, it just stops at 750 million.
Anyway, as I said, everyone makes mistakes. I guess maybe it would have been a good idea to notice that the first few commenters pointed out the error rather than just screaming at them and calling them idiots.
I’m not sure whose turn in the rotation it is at Reason magazine to tell us there is no racism in the tea party movement (Welch, Young, Walker, and Michael Moynihan, with multiple entries, have all done their best, while the Fonzi of Freedom Nick Gillespie had a leather jacket to oil and outsourced his efforts… yesterday. Nice timing, boss.), but which ever poor bastard draws the short straw, I have some advice- start drinking. Heavily:
Dear Mr. Lincoln
We Colored People have taken a vote and decided that we don’t cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop!
In fact we held a big meeting and took a vote in Kansas City this week. We voted to condemn a political revival of that old abolitionist spirit called the ‘tea party movement’.
The tea party position to “end the bailouts” for example is just silly. Bailouts are just big money welfare and isn’t that what we want all Coloreds to strive for? What kind of racist would want to end big money welfare? What they need to do is start handing the bail outs directly to us coloreds! Of course, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is the only responsible party that should be granted the right to disperse the funds.
And the ridiculous idea of “reduce[ing] the size and intrusiveness of government.” What kind of massa would ever not want to control my life? As Coloreds we must have somebody care for us otherwise we would be on our own, have to think for ourselves and make decisions!
The racist tea parties also demand that the government “stop the out of control spending.” Again, they directly target Colored People. That means we Colored People would have to compete for jobs like everybody else and that is just not right.
Perhaps the most racist point of all in the tea parties is their demand that government “stop raising our taxes.” That is outrageous! How will we Colored People ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn? Totally racist! The tea party expects coloreds to be productive members of society?
Mr. Lincoln, you were the greatest racist ever. We had a great gig. Three squares, room and board, all our decisions made by the massa in the house. Please repeal the 13th and 14th Amendments and let us get back to where we belong.
Precious Ben Jealous, Tom’s Nephew National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Head Colored Person
That would be Mark Williams, Tea Party Express Chairman, who last night took to CNN to call the NAACP “the real racists.”
No racism there. No sirree.