mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Moment Of Truthiness”: Stuck With Politicians Who Gleefully Add To The Misinformation And Watchdogs Who Are Afraid To Bark

We all know how democracy is supposed to work. Politicians are supposed to campaign on the issues, and an informed public is supposed to cast its votes based on those issues, with some allowance for the politicians’ perceived character and competence.

We also all know that the reality falls far short of the ideal. Voters are often misinformed, and politicians aren’t reliably truthful. Still, we like to imagine that voters generally get it right in the end, and that politicians are eventually held accountable for what they do.

But is even this modified, more realistic vision of democracy in action still relevant? Or has our political system been so degraded by misinformation and disinformation that it can no longer function?

Well, consider the case of the budget deficit — an issue that dominated Washington discussion for almost three years, although it has recently receded.

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that voters are poorly informed about the deficit. But you may be surprised by just how misinformed.

In a well-known paper with a discouraging title, “It Feels Like We’re Thinking,” the political scientists Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels reported on a 1996 survey that asked voters whether the budget deficit had increased or decreased under President Clinton. In fact, the deficit was down sharply, but a plurality of voters — and a majority of Republicans — believed that it had gone up.

I wondered on my blog what a similar survey would show today, with the deficit falling even faster than it did in the 1990s. Ask and ye shall receive: Hal Varian, the chief economist of Google, offered to run a Google Consumer Survey — a service the company normally sells to market researchers — on the question. So we asked whether the deficit has gone up or down since January 2010. And the results were even worse than in 1996: A majority of those who replied said the deficit has gone up, with more than 40 percent saying that it has gone up a lot. Only 12 percent answered correctly that it has gone down a lot.

Am I saying that voters are stupid? Not at all. People have lives, jobs, children to raise. They’re not going to sit down with Congressional Budget Office reports. Instead, they rely on what they hear from authority figures. The problem is that much of what they hear is misleading if not outright false.

The outright falsehoods, you won’t be surprised to learn, tend to be politically motivated. In those 1996 data, Republicans were much more likely than Democrats to hold false views about the deficit, and the same must surely be true today. After all, Republicans made a lot of political hay over a supposedly runaway deficit early in the Obama administration, and they have maintained the same rhetoric even as the deficit has plunged. Thus Eric Cantor, the second-ranking Republican in the House, declared on Fox News that we have a “growing deficit,” while Senator Rand Paul told Bloomberg Businessweek that we’re running “a trillion-dollar deficit every year.”

Do people like Mr. Cantor or Mr. Paul know that what they’re saying isn’t true? Do they care? Probably not. In Stephen Colbert’s famous formulation, claims about runaway deficits may not be true, but they have truthiness, and that’s all that matters.

Still, aren’t there umpires for this sort of thing — trusted, nonpartisan authorities who can and will call out purveyors of falsehood? Once upon a time, I think, there were. But these days the partisan divide runs very deep, and even those who try to play umpire seem afraid to call out falsehood. Incredibly, the fact-checking site PolitiFact rated Mr. Cantor’s flatly false statement as “half true.”

Now, Washington still does have some “wise men,” people who are treated with special deference by the news media. But when it comes to the issue of the deficit, the supposed wise men turn out to be part of the problem. People like Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, the co-chairmen of President Obama’s deficit commission, did a lot to feed public anxiety about the deficit when it was high. Their report was ominously titled “The Moment of Truth.” So have they changed their tune as the deficit has come down? No — so it’s no surprise that the narrative of runaway deficits remains even though the budget reality has completely changed.

Put it all together, and it’s a discouraging picture. We have an ill-informed or misinformed electorate, politicians who gleefully add to the misinformation and watchdogs who are afraid to bark. And to the extent that there are widely respected, not-too-partisan players, they seem to be fostering, not fixing, the public’s false impressions.

So what should we be doing? Keep pounding away at the truth, I guess, and hope it breaks through. But it’s hard not to wonder how this system is supposed to work.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, August 16, 2013

August 18, 2013 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Social Security Hysteria Rebutted, Yet again

The WaPo editorial board apparently despises old people as much as Alan Simpson, given what they’re willing to put on their op-ed pages. Unfortunately, though, Charles Krauthammer doesn’t disintegrate into quite the degree of gibberish as Simpson, though he’s a liar. He particularly attacks OMB director Jacob Lew, and Lew’s assertion that Social Security is solvent until 2037 and doesn’t add to the deficit. Krauthammer’s argument: the Treasury bonds Social Security funds are invested in are “worthless” and Lew’s arguing otherwise is “a breathtaking fraud” because the “Social Security trust fund is a fiction.”

Dean Baker refutes.

It’s nice that Mr. Krauthammer thinks that government bonds are worthless…. While he is welcome to believe anything he wants, the bonds held by the Social Security trust fund are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government. Krauthammer may want to default on bonds that belong to the nation’s workers, but his desires are not the same as reality.Selling these bonds to fund Social Security no more raises the deficit than the decision of a rich person to sell bonds to finance their consumption raises the deficit. The deficit was incurred when the money was lent to the Social Security trust fund in the first place.

The size of the deficit, including the money borrowed from Social Security — the on-budget deficit — is reported in every budget document put out by the government (e.g. here and here). Krauthammer might try to learn a bit about how the budget works before he goes off ranting about Jack Lew and Social Security….

In reality, the projected shortfall in the program is relatively distant and minor. The country has far more urgent concerns, like putting 25 million unemployed or under-employed people back to work. This should be the focus of our political leaders right now.

And Jacob Lew defends his, and Social Security’s honor:

Krauthammer is correct when he writes that there is no “lockbox” that keeps the money sent in by workers for until they retire. By design, when more taxes are collected than are needed to pay benefits, funds are invested in Treasury bonds and are held in reserve for when revenue collected is not enough to pay the benefits due. Yet these Treasury bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government in the same way that all other U.S. Treasury bonds are, making them anything but ”worthless IOUs” as Krauthammer suggests. The government has just as much obligation to pay back the bonds in the Social Security trust fund as we do to any other bondholders.Responsibly honoring that obligation – one that we planned for and always knew was there –entails undertaking fiscal policies that would make it easier, not harder, to meet these obligations. When I last was OMB Director at the end of the Clinton Administration, the Congressional Budget Office estimated $5.6 trillion in budget surpluses over the next decade because of fiscally responsible measures that Democrats and Republicans, working together, had taken….

This is the most important point: the problem is not with Social Security, but in the near term the mismatch between what we take in and what we spend in the rest of the budget. Working people had payroll taxes taken from their salaries to pay for future benefits, and instead the money was used to pay for tax cuts and other initiatives. It is hardly fair now to say that those working people caused the problem just when they are ready to collect benefits.

Krauthammer’s argument is inside out. We should not blame Social Security for our current fiscal problems when it is the irresponsible fiscal behavior of the past that has presented the country with future challenges to fund our commitments, including Social Security over the next two decades.

That irresponsible fiscal behavior was unfortunately extended by the tax-cut deal and intensifed by the payroll tax holiday, making it even easier for Social Security to be the target of deficit peacocks and the Very Serious People who believe “shared sacrifice” means everybody but the rich and corporations sacrifice. That aside, Lew is absolutely correct. Social Security is not the problem. Massive tax cuts for the rich and two unsustainable wars are the problem.

By: Joan McCarter, Daily Kos, March 12, 2011

March 13, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Deficits, Economy, Federal Budget, Social Security | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

%d bloggers like this: