Manufacturing Consensus

Building a bipartisan truth one questionable ‘fact’ at a time

The Aspen Institute, an international public policy nonprofit founded in 1950, describes itself as a “convener.” Rather than push for a specific ideological agenda, the organization brings together elite politicians and journalists in a “neutral and balanced venue for discussing and acting on critical issues.” What happens in Aspen (and Washington, D.C., and other cities where the institute facilitates debates) does not stay in Aspen; the whole point is to influence policy wherever it is discussed and manufactured.

So it was with keen interest that I received an invitation to attend an October 27 Aspen Institute confab in D.C. on “The Role of Government in the Economy.” Libertarians, after all, tend to hold the view that the greater the role of government, the worse the economy. Of even keener interest was the lineup: on the left, recently departed chief economist for Vice President Joe Biden Jared Bernstein; on the right, former Bush administration Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation executive director Bradley Belt, and moderating between them the New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington bureau chief and former economics columnist David Leonhardt. Surely there would be some wide-ranging disagreement on the federal government’s role in precipitating and exacerbating the economic malaise of the past four years.

No such luck. In his introductory remarks, moderator Leonhardt laid out as a factual starting point the government’s “extraordinary and largely successful moves to spare us from another Great Depression.” Bernstein went on to decry the “irrational fear of budget deficits at a time when the budget deficit really should be very large.” And Belt repeatedly declined to enumerate a specific appropriate size and scope of government. So much for the debate.

Even more interesting than the soft consensus in favor of government intervention was a strong undercurrent that those who disagreed with it were guilty of denying basic truths. One of the questions from an audience full of Senate staffers, policy wonks, and journalists was how can we even have a rational policy discussion with all these denialist Republicans who disregarded Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s famous maxim that “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts”? Jared Bernstein couldn’t have been more pleased. 

“I feel like we’re in a climate in which facts just aren’t welcome,” he said. “I think the facts of the case are that we know what we can do to nudge the unemployment rate down.…I think the consensus among economists is that this is a good time to implement fiscal stimulus that would help create jobs and make the unemployment rate go down. I consider that a fact.”

In science, you insist most loudly on a fact based on how much it has withstood independent peer review. In politics, it’s closer to the opposite—the more debatable a point is, the more it becomes necessary to insist (often in the face of contrary evidence) that the conclusion is backed by scientific consensus. 

President Barack Obama is a serial peddler of phony consensi. To sell his 2009 stimulus package, the president claimed, falsely, that “there is no disagreement that we need action by our government, a recovery plan that will help to jump-start the economy.” (The libertarian Cato Institute quickly assembled a list of 200 prominent economists who signed a statement begging to differ.) And in December 2009, during the final political deliberations on his signature health care reform bill, Obama brazenly countered alleged disinformation by spreading some of his own. 

“Now, I just want to repeat this because there’s so much misinformation about the cost issue here,” he said. “You talk to every health care economist out there and they will tell you that whatever ideas are—whatever ideas exist in terms of bending the cost curve and starting to reduce costs for families, businesses, and government—those elements are in this bill.”

Look no further than Peter Suderman’s excellent primer on page 40 (“Medicare Whac-A-Mole”) not only for health care economists who were never part of that “consensus,” but also for a depressingly detailed history of Washington’s structurally inevitable failures to deliver on presidential promises of reducing health care costs. This is the bipartisan lie that is driving the country toward bankruptcy.

It is an enduring curiosity and frustration that even as the president’s rosy health reform scenarios fall by the wayside one by one (see “CLASS Dismissed,” page 15), the journalism navel-gazing crowd continues to beat itself up over its coverage of Obama-Care assertions made by…Sarah Palin. 

In late May, the Nieman Journalism Lab re-published a much-publicized academic study of more than 700 news articles and 20 network news segments from 2009 that addressed a single controversial claim of the health care reform debate. It was not President Obama’s oft-repeated whopper that he was nobly pushing the reform rock up the hill despite the concentrated efforts of health care “special interests,” nor his constant promises that “If you like your health care plan, you will be able to keep your health care plan.” No, it was Palin’s claim, on Facebook, that ObamaCare would lead to “death panels” composed of government bureaucrats. “In more than 60 percent of the cases,” the authors found, “it’s obvious that newspapers abstained from calling [Palin’s] death panels claim false.” How many times did they abstain from calling the president’s claims false? The study did not say.

Libertarians live in an often-infuriating world in which elites agree on facts we know or suspect to be untrue, and then bathe themselves in sanctimony for being above the fray of ideologues who let politics poison science. (For more on the subject, read Ronald Bailey’s “Who’s More Anti-Science: Republicans or Democrats?” page 50.) In a political universe where “green jobs” fantasia leads to predictable wastes of taxpayer money (see Tim Cavanaugh’s “I, Panel,” page 70), where the worst kind of hysteria and cowardice governs the scientific classifications of disfavored substances (see Christopher Snowdon’s “Modern-Day Prohibition,” page 60), and where the pernicious practice of baseline budgeting builds spending increases into government budgets while leading to phony-baloney claims of “cuts” (see Veronique de Rugy’s “The Never-Ending Budget Battle,” page 21), it’s tempting to replace one set of prematurely asserted facts with another.

It’s a temptation that should be resisted. David Leonhardt may be wrong about the Troubled Assets Relief Program preventing another Great Depression, but we don’t really know what would have happened if we had let deserving financial institutions fail in the fall of 2008. I believe we would have experienced sharper pain up front but a quicker recovery at the end, but this is not the kind of thing you can easily prove.

What you can do is measure government intervention against the claims made while selling it, marshal as much historical data as you can find, and try to fact-check policy discussion as it happens. This is where the elite faux-consensus in favor of bailout economics begins to unravel.

Not a day goes by when George W. Bush’s deregulation is not blamed for the financial crisis, and yet he hired 90,000 net new regulators, passed the largest Wall Street reform since the Depression, and increased fiscally significant regulations by more than any president since Richard Nixon. We are told by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and his friends in The Nation that the country is being ruled by a ruthless “austerity class,” yet federal spending has continued to increase even after the summer’s debt-ceiling agreement. The Occupy Wall Street movement and the (mostly Democratic) politicians who support it have shifted the national conversation to the “fact” that the middle class is worse off than it was three decades ago, yet as University of Chicago economist Bruce Meyer and Notre Dame economist James Sullivan found in a recent paper, “median income and consumption both rose by more than 50 percent in real terms between 1980 and 2009.”

