Reinhart and Rogoff Whac-A-Mole Game

Reinhart and RogoffBack in April, I reported on the best work yet regarding the famous Reinhart and Rogoff (R&R) paper that purported to prove that government debt over 90% was catastrophic for economic growth. The work was done by the brilliant young economist Arindrajit Dube. He took the R&R data for high government debt periods, and found that economic growth was slow before the high debt periods, not after. In other words, slow growth causes high debt, not the other way around.

The reason all of this is big news and the reason that many of us are so angry is that R&R have been engaged in a kind of intellectual Whac-A-Mole game. Their paper was very careful not to claim causation: they never said that high debt caused slow growth. This in itself is a problem, I think. If there is no causation, who cares? Especially given the paucity of high debt events. In addition, when politicians all over the world used their research as though it proved causation, R&R said nothing. But R&R did have the intellectual cover (which they have used time and again) that their research, while uninteresting, was not incorrect—at least until the spreadsheet error was discovered. But then Ken Rogoff went all around talking up the causation that they had absolutely no proof of. When anyone points this out, R&R respond that they never said there was causation. Hit Rogoff here, R&R pop up over there. It is very frustrating.

Matt Yglesias puts it well:

They had an empirical result that did not shed any evidence whatsoever on the direction of causation. They knew that it shed no evidence whatsoever on the direction of causation, because the paper is carefully worded and says that. But instead of following the paper up with subsequent research that was designed to shed light on the direction of causation, Rogoff in particular started writing op-eds and testifying before congress and doing high-profile speaking gigs that relied on a causal interpretation of his research that he knew perfectly well was not supported by the research.

Now, two researchers at the University of Michigan, Miles Kimball and Yichuan Wang has redone Arindrajit Dube’s work a bit more carefully. While Dube did find a little causation, Kimball and Wang present a very provocative conclusion, After Crunching Reinhart and Rogoff’s Data, We’ve Concluded That High Debt Does Not Slow Growth. Of course, they do hedge a bit. Miles Kimball and Brad DeLong have been going around on this issue and they both seem to think that there must be some effect of debt on growth, but Kimball’s point is that the data simply don’t show it. I suspect that is because there really is an effect but it is so small that it is wiped out by the noise in the data.

Of course none of this will matter. The Whac-A-Mole game will continue. I doubt that R&R will even respond to this. Everyone knows, after all, that they never said there was causation. Except when they did. But it wasn’t in the paper. So they are not only innocent, they are right. There really should be a way to impeach academics. (Note: I wouldn’t impeach Reinhart who hasn’t behaved too bad. But Ken Rogoff: no professorship for him!)

Afterword

I was bothered that Kimball and Wang did not mention Dube’s work. I know that they haven’t published a real paper as of yet. But the introduction should go something like this: R&R did research that implied forward causality; Dube did research showing the causation was the other way; here is a more rigorous analysis.

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Cigarettes and Booze

ColumboThis afternoon, Dylan Matthews reported on some recent research that looked at the depiction of smoking and drinking in the movies. Since 1998 when cigarette companies were forbidden to purchase product placement in movies, smoking in films has gone down dramatically (exponentially, actually). But drinking in films has been the same as it ever was. That’s to be expected. Over the last couple of decades, we’ve seen the country turn against smoking. There has been no such change with drinking.

There is one interesting change at the movies: there’s more drinking in films that kids can see: G, PG, and PG-13. The data are pretty noisy, but the increase is sharp. There could be a lot of reasons for that. In fact, it occurs to me that it could be an artifact of the research. For example, if there is a trend toward making more PG-13 films, that could explain it. I don’t recall seeing cans of Budweiser in G rated films. (Of course, I don’t know much about this; the four films I have seen recently that I thought were G were all PG.) But it could be that alcohol producers are trying to advertise to kids.

What bothered me in Matthews’ article was the discussion that maybe we should ban product placement of alcohol in movies. I think that cigarettes and alcohol are distinctly different. Cigarettes have basically no up side; they get you a little high, they pollute the air, and they kill you. Alcohol as it is consumed by the vast majority of people is at worst harmless and very likely healthful. There’s no doubt that alcohol kills a whole lot of people and otherwise harms them. But the picture is complicated in ways that it just isn’t with cigarettes.

I’m also concerned about this whole idea that we should go around banning everything that is bad for us. It’s not that I think it is a slippery slope. In fact, it is the fact that I don’t think it is a slippery slope that I feel I must make a strand here. There are lots of ways that we can mitigate the harm caused by alcohol. But I don’t think kids seeing adults drinking in a normal way is bad; in fact, it might be good. That isn’t true of kids seeing movie stars smoking.

Thanks for the Memories, Bob

Bob HopeYou probably know the quotation, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!” It was said by that great lover of liberty Patrick Henry who was born on this day in 1736. I mean, that great lover of white man’s liberty. You see, he was a slave owner all his adult life. He didn’t grow up with slavery; he married into the business. According to Wikipedia, he used the possibility of slave revolts to promote war with Britain. He’s a real charmer. Yet we hear a lot about him in grammar school and almost nothing about the true believer in liberty Thomas Paine. I understand that when Virginian evangelicals wanted to start a college in 2000, they wouldn’t pick Paine who was neither a Virginian nor a Christian. But did they really have to pick someone as offensive as Patrick Henry?

Writer Max Brand (Frederick Schiller Faust) was born in 1892. The author of The Once and Future King, T. H. White was born in 1906. And John F. Kennedy was born in 1917.

