Sunday, April 22, 2012

Toxic Smoke

It is a well known fact that conservatives lie about facts to make their leaders look good, and that progressive/liberals never do that. Which makes it difficult to explain why, when Nancy Pelosi’s office put out this chart last year the left wing so enthusiastically embraced it even though on the face of it, it had to be misleading.

Pelosi's Chart
For one thing, it compares performance between Obama’s (then) two years in office to the eight years that George Bush was in office, which is an invalid comparison on the face of it. Further, the chart is based on “public debt,” which excludes amounts held by Social Security and such, instead of the more commonly used, and more accurate “gross debt” which includes all federal debt.

The original chart released by Pelosi’s office last year showed Obama’s percentage at 35%, and was immediately debunked by fact checkers, but instead of correcting it Obama supporters are now circulating a newer one, and circulating it very widely, which shows him increasing the debt by a mere 16%, which is certainly impressive, and obviously false.

Paul Krugman says that the amount of debt a nation has is irrelevant, that what matters is the ratio between a nation’s debt and its GDP. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but Obama supporters universally accept Paul Krugman as the font of all knowledge on matters economic and financial, so we’ll go with that. That being the case, what matters is the degree to which each president raised that ratio, that is which one increased the debt as a percentage of GDP. No one seems to have prepared a chart for that, and when I did so I discovered why. Oops.

My Chart
And, it should be pointed out, Obama did that in a mere three years, while it took George W. Bush a full eight years to accomplish barely more than half as much damage. Yes, Obama's percentage is high because, due to the recession, the GDP is low, but you cannot use an argument only when it suits you. Either the debt is important as a percentage of GDP, or it is not. And the GDP did not shrink, at least not enough to matter, it just did not grow enough to "drown out" the increase in debt.

And note that Obama does not talk about reducing the deficit by increasing the GDP. He talks about cutting spending and raising taxes on the rich. If low GDP is the problem, he needs to say so, and address his plans in terms of increasing the GDP. He is not doing that.

And, this is all nonsense anyway, of course because the federal debt is far from being our biggest problem at the moment, and solving it should be at or near the bottom of the list of our priorities. But if we are going to blow all this smoke into the air by way of distraction, let’s at least make sure that it isn’t toxic smoke.

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