We are entitled to facts, yes. Just not theirs. 

Matt Welch is editor in chief of reason and co-author of The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong with America (PublicAffairs).

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    I must have missed the George Bush deregulation. I was busy with a SOX audit.

  • Number 2||

    Drake, you don't understand governmentspeak. Just as reducing the rate of spending increases is a "spending cut," and just as a stimulus program that sees unemployment increase constitutes "saving jobs" because unemployment did not rise faster, Bush engaged in deregulation because he did not regulate enough.

  • Realist||

    Now wasn't that easy?

  • ||

    Ugh, SOX. I cannot tell you how many hours I wasted complying with that mess when I worked at Intel. Not one thing I did made any real difference either.

  • ||

    Not a bit of difference. Like a peon like me was going to manipulate the Balance Sheet with my accruals. I could have embezzled millions and they wouldn't have cared - as long as my accruals were justified.

  • Colin||

    The Left has effectively learned from Goebbels -- tell a lie and over and over and people will begin to believe.

    Not only with this, but with global warming and health care, too.

  • Teh Left||

    Lies, warming, & health care sounds like a u tube vid

  • DLM||

    The Left has effectively learned from Goebbels -- tell a lie and over and over and people will begin to believe.

    I think you've got that backwards.

  • ||

    It's such an obvious, blatant lie. At some point, when the economy is really in the toilet, I suppose people will generally recognize it as such.

  • Paul||

    Negative. There's a "conservative" somewhere living in a shack in Montana with no phone or electricity that will be to blame for the gridlock that forced our economy to a halt.

    Shorter: The stimulus wasn't big enough.

  • ||

    Don't be ridiculous, Paul. The story will be that there's a libertarian (aka "anti-government extremist") living in a shack, etc.

  • Paul||

    That's why I put conservative in scare quotes.

  • ||

    I mentioned I leaned libertarian at work and was asked whether I was in a militia.

  • ||

    "Leaned", incidentally, was just being evasive about politics, something a wise person does at work and at large family events.

  • ||

    was asked whether I was in a militia.

    I hope you answered "Yes. And so are you, according to federal law."

  • Concerned Citizen||

    Wouldn't that be state law?

  • tarran||

    I refuse to answer. I smile evilly and keep goring oxen.

    Actually I don't; I have a reputation as a peacemaker IRL. It's on the Internet that I dump all that bottled up snark.

  • ||

    I'm definitely not proselytizing for the cause. Not at work, anyway.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Gold answer would have been:

    "Yes, the Pussy and Pot Militia. We shoot guns, then we safely clean and store them, call up some hookers, smoke a few roaches, down some whiskey, then rant about the gubmint. Unfortunately, you aren't cool enough to join."

  • k2000k||

    You should also tell them that you have stashed your gold supplies in discreet locations around the office and the adjacent area...

  • ||

    I politely suggested that there are some elements of social security that are arguably ill designed and could be improved upon, like especially the part where government loans the excess from SS payroll taxes to themselves. It was a group of people my age (late twenties) or younger, IE, people who are not likely to get much/anything back from SS.

    The response was "You don't like social welfare programs...for reals? You just want poor people to die in the street?"

    It was as if I had kicked their dog.

  • Brett L||

    "It was as if I had kicked their dog."

    'No, I just think private charity works fine.' Also causes heads to asplode. Just because they don't give to charities for humans, they assume no one else does.

  • k2000k||

    MY response would have been this.

    'Sure it sounds great, but you need to seperate intentions from realities. The reality is that goverment programs have caused more suffering and death than there would be without them. When you actually look at the hard data presented by these goverment agencies you realize that many of these programs are nothing more than a way for some crony to gain influence and power. I mean, if these progams actually had worked then poverty would have gone down after johnsons war on poverty, yet it went up. If affirmative action actually helped african americans how do you explain the fact that they went from one of the most cohesive family units in the 60s to one of the most broken in less than 40 years. How do you explain the fact that since the implementation of the department of education and the additional billions that no child left behind has added that our test scores are no better than they were in the 70s?'

    Its not going to convince them, unfortunately leftism is like a terminal cognative illness, but you will be somewhat satisfied by the glazed over look they get in their eyes.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Fuck my family. I would never inconvenience myself by being "evasive" around them.

  • ||

    Not my close family. They know. They also, outside my wife, think I'm crazy to support Paul.

  • tarran||

    Everybody in my work loves Romney - except the CEO's kid who is an Obama supporter.

    Comically they all agree libertarianism is insane because it is insufficiently militaristic.

  • ||

    I'm surrounded by state-loving leftists.

  • Ray Pew||

    Everybody in my work loves Romney - except the CEO's kid who is an Obama supporter.

    Comically they all agree libertarianism is insane because it is insufficiently militaristic.

    I've come to the assumption that if Paul actually was nominated as the GOP candidate, the neo-cons would vote for Obama, because at least he is pro-militaristic.

  • tarran||

    The neo-cons would vote for Obama. The Neocon intellectual vanguard where Trotskyites who soured on the Democrats for being too friendly with the Soviet Union.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Is that because the Montana Shackbrah refuses to participate in interstate commerce?

    heh.

  • Mr. Mark||

    Has anybody else been having the reaction to information, such as the anecdote recounted in this article, of, "Okay, yeah, I already know we live in a kleptocracy. What are we going to do about it?

    I look at at a map of the United States, and I see useful idiots all over the place, but some places more than others. I look at that map, and I think, immediately, that trying to explain the economic facts of life to that many people and have them understand and accept those facts is just beyond all practicality. It cannot be done.

    However, when I look at smaller parts of the United States, I see populations where the challenge is not so great. Then I think, Self, if the people in this state here, that one there, and these few over here could be convinced of the need to do go their own way, then the challenge - while still substantial - would at least be achievable.

    The United States was created by an act of secession.

