Facts vs Beliefs

Nov 07 2011 Published by under Bad Economics

One of the things about current politics that continually astonishes me is the profound lack of respect for reality demonstrated by so many of the people who want to be in charge of our governments.

Personally, I'm very much a liberal. I lean way towards the left-end of the political spectrum. But for the purposes of this discussion, that's irrelevant. I'm not talking about whether people are proposing the right policy, or the right politics. What I'm concerned with is the way that the don't seem to accept the fact that there are facts. Not everything is a matter of opinion. Some things are just undeniable facts, and you need to deal with them as they are. The fact that you don't like them is just irrelevant. As the old saying goes, you're entitled to your own opinion, but you're not entitled to your own facts.

I saw a particularly vivid example of this last week, but didn't have a chance to write it up until today. Rick Perry was presenting his proposal for how to address the problems of the American economy, particularly the dreadfully high unemployment rate. He claims that his policy will, if implemented, create 2.5 million jobs over the next four years.

The problem with that, as a proposal, is that in America, due to population growth, just to break even in employment, we need to add 200,000 jobs per month - that's how fast the pool of employable people is growing. So we need to add over two million jobs per year just to keep unemployment from rising. In other words, Perry is proposing a policy that will, according to his (probably optimistic, if he's a typical politician) estimate, result in increasing unemployment.

This is, obviously, bad.

But here's where he goes completely off the rails.

Chris Wallace: "But how do you answer this question? Two and a half million jobs doesn't even keep pace with population growth. Our unemployment rate would increase under this goal.

Rick Perry: "I don't believe that for a minute. It's just absolutely false on its face. Americans will get back to work."

That's just blatant, stupid idiocy.

The employable population is growing. This is not something debatable. This is not something that you get to choose to believe or not to believe. This is just reality.

If you add 2.5 million jobs, and the population of employable workers seeking jobs grows by 4 million people, then the unemployment rate will get worse. That's simple arithmetic. It's not politics, it's not debatable, and it has nothing to do with what Rick Perry, or anyone else, believes. It's a simple fact.

The fact that a candidate for president can just wave his hands and deny reality - and that that isn't treated as a disqualifying error - is simply shocking.

30 responses so far

  • EEGiorgi says:

    Well, of course he doesn't believe it. He knows that a significant portion of the population bases their vote on beliefs and not facts. And that's all he needs.

    Sigh, thanks for this.

  • OgreMkV says:

    I guess the biggest problem is that not everyone knows these facts.

  • Krisztián Pintér says:

    it is kind of clear to me that perry does not deny that fact here. he simply does not understand it.

  • Venture Free says:

    You, as a conservative/liberal/libertarian/vegan say that 1 + 1 = 3. I, as a thinking human being disagree and say that 1 + 1 = 2. Such a disagreement represents a fundamental ideological difference, and the debate about what 1 + 1 actually equals must be approached on that basis and without bias. Thus both answers are to be presented without judgement so that others can decide based on their own ideology, untainted by our own political biases.

    This is the reality in which we live now. There are no factual statements in the news. There are only political statements.

  • Tod says:

    Bachmann said she would bring back $2 gas. You calling her a liar?

  • "If you add 2.5 million jobs, and the population of employable workers seeking jobs grows by 4 million people, then the unemployment rate will get worse."

    Given that your current unemployment rate is worse than 1.5/4 (37.5%). So his plan is sound, as long as the unemployment rate is worse than that.

  • Shadonis says:

    This is, in my opinion, one of the biggest problems out there.

    You find it in politics, in religion, in mathematics, in science, in social scuffles, in economics, etc. People don't like to face facts because facts tend to be brutal and ugly. But ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away.

  • TUNAPOLOCS says:

    Is not politics just the art of bullshit? And as Frankfurt pointed out:

    "Bullshit is commonly used to describe statements made by people more concerned with the response of the audience than in truth and accuracy."

    So, someone like Perry is aware of this information or could easily obtain it. But that is not the concern of politicians. They are simply out for the best response from the audience that so easily falls prey to that said bullshit...

    Hence, we should conclude that politicians and the political enterprise is an antiquated institution, not that this or that politician is devoid of the facts.

  • Shadonis says:

    emba:

    Cantor indeed showed that such a bijection doesn't exist. But you don't refute Cantor by using some cranky method with questionable assumptions and then asserting that you don't need to explain your result in terms of Cantor's process. All you're doing here is trying to bypass the burden of proof.

    "SO WHAT if you're not addressing Cantor's proof? If you show there is such a bijection, then Cantor goofed and his proof is clever gibberish."

    You're assuming that by "showing that there is such a bijection," you've actually showed it. If your method is valid, you should be able to show beyond a shadow of a doubt why Cantor's process fails and that he indeed goofed. But if you can't do it, then your method is probably wrong.

    It's why I brought up the Pythagoras example. Any idiot can say they've disproved the Theorem by converting the sides to binary first and then treating those numbers as decimal. But at some point you have to actually show WHY it's a sensible idea, how its results are consistent with everything else out there, how the current version of the theory can't account for your results, and so on. Similarly, if you're going to disprove Cantor, you need to show how Cantor's proof fails and why. You don't get to just handwave it away.

    Besides, nobody is going to be able to do it because Cantor's proof is logically watertight, and it makes sense to everyone except those who continue to misunderstand how infinity works. There is no bijection between the naturals and the reals. Anyone with a fully-functioning brain can intuit this, and yet some people apparently lack the functionality.

  • rauparaha says:

    Are you sure he didn't mean 2.5 million more jobs than would otherwise be created without his plan? Comparing to today's number of jobs doesn't really make a lot of sense because you need to know what would ordinarily happen to judge whether it's a good thing. Maybe he's already done the maths for you and means that the 2.5 million is wholly additional to the jobs that would normally be created by population growth.

  • Marc Fleury says:

    As Dimitris pointed out, the employment rate can indeed improve even if the number of new jobs is smaller than the pool of new potential workers.

    But I think the larger question that is being missed is: What does it even mean to say that some number of new jobs will be created by a particular political plan? It's a net increase compared to what? Compared to zero job creation? (Which would be the result of doing what?) Or compared to what would have been created if the plan was not implemented?

  • BugDoc says:

    You are absolutely right! I also think it's interesting that candidates not only deny facts, but can imply that something is a "fact" if it suits them, when it is actually a belief with no factual basis. Case in point - Michele Bachmann's egregious statement that the HPV vaccine was associated with mental retardation....just because somebody's mother came up and told her so. Fortunately, she got lambasted for that, but I'm amazed that the current political climate allows politicians to say anything they want without much accountability.

  • Reimer says:

    Immanuel Kant in his epistemology brings up the notion of inter-subjectivity, i.e. the subjective understanding of observations (lets call them facts here) shared among a group of people.
    In US politics there seems to be little inter-subjectivity across society anymore. The Bachman example with the vaccine is a great one in that context. Clearly a lot of people do accept the notion that vaccinations can be tied to mental defects, despite having the information that clinical tests etc are not supporting this claim.

    I think a lot of this fragmentation in understanding of the facts can be attributed to the dialectic usage of 'Fair and Balanced' in the media and in some school curriculum nowadays. When you allow an unbiased 'Fair and Balanced' discussion between fact and craziness (eg evolution vs intelligent design, Bachmann's statement etc.) you undermine the validity of the facts. Persons exposed to those unbiased discussions will intuitively think that the truth is in between the presented 'extremes'.

    What is needed are fact biased discussions, as un-PC as it might seem.

    • Tom says:

      Fact-based ("biased?") discussions are, indeed, needed. Hence the popularity of FactCheck, PolitiFact, FAIR, Media Matters and other relatively independent media watch groups. I disagree that it's "un-PC," though. It's just not politically expedient.

  • Al says:

    So I take it the next time Obama declares a plan of his will create X jobs in Y years, if X/Y is not greater than 2.4 million, you'll point that out as well? Because you haven't pointed it out the last umpteen times as far as I can tell, and you certainly wouldn't want anyone to think you're biased...

    • MarkCC says:

      Did you even bother to read the post before you replied?

