BACK FROM THE GRAVE! How does the dumbest idea survive? The answer starts with us: // link // print // previous // next //
WEDNESDAY, JULY 21, 2010
The experts catch up with the Howler: While the cables yell about race today, lets talk about the interests of black and brown and white kids, including kids who are poor.
For years, the New York Times (and other entities) have gushed about the rise in test scores achieved by Mayor Bloomberg. Its important to know if those score gains are real and reliable.
Yesterday, a major report seemed to say theyre not.
Jennifer Medina reports the story in yesterdays New York Times. Its much as weve been suggesting for years. An expert panel has concluded that the state of New Yorks statewide tests have been getting easier:
You can read Medinas full story, which includes a lot of information. Well only say this: If these tests were developed in a competent manner, New York should have been able to show that they were equally hard from one year to the next. The state should have produced a technical manual demonstrating this fact. Test development shouldnt be guesswork.
Alas! Newspapers have rarely cared about this bone-simple matter. Just consider what happened last week, when DCs new test scores dropped below last years results in the elementary grades.
Darn it! Passing rates had dropped in DCs elementary schools, reversing several years of growth. In his news report on the story, our old pal Bill Turque casually quoted superintendent Rhee:
Say what? Why would modifications to the test produce a drop in test scores? If the tests are competently devised from year to year, that basically shouldnt occur. But Turque was casual in his report, and the editors were soon saying this:
What explains the drop in passing rates? Could it be something as simple as the switch this year to a different test? Well, as a matter of fact, yesit could. But if the testing program is competently developed, that pretty much shouldnt happen.
There they went again! Last week, the editors were remarkably casual about this proffered explanation. One week later, New York officials said something was wack with their tests.
Weve said it before, and well say it again. Newspapers should insist on seeing competent technical manuals. Test developers should be able to prove that this years tests are equivalent to (equally hard as) last years version. Obviously, it makes no sense to compare passing rates from one year to the next if the tests have gotten easier (or harder). Decades into this pitiful game, our big newspapers are still quite weak on this basic, bone-simple idea.
PART 2BACK FROM THE GRAVE (permalink): With good reason, Paul Krugman has been tearing his hair about the worlds dumbest idea.
When you lower tax rates, you get extra revenue! Clearly, its the worlds dumbest idea, although its been driving our discourse for decades. But Senator Kyl made some clumsy remarks, and Senator McConnell had to help his pal out (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/20/10). In the process, McConnell affirmed the worlds dumbest idea. In the process, the gentleman even seemed to say that his whole party believes it:
When you cut tax rates, you get increased revenue! In last Fridays column, Krugman marveled at the way this dumbest idea keeps coming back from the grave:
We dont blame Krugman for tearing his hair, though he does oversimplify things just a tad. In truth, no one has ever killed this idea with facts, except to people who arent in its thrall (nor could Krugman be asked to do so in a short newspaper column). When it comes to this zombie idea, true believersand paid dissemblerswill always offer alternate facts, thus explaining away that big rise in debt under Reagan, to cite one example. (There was a recession! And Congress wouldnt cut spending!) On last weekends Fox News Sunday, Rep. Mike Pence offered several such thoughts when Chris Wallace asked him to explain the deficits growth under Reagan. In standard press corps fashion, Wallace puttered around a bit, then moved on to something else. (Transcript tomorrow.)
When you cut tax rates, you get extra revenue! Its possible that President Reagan believed this claim in some manner or fashion, although he never behaved like he did; if lowering tax rates produces more revenue, why did he lower the marginal tax rate to 28 percent? Why didnt he go to 27 percent, thus producing even more revenue? No, to 26? On a few occasions, President George W. Bush seemed to say he believed this dumbest ideabut when he campaigned for president in 1999 and 2000, the gentleman said, for a good solid year, that his proposed tax cuts would cost the treasury some $1.3 trillion over the first ten years.
Bushs tax cuts would lower revenues by $1.3 trillion! Bush kept saying that after reaching the White House, until his tax cuts became law.
Duh! As a candidate, George W. Bush never claimed that revenues would grow as a result of his tax cuts. He always said precisely the oppositethat his tax cuts would lower receipts. (He said this was the most sensible way to use the projected surplus.) But then, Candidate Bush was hardly alone in making this non-disingenuous statement. In 1996, Candidate Dole had said the same thing; he specifically rejected the idea that his tax cuts would somehow pay for themselves. And in 1990, the first President Bush had signed a famous deficit reduction deal. How did he reduce the deficit? In part, by raising taxes, thus bringing in extra revenues!
In his column, Krugman marveled at the way this dumbest idea has stayed alive for the past thirty years. And its true! In the face of all this straight talk from Republican candidates and presidents, its astonishing that this dumbest idea persists todaythat people think we need some sort of facts in order to kill it off. In fact, every major Republican pol in the past thirty years has denied this dumbest idea in the world. In the face of this bone-simple history, how does this nonsense survive?
In large part, this dumbest idea persists because of liberal ineptitude.
The hapless work of the mainstream press corps also lets this dumbest idea survivebut lets leave that for tomorrow. For today, lets consider our own hapless conduct. Lets start to consider a troubling topicthirty years of hapless performance within the liberal world.
How does the dumbest idea stay alive? Consider what happened when big liberal players swung into action last week.
Last week, some major liberals fought back when this dumbest idea was voiced. But uh-oh! Through absolutely no fault of their own, they stand at the end of thirty years of hapless liberal conduct, and it showed in their work. It isnt Rachel Maddows fault that the liberal world still doesnt know how to discuss this ludicrous claim. But when Maddow discussed this topic last week, she worked from a script which simply groaned with errors of fact and logic.