  • Mark Potok||

    Re: Mr. Mark,

    The United States was created by an act of secession.


    Racist! Neo-Confederate! Danger! Danger!

  • Anonymous Coward||

    The United States was created by an act of secession.

    More like a tax protest that spiralled into a full-blown insurrection, but whatever.

  • ||

    More like a tax protest that spiralled into a full-blown insurrection, but whatever.

    Yeah, but where else is a tax protest gonna head?

    "We refuse to pay your taxes until these condition are met."

    "Ok. We refuse to meet your conditions. Suck Our Royal Cock."

    "Ok, fuck you, we secede."

    "TRAITORS!!! KILL THEM ALL!"

    If anyone sees any other way that exchange could have realistically gone down, feel free to share.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Well, it could head in a few different directions. Parliament could have relented and not interferred in colonial administration, George III could have brokered a peace between the colonies and Parliament, the colonists could have bent over and took it in the shorts.

    Less than a year before the Declaration of Independence was completed, Thomas Jefferson said, to paraphrase, he loved the British Empire, but he wasn't going to sit back and take Parliament's shit, either.

  • ||

    Parliament could have relented and not interferred in colonial administration

    Just like the US Congress would do that for the states, right?

    George III could have brokered a peace between the colonies and Parliament

    That sounds like something a Monarch would do, sure.

    the colonists could have bent over and took it in the shorts

    Ummm, yeah.

    Your alternatives seem to lack any basis in the reactions of real human beings.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Just like the US Congress would do that for the states, right?

    Comparing the US Congress and the British Parliament circa 1776 is not appropriate. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Parliament had, in effect, seized most of the Crown's powers. The Parliament of Britain, at least as it existed by 1776, had no checks on its legislative power.

    That sounds like something a Monarch would do, sure.

    Why not? Contrary to most history books George III was not unsympathetic to Americans' concerns about lack of voice in matters of taxation (he and William Pitt supported Rockingham's repeal of the Stamp Act), but was unwilling to support separation. But once the war was over, he said to John Adams,

    "I was the last to consent to the separation; but the separation having been made and having become inevitable, I have always said, as I say now, that I would be the first to meet the friendship of the United States as an independent power."

    Your alternatives seem to lack any basis in the reactions of real human beings.

    Really? To say nothing of the surplus of Tories and anglophiles that remained in America after the war, how many people, in the history of the world, have bent their knees to tyranny?

  • sarcasmic||

    They forgot the word reasonable.

    For example:

    “I think the consensus among reasonable economists is that this is a good time to implement fiscal stimulus that would help create jobs and make the unemployment rate go down. I consider that a fact.”

    “You talk to every reasonable health care economist out there and they will tell you that whatever ideas are—whatever ideas exist in terms of bending the cost curve and starting to reduce costs for families, businesses, and government—those elements are in this bill.”

    That way anyone who disagrees with the premise is unreasonable, and can be ignored.

  • a true Scotsman||

    I prefer to think that I'm reasonable.

  • ||

    I have notice this also. Another alarming trend I've seen is a couple of scientific publications with studies that claim to show how republicans are born to think certain ways. I see this has a dangerous precedent because it gives others an excuse to ignore ones opinions because they were born that way much the way we would ignore the comments of a child when adults are talking.

  • sarcasmic||

    it gives others an excuse to ignore ones opinions because they were born that way

    It is an effort to say that if you put your personal needs above that of the collective, then you are defective.
    Broken.
    In need of medication.
    Incompetent.
    Mentally ill. And we all know that the mentally ill are not competent to vote.

  • ||

    Hey, it worked for Stalin.

  • DLM||

    "Scientific" should have been put in quotes.

  • Playdo's Republic||

    Another alarming trend I've seen is a couple of scientific publications with studies that claim to show how republicans are born to think certain ways.

    This has been going on for quite a while now. Studies have purported to show that various personality traits and behaviors are genetically determined.

    Progressives love to attack the concept of personal responsibility. Saying, "I can't help the way I am. I was born this way." is, in some circumstances, even more useful than, "I can't help the way I am. Society made me like this."

    Tying genetics to a particular political faction is more disturbing, though, as it is obviously setting the stage for declaring dissent a mental illness requiring detention and treatment.

    But that could never happen in America.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Tying genetics to a particular political faction is more disturbing, though, as it is obviously setting the stage for declaring dissent a mental illness requiring detention and treatment.

    Oddly enough, these same progressive scientists would shit themselves if anyone applied their methodology to things like race.

  • ||

    "I can't help the way I am. I just feel genetically predisposed to put a 9mm hollowpoint through your fucking eyeball."

  • Anonymous Coward||

    I stand here, a victim of the influence of Emmanuel Goldstein Charles and Fred Koch. Guilty on all counts. I'm glad I was caught. I was mentally deranged. Now I am cured. I ask only for you to accept my love of our leader. I ask only to be shot while my mind is still clean.

  • Doctor Whom||

    I recently saw the MST3K version of I Accuse My Parents. Now, whenever I hear a politician speak, I imagine Mike and the robots chanting, "Liar! Liar! Liar!"

  • Old Mexican||

    "They call me Kitty!"

    "I don't know why, my name is Susan!"

  • Raston Bot||

    Everyone knows our parents would be slaving away in the salt mines and our children would subsist off cat food if the Fed didn't secretly funnel $7.77 Trillion to Government Sachs, Bank of Amerika, Citi, et al. That's a fact.

    In fact we wouldn't even be reading HnR because we'd all be dead if Congress didn't give $700 Billion to the banks.

    The banks control our collective fate and we have to give them everything they want or else we'll die.

    That's a fact!

  • ||

    all serious economists agree

  • Paul||

    , recently departed chief economist for Vice President Joe Biden Jared Bernstein

    Why does the Vice President have an economist?

  • AZ||

    To identify potential cronies and ensure support of current ones?

  • protefeed||

    Why does the Vice President have an economist?

    Because the VP doesn't understand economics?

    Unfortunately, it's unlikely the VP's economist does either.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: protefeed,

    Unfortunately, it's unlikely the VP's economist does either.