      Totally fucking typical of the shit that I get from conservatives... god forbid anyone should dare to say anything critical of the glorious conservatives without including an equal dig at liberals, right?

      The whole point of the post had nothing to do with the policy that Perry was pretending to propose. The post clearly focuses on one aspect: the "I don't believe that" response.

      Perry was confronted with the fact that he claimed he'd reduce unemployment by creating fewer jobs than the number of people who'll be added to the pool of job-seekers. His response was profoundly revealing: he doesn't believe that it's possible that if you add 2.4 million jobs, unemployment could still increase.

      Even though the facts are simple and undisputed, he disregarded them in favor of what he believes. His response was objectively ridiculous. It has nothing to do with political viewpoint, political bias, or any other kind of bias. The point is that he disregards facts when they conflict with his beliefs.

      This kind of thing certainly isn't strictly a right-wing phenomenon: you can look at a lot of democratic congresscritters and see similar things. You've got dumbasses like Tom Harkin who can't accept that his beloved alt-med doesn't work, and who regularly denies observable, objective reality on the basis of that faith.

      But in this case, you've got a presidental candidate openly saying that he doesn't believe in a simple fact. Show me a case where President Obama responds to someone asserting that "X < Y" with "I don't believe that", and I'll gladly flame the living crap out of him for it.

  • B-Con says:

    He said:

    > It's just absolutely false on its face. Americans will get back to work.

    That doesn't address the question. It doesn't even sound on-topic. They'll get back to work...? What does that have to do with anything?

    This probably means that he didn't understand the question. Maybe he misheard it.

    Remember, politicians are trained (and to some extent have the natural personality) to respond back forcefully in support of their opinion, even if it's only on a high level without any regard for details. Ask a detailed question, and half the time they run over it with a high level answer that doesn't address the question. (But in all fairness, we've trained them to do that. People suck at listening to details, and if the politician talked in details they'll probably get crucified by sound bytes and political commentators with IQs that aspire to be double digits. They stand more to lose by talking details in an unscripted format.)

    I've seen countless of examples where a politician answers a question, only to turn around and say something different later. They probably simply didn't get the question, and it's unacceptable for them to ask for it to be repeated or to actually stop and think for a minute. So they blurt out something firm that contrasts with the attacking question.

    Sorry, but this seems like an odd nitpick. Yet another politician's mouth being disconnected from his ears for a minute. Not really a big deal, it happens all the time.

  • itchy says:

    Not that I disagree with your general point, but ...

    Three things:

    1. As Krisztián Pintér commented, Perry might not understand the facts that were presented.

    2. As TUNAPOLOCS commented, Perry might be bullshitting.

    3. As rauparaha commented, Perry might have meant 2.5 million additional jobs, beyond the expected growth to match population growth (if this is expected).

    Any combination of these three would partially

  • itchy says:

    ... oops ... explain his response.

    • outis says:

      There's also the strategy of answering the questions they wanted to be asked rather than what they were asked–turn the answer for any question to their talking points. Reminds me a little bit of Eliza: pick out key words, return a semi-canned response. This is partly why you'll hear a candidate repeat a phrase 90 times in a night, no matter what the questions are.

  • Al says:

    A handful of Obama's blatant contradictions and lies.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p_Td5n9ipTw&feature=related

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xyodr8evUcg&feature=related

    Yes, I did watch them, and I realize not all of them are completely cut-and-dried. But some pretty much are.

    Now, if you only want to represent one side, well, it's your blog and your perogative. Just don't proceed to go and pretend you're being unbiased. If you want to do that, it's your job to actually research and present unbiased content, not mine.

    And yes, I know you've criticized leftists in the past.
    -----------------

    "Totally fucking typical of the shit that I get from conservatives... god forbid anyone should dare to say anything critical of the glorious conservatives without including an equal dig at liberals, right?"

    So you ask me if I read your post, and then fail to understand mine. As I said above, you can criticize whoever you want, but don't pretend your unbiased if you're not.

    • MarkCC says:

      Give me a fucking break. When did I ever claim to be unbiased? For goodness sake, right at the beginning the post, I explicitly stated my bias.

      When it comes to the subject of that post, the politicial bias is irrelevant. It has nothing to do with whether Rick Perry is a conservative or a liberal. It has to do with the all-too-common political practice of placing belief on a pedestal above fact.

      • Al says:

        Way to encapsulate my point nicely in one little post.

        You claim that your point is irrelevant of bias, but if someone points out bias apparent in your content, you claim you already stated your bias! You can't have it both ways.

        • Shadonis says:

          I looked at your videos... both of them. Seriously, are these your best comebacks?

          Where on earth is a single example of Obama saying anything just as absurd as what Rick Perry has said? Here's an example or two of a "lie" from your videos:

          Obama: Neither party should delay or obstruct every single bill!
          Example of his lie: *a few bills that weren't obstructed like tobacco legislation, regulation of credit card industries, housing fraud prevention, etc*

          Obama: There are about two million Americans working right now who would otherwise be unemployed.
          Woman: The recovery act saved thousands and thousands of jobs!
          Someone else on another network: The recovert act has saved more than 2 million jobs...
          Someone else on another network: It's saved or created a million and a half jobs...

          I mean, seriously? Do you not understand why these examples are so incredibly weak? Both videos are just examples of grasping at straws, quote mining, and taking things out of context.

          This is completely different from Perry claiming that their bill will lower the unemployment rate by Y by adding X number of jobs when it's mathematically impossible for it to happen that way, given employable population growth Z. This is completely different from Perry being unable to name the three departments he plans on shutting down (what a well thought-out plan it must be). This is completely different from someone like Bachmann claiming that HPV vaccines cause retardation or that evolution hasn't been proven. This is completely different from Palin claiming that Alaska's distance from Russia gives her foreign policy experience. This is completely different from Herman Cain and... practically everything he's ever said.

          These debates are always the same:

          Person 1: *points out a clear, explicit example of someone from the right making a vacuous, inaccurate, unrealistic, insane statement*

          Person 2: Whoa! Whoa! If you're going to dig at the right, you gotta dig at the left!

          There are completely batshit people on the left side, too, yes. But sweet lord, none of it compares to the absolute *wealth* of stupidity you'll get from the right. The examples are just too numerous.

  • Shadonis says:

    This phenomenon applies everywhere, including religion. Facts say one thing, but that isn't going to stop someone from believing whatever they want because they either don't know something or don't care/want to know.

    Similarly, the economic situation is bleak. People aren't going to vote for doomsayers who will admit "We're screwed, but here's what I'm going to do about it to minimize how screwed we'll be" -- they want the guy who will say "Trust me, I'll save us all from this mess" even if it's not feasible or realistic.

    When you slap them with facts, their choices are either:
    1. Admit to the facts and admit that the situation is going to be very tough = lose support

    2. Pretend that facts are pliable and that the situation will become better, somehow = maintain support from those who are willing to hold onto hope

  • Robert says:

    Can you imagine any politician responding to a similar question with:

    "Ow yeah, you have a good point there! I'd better go back and take a good look at this."

    (If any did, I'd seriously consider voting for them, but that's another matter...) Admitting you're wrong is essentially political suicide, the only way Perry could respond is as he did, whether he understood the question or not.

    Of course, the main problem is that he hasn't sufficiently researched the problem he is trying to solve, hence the blunders.

  • Shadonis says:

    Why is the CTMU thread no longer postable? Maximum limit?

    • MarkCC says:

      Not technically maximum limit, but retrieving that ridiculously large comment thread over and over again was reaching a level where it was starting to impact our server cost. At the moment, all of the costs of running the scientopia site come out of my pocket - so when it gets close to the point where we'd have to pay anything above our base monthly fee, I get worried.

      I will open up a new post to allow people to continue that conversation, but it's not exactly a high priority. After work tonight, when I have time.

  • outis says:

    The example that starts off this post, the promise by a politician to create X jobs, where X is close to the estimated number of jobs that come into existence for purely economical reasons, is a common tactic. This American Life devoted a segment of their show "How to Create A Job" to this very topic. The segment name, by the way, is "Can the Government Move My Cheese?" You gotta love it.

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