Des Moines Register Spreads Consumer Confidence Lie

Consumer ConfidenceOn Saturday, the Des Moines Register endorsed Mitt Romney for president. It is kind of a big deal, because Iowa is a swing state. But this is not why the endorsement is getting a lot of news. Mostly, people are focusing on the weakness of the case the paper has made for Romney. Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast called the endorsement “little more than a practical joke.” And he went on to say that it had all the hallmarks of a dictate from the top, “Our idiot publisher forced this tripe down our throats, and we’re counting on you the more knowledgeable readers to understand this.”

But one part of the endorsement really caught my eye. They went beyond full-tilt Confidence Fairy:

Consumers must feel more confident about their own economic futures to begin spending on the products and services that power the economy. A renewed sense of confidence will spark renewed investment by American companies. Industry will return to full production and hiring will begin again.

I’ve written many times before about this pernicious Job Creator myth. For the hundredth time this months: businesses hire because they cannot handle their work load with their existing personnel; they do not hire out of the goodness of their hearts or because they feel “confident.” (Ever hear of “temporary workers” and lay-offs?)

But there is another myth that is much more important in the Des Moines Register endorsement: consumer spending. This is something that Dean Baker hammers on over and over and over. Yet no one seems willing to believe it. Americans are spending at the same rate they were spending before the dot-com and real estate bubbles. Here are the data via the Bureau of Economic Analysis via Beat the Press:

<%image(20121031-consumerspending.png|450|279|Consumption as a Share of Disposable Income)%>

This chart is actually a little frightening. If anything, Americans are not saving enough. But it is certainly ridiculous to suggest that the problem with our economy is that Americans are spending too little.

These kinds of myths are hard to kill because of the way they hide in plain sight. Anyone reading the Register endorsement is likely to just accept the claim that consumer confidence is low; it is stated as a fact inside a larger argument; no one (Not even the writers!) even notice it. This is how we get to the point where “everybody knows” stuff that just isn’t true. Luckily, this doesn’t happen in foreign affairs, otherwise we might go to war for no good reason. Wait…

Update (31 October 2012 6:51 am)

Dean Baker picks up on the endorsement this morning, Des Moines Register Endorsement of Romney Flunks the Which Way is Up Test on Economics. He goes into much more depth about it than I do. Check it out.

Nightly Crush: Erin Kissane

Erin KissaneYou know I will always tell you the truth. And the truth right now is that I am following Erin Kissane on Twitter only because I think she is really cute. Part of it is the hair color. Of course. No question there. But I’ve seen pictures of her with different hair colors and she is equally adorable.

Of course it isn’t just her looks. She an editor at Contents Magazine—a magazine so cool I can’t even figure out what it is about. She’s also editor at OpenNews Source—something so radical I don’t even know enough about it to call it something other than “something.” And she is the author of The Elements of Content Strategy—a book I should probably read as soon as I figure out that I need a content style.

Good night Kissane, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Star Wars Forever

Star WarsI am not a Star Wars fan. I saw it when I was 13 years old. And I thought it was all right. I liked the effeminate robot C2P0. But I didn’t understand why Alec Guinness offed himself early on in the film. (Since then, I figured it out; it was embarrassment.) But like I said: it was okay. I was never tempted to see any of the sequels and I have no interest now.

I tell you all this because I want you to know that I have not been paying attention. Yet, there is one thing I remember from that time: the announcement by George Lucus that Star Wars was but the first film in a trilogy and that this trilogy would be the second of three sets of trilogies. At the time, I thought, “Yeah, right!” I suppose that’s why I remembered it. After the second film came out, I thought that maybe he was serious about it.

This is why when Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace came out, I was not surprised. And I thought it was very strange that people were making such a big deal out of the idea of a “prequel.” (By the way, the word “prequel” dates back to at least 1972.) Lucas didn’t just invent the idea because he had completed the original trilogy. “This was always his plan,” I would tell to my friends who ignored me because I was always ragging on the series anyway.

But then I was surprised! George Lucas announced that he would make no more Star Wars films. What?! But he promised! Sure, I wouldn’t have gone to see them. But I liked the idea that they would come out and everyone would complain that they weren’t as good as the earlier ones. How could Lucas go back on his promise 35 years ago?!

It turns out it was all a ruse. George Lucas is retiring. He isn’t going to make any more Star Wars films. Instead, he is selling his company to Disney and they are going to make the films. Of course, Lucas isn’t totally off the hook. Most likely this means that there will end up being more than a trilogy of trilogies. But on that score, I never really believed Lucas. For the record, I don’t believe J. K. Rowling either. But her I have a crush on. (As long as I don’t have to read her books.)

David Brooks and the Republican Deficit Hawk Myth

David BrooksI don’t normally write about David Brooks. He just makes me too angry. He is Paul Ryan in a Bill Clinton mask. In today’s column, The Upside of Opportunism, he compares an Obama second term to a Romney first term. Spoiler: Romney’s term rocks and Obama’s sucks!