    I'm willing to bet that he knows enough economics to understand that he has to advise and say things that ain't so just to get the job.

  • Paul||

    There are those who have a different opinion...

  • Paul||

    Libertarians live in an often-infuriating world in which elites agree on facts we know or suspect to be untrue, and then bathe themselves in sanctimony for being above the fray of ideologues who let politics poison science.

    Ooh, this reminds me. I haven't spending my requisite time here at Reason lately, so I'm not sure if it's been covered. But women's rights activists are so pissed off that even NPR finally had to start covering it.

    The politics over science debate smacked Obama supporters square in the forehead when Kathleen Sebelius overruled the FDA on the emergency contraceptive drug, "Plan B one step".

    The only thing shocking to me is that people are shocked. My favorite quote:

    "For me personally this is an incredibly disappointing moment," said Kirsten Moore, president of the Reproductive Health Care Technologies Project. "Because I was in the East Room of the White House in March 2009 when [President Obama] signed an executive order saying this administration was committed to restoring scientific integrity to the policymaking process. And that commitment just went up in smoke today."
  • ||

    Of course this assumes that the FDA never put politics before science in any of it's decisions in the first place.

  • Eduard van Haalen||

    So some guy came down from Mt. Sinai and announces that "Thus sayeth science: Underage girls must be able to buy Plan B over the counter. And they need to wear schoolgirl uniforms, too."

  • Brett L||

    "Because I was in the East Room of the White House in March 2009 when [President Obama] signed an executive order saying this administration was committed to restoring scientific integrity to the policymaking process."

    These people won't let any sort of integrity get in the way of the process, and you're a damn fool for believing they might.

  • MJ||

    This administration makes a fetish of regulation in every other aspect of life, why should the feminists be surprised obama and company does not want to underregulate in this area?

  • Old Mexican||

    We are told by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and his friends in The Nation that the country is being ruled by a ruthless "austerity class," yet federal spending has continued to increase even after the summer’s debt-ceiling agreement.


    Welcome to today's game of Shifting Concepts.

    Contestans: Guess what "increased spending" will be called today.

    Beep!

    Sally?

    Austerity measure?

    Correct! And what do we have for her today, Johnny?

  • Johnny||

    Correct! And what do we have for her today, Johnny?

    Sally's student loans for her dual masters degree in interdisciplinary studies will be completely written off!

  • wulfy||

    NPR on Sirius this morning was sickening. The female host (really not a host, more of a parasite, seeking to stay latched onto the host) was talking to a tax policy hack and was saying essentially "I hate these tax cuts, once they get passed it's really hard to get RID of them", as if tax cuts were the disease and not the taxes. Then they had a cirlce jerk about how the Bush tax cuts are not "affordable", not "paid for"...etc.

    These motherfuckers really believe that tax revenue is THEIR MONEY, and they get really pissed when "tax cuts" take it away from them.

    Congress needs to defund those NPR pieces of shit, and corporations need to pull their donations ASAP. These people cannot be dealt with. They are the proverbial radicalized deadenders, incapable of understanding what national bankruptcy is. Wouldn't be surprised if they started sucicide bombing mall shops that cater to the "1%".

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: wulfy,

    Congress needs to defund those NPR pieces of shit, and corporations need to pull their donations ASAP.


    Well, corporations can pretty much do whatever they want with their money, even have a giant bonfire in which to burn a virgin inside a giant wicker basket.

    However, the government has NO CONSTITUTIONAL authorization to be doling out OUR money to NPR. The bureaucrats are the ones who should be burning inside a giant wicker basket.

  • ||

    I love that "not paid for" bullshit!

    Right now, we have $1.5T or so that is 'not paid for.' How about we just delete all the programs, agencies, and related government employees starting with the most recently introduced until we're back to a balanced budget? That way all the new shit that the fiscal fucktards in Congress dream up cannot be authorized until some old shit is terminated. Everything will be 'paid for' and a bunch of useless crap will disappear.

  • Old Mexican||

    Do you want another example of reporting something that ain't so?

    Fact-checking Ron Paul's facts by citing bogus counterfacts

    RON PAUL: "We have dumped the debt on the American people through TARP funding as well as the Federal Reserve. So the debt is dumped onto people. And what did we do? We bailed out the people that were benefiting during the formation of the bubble. So as long as we do that, we're not going to have economic growth."

    THE FACTS: The $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program was proposed by President George W. Bush and passed by Congress in 2008 to help rescue banks and other imperiled financial institutions. Nearly all of the money has been paid back, with interest.


    This is like saying "You're wrong to say I stole your bike because I subsequently returned it to you with the tires filled with air and the chain lubricated!"

    Most economists credit the program with keeping the financial system from freezing up and helping to prevent the worst recession in 30 years from becoming another Great Depression.


    A speculation is not a fact.

    The Federal Reserve does not operate on taxpayer money and does not receive any operating funds from the Treasury. In fact, it makes money every year from its banking operations, and turns over profits to the Treasury.


    Paul never said anything that contradicts this. This was clearly mentioned to fool fools and discredit Paul - i.e. the AP "fact checkers" are lying.

  • tarran||

    OM, I must admit that when I read that a few weeks ago I was laughing out loud at the manner in which their apologetics confirmed Dr Paul's point.

  • Old Mexican||

    I remember reading a "fact check" on Paul's comment during a September debate where he indicated that the US is flat broke, where the AP "fact checkers" seriously countered with "the US is not broke by any definition of the word."

    Such statement can only tell me that either these guys buy their dictionaries from Dollar Tree stores or they're as dishonest as a philandering politician - which is saying a lot.

  • tarran||

    I swear a forensic accountant could spend an entire career documenting exactly what a disaster the U.S. govt's finances are and write a tome bigger than Churchill's history of WW II.

  • Bill||

    Technically they were right. We are not broke at this very second. No fair projecting into the future.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Bill,

    Technically they were right. We are not broke at this very second.


    When you have to borrow just to pay the bills, dude, you're broke.

  • ||

    As near as I can tell, the Fed exists to devalue the dollar (scientifically!).

    Who benefits when a currency is devalued?

    Debtors.

    Who is the biggest debtor in the history of everything?

    The US Treasury.

