Analistas 16/05/2016

America’s fake debt crisis

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A number of people have also pointed out that willingness to trifle with the full faith and credit of the United States government didn’t start with Mr. Trump - it started with Republicans in the House of Representatives, who casually tried to extort concessions by refusing to raise the debt limit.

But one thing I haven’t seen much discussion of is why Mr. Trump imagines that we have a severe debt problem that requires extraordinary measures. Look at the chart on interest payments. See the crisis? Neither do I.

But Mr. Trump, we can assume, doesn’t look at economic data, or for that matter employ anyone who can. Remember how he suggested in February that the unemployment rate could be as high as 42%?

What he does do is pick up on what everyone else around him says.

And here’s the thing: Claims that America is facing a debt crisis have been all over the political landscape for years, in defiance of both the actual debt service numbers and the verdict of the market, which wants to lend us money for almost nothing.

So it’s not really surprising that Mr. Trump, who doesn’t know much about policy, would pick up on all this buzz and not get the memo that it’s really about finding excuses to slash social programs. And he knows, or thinks he knows, a lot about being overextended on credit - so let’s declare bankruptcy and make a deal!

The point is that this isn’t coming solely from the would-be ignoramus in chief; Mr. Trump is channeling nonsense that took over a large part of supposedly serious policy discourse not long ago.

The Facts Have a Well-Known Center-Left Bias

I recently tweeted a response to Mr. Trump’s claim that America is the highest-taxed nation in the world. Actually, he’s been busted on that claim repeatedly, which makes it even more shameful that television interviewers just let it slide. But I’m also interested in the responses that I’ve been getting, which tell you something about the broader situation - call it the politics of epistemology.

As you might guess, I’m getting a lot of denial, with quite a few people “explaining” that the international comparisons don’t include state and local government taxes. Guys, maybe you shouldn’t make confident pronouncements about issues you’ve never looked into.

And I do wonder about the right-wingers who are weighing in. After all, isn’t it a (false) right-wing trope that the economic troubles of European nations are caused by their excessive welfare states? Doesn’t that suggest that they have bigger governments and higher taxes than we do? Oh, never mind.

But I’m also hearing from Bernie Sanders supporters, who insist that anything I say must be wrong, because I criticized their hero. And this suggests to me that we may need a clarification of the doctrine that facts have a well-known liberal bias. More specifically, they seem to have a center-left bias: Conservatives are big on empirical denial, but so too are some on the American left.

This has become especially obvious in the waning days of the Democratic primary: You can watch data journalists like the two Nates (Cohn and Silver) growing increasingly exasperated with Sanders supporters who keep insisting that Hillary Clinton is stealing the nomination with superdelegates, when it’s actually the Sanders campaign who is talking about getting superdelegates to overturn the pledged delegate count and the popular vote.

Of course, campaigns can’t be held responsible for everything that their supporters say, although it’s a bit worse when some of those supporters are actual campaign surrogates. Still, we can ask whether Mr. Sanders himself is inclined to dismiss inconvenient facts. And, as you know, I think that the answer is yes, on issues ranging from economic projections to the sources of Mrs. Clinton’s primary victories.

I was therefore primed to notice when Mr. Sanders recently declared that Democrats need their own version of Fox News. What does he mean, exactly? Would such a network engage in similar factual distortions and outright falsehoods, except this time in the service of progressive goals?

It wouldn’t work. Fox caters to an audience of angry old white men; the angry young white guys who would want a left-wing version of this message are fewer in number, have less purchasing power and don’t get their news from television. But that’s a side point.

The main point is that the sort of people who really care about getting facts right - who see facing up to inconvenient truths as an important value - are largely on the center-left. The good news is that this general election will be a contest between the center-left and the ignorant right, so political values and intellectual values will be in perfect accord.

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