What Brooks proposes is Romney’s main way to election: convince the masses that he really is a moderate and that once he becomes president, he will govern that way. Remember George W. Bush and compassionate conservatism? Remember what a moderate he was going to be? How did that work out? Oh, I remember! Tax cuts for the wealthy. A totally unjust and unfunded war. A huge giveaway to the pharmaceutical industry. You know: compassion!

But this is not what Brooks is worried about. He’s worried about our debt. “The mounting debt is ruinous.” Oh, really? This bit of ridiculousness is thoroughly debunked by Dean Baker today, David Brooks Is Upset that the Interest Burden of the Debt Is Near a Post-War Low.

But let’s suppose for a moment that the debt is a problem we want to deal with. Should we elect Romney to take care of it? The answer is: yes, but only if we are complete idiots who have the memory of a gnat. The only substantial reduction in the federal deficit over the last 30 years was under democratic presidents: Clinton and—Wait for it!—Obama. I know that Fox News and others push this idea that Obama has exploded the deficit, but he has actually brought it down substantially. When he took office, it was $1.7 trillion and it is now $1.1 trillion; that is a 35% reduction in the deficit. Don’t believe me? This is from the conservative website usgovernmentdebt.us:

Federal Deficit

This graph is a little deceptive. They do not stop their graph where the data ends, so it makes it look like that last peak was due to Obama. In fact, that peak is the beginning of 2009—Bush’s budget.

What I want everyone to understand about this is that Republicans always claim that they will reduce the deficit and they never do. (Well, Bush Sr did reduce the deficit a bit, but you will remember that he is reviled by conservatives for doing the unthinkable: he raised taxes.)

But there are more reasons to believe that Romney will increase the deficit. Step one of his budget balance plan is to cut taxes by $5 trillion dollars. This is not what you do when you want to balance a budget. And anyone who thinks that Romney will choose a balanced budget over tax cuts is a fool.

So David Brooks is trumping up a non-problem (at least in the short term while our economy is depressed). And then, he is calling for the worst candidate possible to solve that problem. I don’t know how it is David Brooks got his jobs at the New York Times. It must be more affirmative action for conservatives.

Update (30 October 2012 12:33 pm)

Ezra Klein sees David Brooks’ column in the context of all the Romney endorsements: vote for Romney because the Republican House will work with him. But Klein calls this out for the nonsense it is:

While it’s true that President Romney could expect more cooperation from congressional Republicans, in the long term, a vote against Obama on these grounds is a vote for more of this kind of gridlock. Politicians do what wins them elections. If this strategy wins Republicans the election, they’ll employ it next time they face a Democratic president, too, and congressional Democrats will use it against the next Republicans. Rewarding the minority for doing everything in their power to make the majority fail sets up disastrous incentives for the political system.

There are good reasons to endorse Mitt Romney for president. But if you want the political system to work more smoothly, endorsing McConnell and Boehner’s strategy over the last four years is folly.

I’m not sure what those good reasons to endorse Romney are, but you understand his point.

Useless Inside Information

Judith MillerIn the lead up to the Iraq War, I was working at home and listening to a lot of NPR. At that time, I wasn’t really a partisan. This was the period where I was transitioning from libertarian to what I am now. (Anarcho-syndicalist?) But it was a very frustrating time because it was obvious that the Bush administration was pushing us into war for no particular reason. And this came out of my listening to NPR, which was fairly pro-war.

This is part of a broader frustration I have that things that seem obvious to me are quite surprising to our cultural elites. The dot-com bubble? The stock market bubble? These were things that were obvious, even if you weren’t paying much attention. They were, however, unbelievable if you were an insider—a Power Player.

This morning Paul Krugman wrote an article about Jonathan Martin’s stupid comment that liberals would be disheartened to learn that Nate Silver’s model was mostly based upon polls, Scoop Dupes. Only someone who doesn’t follow Nate Silver would think that would surprise anyone. But Krugman makes the argument that the reason there is so much push back against Silver by political journalists is that Silver’s work makes the work of journalists much less important. What separates a journalist from, say, me is that they have contacts; they can get the inside scoop from the campaigns. But more and more, this kind of information is shown to be useless—especially compared to people like Nate Silver or even Real Clear Politics.

But Krugman goes further and said something that made me feel better about my experiences and ought to make bloggers the world over feel better about the work that they do:

[I]t has even been true for national security. Reporters with top-level access got completely snookered by the lies about Iraq, while many ordinary concerned citizens, looking at what we actually seemed to know, figured out early on that the Bush administration was cooking up a false case for war.

Exactly!

Don’t get me wrong. I have a great deal of respect for muckraking. But this kind of work is so rare that when it happens, they make big budget films about it that star Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman. And note: you don’t expose corruption in the White House by talking to the president and his chief of staff. One of the reasons that Woodward and Bernstein were able to do so much work was that they were young and not that plugged in. By far their most prominent source was Mark Felt (Deep Throat), and they only had him because they were using (typically) a disgruntled employee.

To some extent, Krugman is only saying exactly what I want to hear. All I have to offer as a writer is the vast amount of information that I consume and my relatively efficient but slightly skewed brain. But I’m not at all convinced this isn’t better than listening to the newest Judith Millers at America’s elite newspapers.