    So, there's that.

  • Tony||

    Libertarians have been invited to the cool kids' table far more than they deserve. Stop whining and start applying facts to your worldview and not your worldview to facts.

  • tarran||

    Sooo, we would be allowed at the grownup table once we start cherry-picking "facts" that only support our world-view?

    Do you seriously consider the stuff you write? In Fastina Veritas:D

  • tarran||

    Festina! In festina veritas! Dammit!

  • Tony||

    Cherry picking facts, or making them up, is all libertarians do, because they operate from the premise that their worldview is correct no matter what. It doesn't matter what you believe, that is a flawed outlook.

    The great depression did not end either because of or coincident with the application of laissez-faire principles. That should have been the death of laissez-faire ideas forever, but it was only a temporary death. They came back after an activist government had created history's greatest prosperity and the lazy, selfish recipients of that wisdom decided to revisit the economics that gives them everything they want out of life and pats them on the back for the moral superiority of demanding it.

  • tarran||

    HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA!

    Tony, you citing the Great Depression as disproving the beneficence of laissez faire as an example of libertarians ignoring facts is so wrong, it deserves this image.

    You might want to read some books that cover the increasing state control of the economy during and after WW-I. Also, you might want to read some of FDR's speeches when he was running against Hoover. You are in for a paradigm shifting surprise. ;)

  • Tony||

    But see, you have to believe the complete opposite of reality with respect to the GD, because it is history's biggest counterargument against laissez-faire. The type of prosperity I'm interested in is what occurred post-WWII and only began to end during the Reagan era. That tells me laissez-faire leads to concentrated wealth, just as common sense would indicate, and strong government intervention can lead to a healthy middle class, something, I might note, has never existed in any laissez-faire system ever.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Tony the Pederast and Delusional,

    The type of prosperity I'm interested in is what occurred post-WWII and only began to end during the Reagan era.


    So much for the New Deal.

    So who's cherry-picking now?

  • tarran||

    Sigh, Tony, no matter how much you assert that FDR was lying when he accused Hoover's interventions to prop up wages and agricultural prices of pushing the economy into depression, it's not going to change the historical record.

    And, BTW, if laissez faire led to increasing wealth concentration,
    1) At the end of the 19th century, the middle class would be smaller than it was in the begining of the industrial revolution,
    2) Socialist countries would be roaring economic powerhouses because the socialist calculation problem identified by Mises would be an illusion.

    Oh wait, those "facts" contradict your world-view, so we'll pretend they don't exist. :D

  • Colonel_Angus||

    The roughly 50's through 80's were prosperity, compared to what?

    Shut the fuck up.

  • Tony||

    Compared to the rest of human society in all of history except some places in modern-day Europe.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Tony the Continental Pederast,

    Compared to the rest of human society in all of history except some places in modern-day Europe.


    Those places like where the very rich Europeans can live like the average poor in the US

  • Anonymous Coward||

    The roughly 50's through 80's were prosperity, compared to what?

    Compared to the countries that had their industries bombed into smoking rubble by WWII, the countries under the auspices of the Soviet empire, and the parts of the world that have damn little interest in a world of running water, vaccinations, or Taylor Swift.

  • Juice||

    Ben Bernanke claims that the Federal Reserve caused the Great Depression. The Federal Reserve must be the bastion of laissez faire then.

  • Tony||

    The theory is that a recession was turned into a depression because the Federal Reserve reduced the money supply.

    What policies do you guys advocate again? Was it printing more money? No, wait, something else...

  • tarran||

    HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA! HA!

    Tony, baby, I love you; the bitter way in which you cling to your superstitions is charming and entertaining.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Tony the Pederast Nincompoop,

    The theory is that a recession was turned into a depression because the Federal Reserve reduced the money supply.


    That was Milton Friedman's attempt at an explanation, you imbecile. And it was proven wrong by Murray Rothbard.

  • CatoTheElder||

    Tony, if you had been around during the 1970s, you wouldn't be saying that post-WWII prosperity ended during the Reagan era. That is, unless you are part of the parasite class.

    Yours is a peculiar concept of prosperity. My idea of prosperity doesn't include gasoline shortages, double digit inflation, economic stagnation, and Carteresque malaise. I'm not too fond of being in the thermonuclear Mexican standoff called mutually assured destruction either. My recollection is that all ended during the Reagan era.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    So... if the tax rate had been 39.6% for the past decade... we'd all be farting through silk!

    Genius!

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Tony the Pederast and Pot,

    Cherry picking facts, or making them up, is all libertarians do[...]


    Meet kettle.

    The great depression did not end either because of or coincident with the application of laissez-faire principles.


    That's correct. It ended right after the government massively reduced spending and 10 million guys returned from uniform and into the factories.

    They came back after an activist government had created history's greatest prosperity[...]


    And mice made Cinderella's evening gown. Do go on, Tony... tell us more.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Cherry picking facts, or making them up, is all libertarians do, because they operate from the premise that their worldview is correct no matter what. It doesn't matter what you believe, that is a flawed outlook.

    Tony, I've refuted you so many times with pointing out how much more we're spending in both aggregate and per capita terms, on an inflation-adjusted basis, that I've lost count.

    I'll be willing to go back to a 1950s regulatory and tax structure if you're willing to go back to 1950s levels of spending. Considering that blows up the entire premise of your bitchy little screed, it's not surprising that you've never conceded on this offer.

  • Tony||

    I don't give a fuck about reducing spending. That's your obsession. The problem here is you can't agree to pay for the things we buy even if you don't like those things. This is while you're playing the fiscal police. Because the entire emphasis on spending is a dishonest method of destroying the programs you don't like but not having the balls to tell poor grandmothers that they have to go hungry because you want them to.

  • Ray Pew||

    Because the entire emphasis on spending is a dishonest method of destroying the programs you don't like but not having the balls to tell poor grandmothers that they have to go hungry because you want them to.

    Since Medicare and Social Security are relatively new creations, please present us the newspaper articles from days gone by that described how the streets were littered with starving, homeless and or the dead? There must be documentation describing how the living had to step over the literally human debris that must have lined the streets.