So it has been among liberals for the past thirty years. As a result, this dumbest idea simply refuses to die.
Last Wednesday, Maddow did a fourteen-minute segment on this general topic, a segment you can watch in full here. In what follows, we offer this segments central portions. In the following passage, Maddow begins to discuss the Bush tax cuts, the topic McConnell had used as a way to voice the worlds dumbest idea:
So far, so goodonly one semi-error, and a colorful comparison. (There was no deficit when Bush passed his first tax cuts. We were running a surplus.) But that would quickly end:
Oof! If that dollar figure sounded large to you (as it did to us), thats because it actually was. Fairly clearly, Maddows staff was working from this post by Ezra Klein, a post Maddow herself would cite a bit later (see below). But as you can clearly see in Kleins post, the CBO had actually said that Bushs tax cuts accounted for 48 percent of that $539 billion; Maddows statement was wrong by a factor of half. Meanwhile, for whatever its worth, here is the AP report in which Hatch made his comment about not paying for things. For whatever its worth, Hatch was talking about failing to pay for spending programs; he wasnt discussing tax cuts. For all we know, he might have said that those tax cuts paid for themselves!
A speculation: These are the kinds of bungles and errors churned by a slightly incompetent staff. But as she continued, Maddow displayed a more serious deficiency. For our money, she showed that she, like the rest of the liberal world, doesnt know the most obvious, bone-simple way to challenge this dumbest idea:
Viewers got to enjoy the big fun of watching Maddow yell Whooooooo, thus helping us know to adore her. But from the point of view of persuasion, Maddow missed the point of Bushs statement, like a world of liberals before her. People! In that speech to the Congress in February 2001, President Bush was plainly saying that his proposed tax cuts would reduce future revenues! (By $1.3 trillion over ten years, he had constantly said as a candidate.) Plainly, President Bush wasnt claiming that tax cuts would produce higher revenues. Duh! He was (quite correctly) saying that his cuts would drive revenues down.
(Because of that growing surplus, it was OK to do this, Bush said. Even after lowering revenues by $1.3 trillion, we would remain in the black.)
The fact that Bush overshot his mark is easily explained away by use of facts. Everyone has heard the explanations, some of which are perfectly valid. (He had to spend in the wake of 9/11! And the economy lagged!) Once you get involves in such technical arguments, its very hard to prevail. But in that earlier moment, addressing the Congress, Bush himself was telling the world that his tax cuts would reduce future revenues! When McConnell gave voice to the dumbest ideawhen he said that these tax cuts produced higher revenueshe was contradicting everything Bush had said from December 1999 on!
We liberals are too dumb to say this. Again, this isnt a problem with Rachel Maddow. The liberal world, as a whole, doesnt know how to make this obvious point when this dumbest idea returns from the grave. Thirty years of liberal sloth has left us in this sad predicament.
So far, weve looked at a few minor errors by Maddowand at the liberal worlds general cluelessness when it comes to basic argument. But for the record: As Maddow continued, the errors became rather stunning. If you watch this segment on tape, you will see Maddow struggling with props which wouldnt cooperate as she tried to construct a big graph (a perfectly sensible thing to do). Well edit those problems from the transcript, but we cant eliminate the ginormous technical bungling displayed by one of our brightest liberals as our side again showed how inept it is at rebutting this dumbest idea.
A bit of background: Maddow is a former Rhodes Scholar. In terms of sheer IQ, shes probably one of the brightest players the liberal world puts on the field. (Unfortunately, she also likes to shriek, entertain and clown, and she enjoys tribal warfare.) For that reason, when you see her argue in the following way, youre looking at a systemic problem of the liberal world. If the liberal world had developed any chops in the past thirty years with this topic, Maddow would probably know them.
Alas! This is the best we liberals know how to do, thirty years into this world-class lunacy. And this gets very bad:
Right now our deficit is around $1 trillion. Republicans are proposing to add $3.5 trillion more to it? Truly, that is just astoundinga perfect marker of liberal indolence over the past thirty years.
In this painful passage, Maddow starts with this years national deficit, which stands at about $1 trillion. By the time shes done, she has made it sound like the deficitshe keeps using that termwill be $4.5 trillion if Republicans get their way. But in this long, embarrassing passage, Maddow is mixing well-known apples and oranges; she is conflating the annual deficit with the accumulated national debt. Egad! She is adding additional debt over eight or ten years to the current annual deficit, producing a bizarre projected deficit which corresponds to nothing which exists in the real world.
Nothing much turns on this groaning error, an error a college freshman might make. (In this bone-simpler primer, Klein had warned against making this bone-simple error. Two weeks later, Maddow made it.) But good lord! Thirty years into this ludicrous story, this is the way our brightest liberal goes on TV and argues. Maddow doesnt seem to understand this topic at all; neither does her staff. But then, Olbermann did little better when he tackled this topic last week. And good lord! Wait till you see what Ezra said about McConnells statement!
Simple story: The liberal world has been lazy, and massively dumb, for a very long time now. (The other side is persistent and skilled.) Tearing his hair, Krugman asked how this dumbest idea stays alive. Thirty years of liberal indolence is a large part of the answer.
Tomorrow, well look at the way the mainstream press corps handled this dumbest idea last week. But first, well look at KO and Ezra. The answer to Krugmans important question plainly begins with us.