  • Tony||

    If it ever gets that bad, you would be crawling straight into the arms of big government.

    But these programs weren't created via Red conspiracy, but to fulfill an obvious social need: people were living longer and often spent their later years in poverty, meaning they had no freedom and their children probably didn't either.

    Social programs for the old are a response to the fact that old people existed in large numbers, a now thing for the human species.

    Just how do you suppose a laissez-faire market accounts for that reality automatically? Or do you not care because you feel it's all their fault for not saving, so fuck them?

  • Tony||

    now=new

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    But these programs weren't created via Red conspiracy, but to fulfill an obvious social need: people were living longer and often spent their later years in poverty, meaning they had no freedom and their children probably didn't either.

    Do you have any evidence of this mass of elder-age poverty?

    Social programs for the old are a response to the fact that old people existed in large numbers, a now thing for the human species.

    Bullshit. Social programs for the old go back to Bismarck, who implemented them to keep the commie-sympathizing socialists from protesting his wars. It's ALWAYS been about buying people off, not protecting them.

    Just how do you suppose a laissez-faire market accounts for that reality automatically? Or do you not care because you feel it's all their fault for not saving, so fuck them?

    Yes, just how on earth did the elderly manage to survive for centuries without receiving a crisply printed paycheck in the mail every month?

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    I don't give a fuck about reducing spending.

    No shit--because you think that money comes from elves and wormholes.

    The problem here is you can't agree to pay for the things we buy even if you don't like those things.

    No, the problem here is that you consistently bring up a Glorious Age of Government Intervention that was, empirically speaking, far cheaper to run and far less intrusive than anything in place today. And you're too stubborn to admit it.

    Because the entire emphasis on spending is a dishonest method of destroying the programs you don't like but not having the balls to tell poor grandmothers that they have to go hungry because you want them to.

    Maybe poor grandmothers shouldn't be relying on the government to cover their every need until the day they die. And I'll shout it all the live-long day, twink.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Tony the Pederast,

    Libertarians have been invited to the cool kids' table far more than they deserve.


    You hve been allowed into Indonesia far too many times than you deserve.

  • Beloved Rev. Blue Moon||

    What's with the pederast thing, dude? Not cool - cut the crap.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Tony, it's kind of hard for people to invite you to a table you already own.

  • Tony||

    I know, I know, academia, science, journalism, and entertainment reject you not because you believe stupid things, but because it's a conspiracy.

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Tony the Conflator,

    I know, I know, academia, science, journalism, and entertainment reject you not because you believe stupid things, but because it's a conspiracy.


    Yeah, nice way you conflate them all, as if equivalent.

    Idiot.

  • ||

    I know, I know, academia, science, journalism, and entertainment reject you not because you believe stupid things, but because it's a conspiracy.

    They reject us because they're too busy concocting leftist ideological propaganda, torturing the scientific method and peer review processes to rationalize the propaganda, and spewing the propaganda--all while buggering children.

    It's clear who the rejects are in this society.

  • Tony||

    Do you honestly--honestly--think in 50 years everyone's gonna be talking about how a few right-wing conservative Americans who listen to too much talk radio, along with a few of their libertarian pals, disproved the the global scientific establishment and uncovered a massive, convoluted conspiracy to enrich Al Gore?

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Who "disproved it" will be irrelevant. At this rate, global warming scare-mongering is going to end up in the same database of social hysterias as the Salem witch hunts and the Dutch tulip bulb craze.

  • tarran||

    This is a book Tony shouldn't read.

    Bernay's Propaganda.

  • ||

    Outstanding link; thank you.

  • Bill||

    With respect to the conventional view of the GD and FDR - this is what I was told in the 3rd grade. It is what every simpleton in the country believes because that is what they were told. Wealth was concentrated in too few hands and this somehow caused the depression.

    It's a shame the you are still at the 3rd grade level. Here is just one simple fact you should "think" about.

    The Federal Reserve was created in 1913. Sixteen years later we had the GD. The idiot politicians and regulators caused the GD.

    This is Bernake's view. Read down a bit until he starts talking about Friedman's work:

    http://www.federalreserve.gov/.....efault.htm

  • ||

    Thanks much for that link.

  • ||

    Interesting speech by Bernanke. Of course, in Bernanke's view the Fed's mistakes in causing the GD do not exactly support libertarian positions. It seems Bernanke believes the Fed did not "print" enough money (monetary expansion) and mistakenly tried to defend an indefensible gold standard by raising interest rates at the wrong time.

    Oh well, I guess Helicopter Ben isn't an Austrian.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    I know, I know, academia, science, journalism, and entertainment reject you not because you believe stupid things, but because it's a conspiracy.

    Tony-begging-the-question-says-what?

  • Tony||

    Apparently taking a freshman logic course means you get to throw out vocab words randomly.

    It is not a strawman when I describe the actual real-world effects of the policies you guys advocate. Just because you don't like defending putting grandmothers into poverty doesn't mean it won't happen.

    Here I'm simply pointing out the underlying flaw of libertarianism, which is the underlying flaw of many, many ideas: that you accept a given set of premises and then accept or reject facts according to whether they confirm those premises. It's an unscientific, i.e. dogmatic, way of looking at the world, and on those grounds alone should be rejected, regardless of the specifics.

  • tarran||

    The real-world effects of our policies are the rise of the bourgeoise, the shrinking of poverty and the expansion of social freedoms.

    Your hysterical assertions to the contrary have been shown to be false over and over again, yet you keep trotting them out.

    It's entertaining, and your faith in the face of contrary evidence would make the most rigid Calvinist proud, but in the end it's futile. The facts and theory are on the side of freedom, and you have tied yourself to the mast of yet another sinking, misery-producing, utopia-seeking, dystopia-producing ship.

  • Tony||

    Nobody has ever explained a reasonable pathway from abolishing Medicare to increased middle class prosperity.

    All you do is say trust us.

  • The Ingenious Hidalgo||

    Oh, is that really true, Tony? Have a century's worth of libertarians simply neglected to say how reducing government spending and interference in the market increases prosperity? Oh, how careless of us. It's either that or you've never bothered to read anything by anyone who disagrees with you. I wonder which it is.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Nobody has ever explained a reasonable pathway from abolishing Medicare to increased middle class prosperity.

    All you do is say trust us.

    Nobody has ever explained a reasonable pathway from perpetually-increasing government spending to increased middle class prosperity.

    All you do is say trust us.

  • Tony||

    Number of middle classes in the US created by progressive government activism: 1.

    Number of middle classes created by libertarianism: 0.

  • Red Rocks Rockin||

    Number of middle classes in the US created by progressive government activism: 1.

    Number of middle classes created by libertarianism: 0.

    Number of middle classes that were in place long before progressive government existed: 1

    Number of middle classes in place 100 years after progressive government activism implemented: 1 still, but getting smaller every day.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Nobody has ever explained a reasonable pathway from abolishing Medicare to increased middle class prosperity.

    Define "reasonable" as best you understand the term.

    For bonus points, define "middle class."

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Tony,

    It is not a strawman when I describe the actual real-world effects of the policies you guys advocate.


    You haven't. You simply misrepresent and msconstrue that which you misunderstand.

    Just because you don't like defending putting grandmothers into poverty doesn't mean it won't happen.


    So much for pointing out consequences - you're simply speculating.

    By the way, it is government that impoverishes grandmothers, putting them on the street, not free markets.

  • The Ingenious Hidalgo||

    Here I'm simply pointing out the underlying flaw of libertarianism, which is the underlying flaw of many, many ideas: that you accept a given set of premises and then accept or reject facts according to whether they confirm those premises. It's an unscientific, i.e. dogmatic, way of looking at the world, and on those grounds alone should be rejected, regardless of the specifics.

    I don't think libertarians would agree with this - which is probably why you were accused of question-begging. What you've said here really has no more content than "you're wrong because you're wrong". Also, the specifics are all that matter - it's quite possible to believe the right thing for the wrong reasons.

  • Tony||

    "Libertarian" is a term that comes with a specific set of policy beliefs. It apparently works at all times for all people forever.

    Liberalism by contrast has a humanistic goal, and is willing to alter its premises and policies to that end.

    It's much worse than that, of course, since your ranks are filled overwhelmingly by people who just repeat FOX News bullshit about everything.

  • The Ingenious Hidalgo||

    Liberalism by contrast has a humanistic goal, and is willing to alter its premises and policies to that end.

    See, that would be an example of something you can't just assume. "Wanting people to have better lives" or "caring about people's welfare" are things that libertarians can claim just easily as liberals for certain values of "better lives" and "welfare" - and you don't just get to proclaim yourself winner of that argument. Especially when you turn up over and over again without any arguments.

  • ||

    I think humanism and libertarianism are quite compatible, perhaps even synergistic. They certainly are not antithetical.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    It is not a strawman when I describe the actual real-world effects of the policies you guys advocate.

    Strawman Argument ≠ Begging the question. Please, stop digging the hole deeper.

  • Tony||

    Sorry, libertarians don't have anything for the ???? between "cut government" and "profit!" Even if they did, it would be total speculation, since nothing like libertarianism has ever produced prosperity before.

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Well Tony, the "????" can very easily be "people keep more their money, spend it on things, increasing the demand for things, resulting in the need for more jobs to make more things that people want to buy, giving people more money to buy more things, et cetera"

    Then you have "PROFIT."

  • Tony||

    You do realize that's the essence of Keynesianism?

  • Anonymous Coward||

    Phony, what, if anything, did I say about countercyclical fiscal policy?

  • Mr. FIFY||

    "putting grandmothers into poverty"

    You sure are fixated on that phrase. Is this a fetish you're suppressing?

  • ||

    Tony's political philosophy writ large: "You get to sit at the cool kids' table if you hold the right views!"

  • ||

    Here's a hint, Tony. The kids at your table were never the cool kids. The cool kids were generally the guys who flung jello at your table and made paper airplanes from your homework. You weren't even the interesting outcasts, who generally laughed at you for being so impressed with being on the student council and the yearbook committee.

  • Tony||

    Student council and yearbook were the two groups I never joined!

    Even back then I knew that peaking in high school was a bad idea.

  • Mr. FIFY||

    ...but you peaked in high school anyway, didn't ya?

  • ||

    We live in an interesting time. It strikes me that the elites who are peddling these "consensuses" have failed. Abjectly. However, we live in an age of unrivaled information and communications technology. As a consequence, a reasonably informed layman can acquire a passing knowledge of almost any subject within a few days of research. We live, not in an age of unprecedented ignorance, but one of unprecedented access to knowledge and information. This has led to widespread review and examination of the performance of the elites and widespread belief that said performance has been wanting. Rather than responding with a healthy self-examination or reassessment of their assumptions, the elites have largely resorted to relying on their status as elites, as status that has been undermined by the poor performance of those very elites.

  • protefeed||

    We live, not in an age of unprecedented ignorance, but one of unprecedented access to knowledge and information.

    We live in an age of * precedented * ignorance, despite unprecedented access. "Access" does not mean people will actually use the stuff.

    Everyone with a computer has access to Reason.com. Hardly anyone does.

  • ||

    And what percent of the population do you think had access to these ideas, say, twenty years ago? You might be able to argue that people have become more likely to overestimate how much they know (probably). However, I think you're hard-pressed to claim that we're somehow less knowledgeable than we were when Uncle Walter was spoon-feeding us a pre-processed set of views.

  • ||

    Let me revise my comment. How much of the population considered these ideas twenty years ago?

  • tarran||

    The fact is that it is now impossible for a group to entirely monopolize mass media.

    The days when the FCC could shut down a radio-station for being too libertarian and completely shut them up are gone.

    Yes, most people are apathetic, but now the non-apathetic have a much wider range of ideas and media to research.

    Couple these with the principles developed since the enlightenment to winnow out bad ideas and to keep the good, and we are living in a time where the survival time of bullshit is steadily shrinking.

    I doubt the AGW cult, for example, had it got its start today, for example, could have gained any political traction in the post 2005 Internet age.

  • Concerned Citizen||

    "The Federal Reserve does not operate on taxpayer money and does not receive any operating funds from the Treasury. In fact, it makes money every year from its banking operations, and turns over profits to the Treasury."
    Not all profits. They have to pay Bernanke and the other employees.

  • ||

    Maybe someone can answer my question regarding the Fed Reserve and the bank bailout. My understanding is that the Fed Resrve loaned the banks the money at an extremely low rate but then turned around and paid those same banks a higher interest rate for keeping more assets, ie: give fewer loans. so based on this the Fed reserve essentially paid off the loans for the banks by the higher interest on the unspent monies. A big circle jerk lie and if I could do this I too could be a millionair by borrowing money at a low rate and keeping it in a bank whos interest rate exceed my loan payment. Have i got this right?

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Ron,

    A big circle jerk lie and if I could do this I too could be a millionair by borrowing money at a low rate and keeping it in a bank whos interest rate exceed my loan payment. Have i got this right?


    Yes. You figured it out, Ron.

    Now, don't mind those men in black carrying the syringe - everything will be just fine. Just fine.

  • sarcasmic||

    Ain't crony capitalism great?

  • tarran||

    Essentially correct.

    The shell game would be harmless if it weren't for the fact that sooner or later those reserves are going to be loaned out or spent. At that point prices will be bid up and people will experience a 1970's level of inflation.

  • Brett L||

    Unless we get 1982 level interest rates. You want a house? Great. Twenty percent down and 14% interest.

  • ||

    Maybe. Let's not forget that, at the same time they surged reserves, they shut down much of the shadow banking system. How that plays out when velocity picks up is unclear.

  • ||

    thanks for the responses

  • wulfy||

    "Libertarians live in an often-infuriating world in which elites agree on facts we know or suspect to be untrue, and then bathe themselves in sanctimony for being above the fray of ideologues who let politics poison science."

    When justifiably infuriated, it is ok to vilify and use invective. When your opponent repeatedly claims something that is demonstrably false, you are justified in calling them a liar. It is then advisable to cite an objective source that refutes the lie. Then you can dismiss his whole argument. Obama's opponents are afraid to do this.

    Political correctness and fear of being branded a racist has kept all congressional and presidential opponents of Obama (except Joe Wilson) from calling him what he is, a serial liar.

    The stakes are too high to keep the kid gloves on. It's time to use the bare fist, and break his glass jaw with charges of willful deception, economic illiteracy, a penchant for extortion via the tax code, running a thug administration, and legislative/regulatory sodomy of present and future taxpayer. Those future taxpayers are children now, which makes him a kind of imperial pedophile.

    Civility is foregone when these kind of frauds and abuses continue to be inflicted. Time to verbally crack his ratfuckin tyrannical skull.

  • sarcasmic||

    You sir are obviously racist.

  • wulfy||

    I admit to being fabricatist. I hate liars and think they should have a scarlet L tattoed on their forehead, have their own liar drinking fountains, and not be allowed to vote.

  • sarcasmic||

    I too despise liberals.

  • Joseph||

    Changes in median income and median consumption are poor indicators of the income changes, in "real terms", of the middle class. The fact that both have risen since 1980 tells us more individuals earn incomes higher than the median than did in 1980. While the increase could be explained by greater numbers of middle class earners, it could also be explained by greater number of individuals earning $1 mil. or more. Thus, median income tells us next to nothing about the incomes of the middle class. Median does not mean average.

  • Realist||

    "Manufacturing Consensus"
    AGW believers know how to do this...just ask Ron Bailey.

  • ||

    The problem is that the big government consensus is self-serving. It justifies everyone's piece of pork. Of course people in, or closely associated with government, are going to believe in bigger government. It's what pays their paychecks.

  • ||

    Re the woes of the middle-class: I'm old enough to remember the era of Radical Chic, when rich "liberals" formed an alliance with the lumpenproletariat to gang up on the middle-class with its despised "bourgeois values." Now suddenly the Hive (that loose confederation of "liberals," socialists, and other tax-happy, State-fellating coercion junkies) is all "Lo, the poor Middle Class." When did the party-line change, I wonder?

  • Conservatives||

    Whereas we've been perfectly consistent over many decades in our one and only idea: that rich white males should keep all the power.

  • Any MSNBC Host||

    We hate rich white people, too!

  • Rich Black Males||

    We still cool, a'ight?

  • Rich Asian Males||

    What about us? Are we evil?

  • George Soros||

    *aHEM*

  • ||

    " Leonhardt laid out as a factual starting point the government’s “extraordinary and largely successful moves to spare us from another Great Depression.” Bernstein went on to decry the “irrational fear of budget deficits at a time when the budget deficit really should be very large.” And Belt repeatedly declined to enumerate a specific appropriate size and scope of government. "

    I rarely watch fox news, but several days ago I turned it on for background noise and went back to my business. My attention was caught when a congressman was being interviewed about some meeting he was involved with regarding the economy. He said " We are getting together to try and figure out how to stimulate the economy." Figure out??? They have to figure that out? Either he is a fucking idiot or a liar. More likely he was lying.

    They are an army of ticks keeping the host as sick as possible without actually dying so that they can suck as much blood as possible. If I were that reporter and he had said that to my face I probably would have dropped the mic and broken his fucking jaw.

  • ||

    I don't hear this coming from any camp, reason.com excluded of course, but it makes sense. The fundmental reason stimuli can't work? Govt. is spending so much already, even big amounts are reduced to small incremental effects at best. The marginal impact of that next dollar spent is pretty close to zero.

  • Jim Gill||

    I enjoyed the essay, but I'm wondering if the claims put forth in the final paragraphs don't undercut his argument somewhat. As near as I can tell, he's referring to this paper by Veronique de Rugy (Bush's Regulatory Kiss-Off): http://mercatus.org/media_clip.....tory-kiss. Since the "consensus argument" has to do with the regulations that applied to the financial sector, citing a study that appears to conflate all regulations (homeland security, agriculture, environmental protection, etc) seems a little disingenuous. In fact, De Rugy even points out that much of the 90,000 new hires were for Homeland Security enforcement.
    This seems particularly unfortunate for an essay on the importance of facts in argument. Please tell me if I've misunderstood Matt's essay or De Rugy's paper.

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