A brave man, Gene Robinson (the “gay bishop”) is 66 today. Annette Bening is 55. And Melissa Etheridge is 52. Here she is doing “I’m The Only One”:

The day, however, belongs to Bob Hope, who was born on this day back in 1903. When I was a kid, I thought he was hilarious. Later, I had no idea what I found so funny. He does have a great arrogant delivery. But the material?! Oh my! I look through a lot of clips of his stand-up routines, but I couldn’t find anything acceptable. I could deal with the vaguely racist and homophobic material. But it was all so dated. I just isn’t fun to watch. But there is no doubt that he was a great comedian. Here is a long 20 second set-up to a 2 second punch line. But it’s pretty funny:

Happy birthday Bob Hope! This one is for you:

Lincoln Chafee Becomes a Democrat

Lincoln ChafeeHave you heard the news? Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee will become a Democrat tomorrow. You probably don’t care, but stick with me because this is interesting. He used to be a Republican. And then he became an independent. I’m still not sure what the hell that is. When a regular person is an independent, it normally means that they don’t have a clue or any real interest in politics. You can generally depend upon them to think whatever the news is barking at them at the time. I figure these are the people who claimed to be Christians during Bush’s first term but who decline to answer now. Confused people. I’m sure you know the type.

But in a politician, independent means something else. As far as I can tell, it normally means someone is a Democrat, but they don’t like the label. Put in more general terms, it means they are socially liberal and economically conservative. And that pretty much means Democrat at this point. So Chafee is just admitting what’s been clear for a while. It would be like Tobias on Arrested Development announcing that he’s gay. But you have to wonder about his first name: Lincoln. His parents have got to have been Republicans. And let’s face it: the Republican Party is no longer the party of Lincoln. It’s more the party of John C. Calhoun, if you know what I mean.

I find it disturbing that we only see Republicans become Democrats. It never works the other way around with established politicians. Now I know: much of that is just due to the fact that the Republicans have become a revolutionary party. And indeed, most of these politicians have just stood still and watched as the Republican Party moved in directions seemingly designed to signal that they will lead the fascist movement in the 21st century. But it isn’t just that. A politician could leave the Republican party and remain an Independent for the rest of his career. That’s especially true of a governor. Consider everyone’s favorite metrosexual Charlie Crist who only last year completed the final leg of his journey from Republican to Democrat. What’s up with that, Charlie?

What’s going on, I think, is that the Democratic Party has made it far too easy for old school Republicans to become Democrats. Look: I want the Democratic Party to be a big tent. If it weren’t, I wouldn’t be in it. Just the same, the Democrats have made it a lot harder for people like me on the left to stay in the tent because they’ve moved the tent so far to the right. In general, on economic issues, the modern Democratic Party is about where Nixon’s Republican Party was. Actually, it’s probably even more conservative than that. The only place where the Democrats have moved left is on social issue. And the only people who really agree with the conservatives on social issues are people in the bigoted Republican base. There is no doubt in my mind that the Republican elite would liberalize those positions if they thought they could get away with it.

Don’t get me wrong: I am glad to have Chafee and Crist in the Democratic Party. But is it asking so very much that it not be a trivial move for the more reasonable Republicans to fit into our supposedly liberal party? That’s all I’m asking for.

Federal Government Out of Drug Policy!

American Heroin - George Henry BorawskiOver at Wonk Blog this afternoon, Harold Pollack presented, The Most Embarrassing Graph in American Drug Policy. I was shocked at that headline. “You mean America has a drug policy?” I said. It seemed always just to have a “lock up poor minorities and militarize the police” policies. It took me a moment to remember that America also has a “prop up oppressive governments” policy. Now all of these policy as done in the name of the “drug problem” but it never occurred to me that we had an actual drug policy.

The graph is not a surprise. As I’ve been arguing for coming up on two decades: the only positive outcome of the drug war is to perpetuate the drug war. In the 1970s, street level heroin was expensive and very unpure. How unpure? How about 3% pure at times. And then in the late 1990, the price had gone down substantially, and the purity was often over 90%. Now, had the purpose of the drug war been to provide heroin users with cheaper and better quality product, then the drug war was a stunning success! If the purpose of the drug war was to lock up as many users as possible, it was a great success! If the purpose was to cause as many users as possible to die of disease and overdose, then it was a huge success! In other words, if the purpose of our drug war was to harm as many people as possible, then we should applaud it. But if the purpose of the drug war was to keep people off of drugs, it has been an unmitigated catastrophe.

Here is the “embarrassing” graph:

Drug Prices and Users in Jail

I hope that it is obvious that this graph goes about 20 years past embarrassing right to criminal. There is no excuse for this. Law enforcement authorities should have long ago looked at this and thought, “We’re doing something wrong.” But instead, the mythology surrounding drugs causes a situation where there is no winning. If the supply of heroin on the street goes up, the DEA can scream, “We need more resources, drugs are getting more plentiful!” Of course, if there is some short-term disruption of supply, that too justifies more resources, “We’re making progress, give us more money!”

Some people (those who have not been reading me the last 20 years) may wonder why putting more people in jail causes the price to go down. That’s simple economics. The people at the top of the supply chain really have little to worry about. The people who are arrested are the mules and the street dealers. The people who take these jobs are desperate—many of them are addicts themselves. Thus, by incarcerating more of these low-level suppliers, the government increases the prices that these positions pay. More people willing to do these jobs means more product on the street. Greater quantity supply equals lower prices.

Of course, I’m none too fond of what Pollack has to say about the current drug policy. He thinks there is hope. Why? Obama! He actually applauds Obama for a reduction in the “rhetoric” of drug policy. But at least that’s true. He also credits him with a decline in drug incarceration. That doesn’t have anything to do with Obama. That is mostly just that states are running out of money to imprison such a large percentage of their populations.

So let me be clear: there is almost nothing to be hopeful about in the war on drugs. It continues on unabated. In continues on making the problems worse. I have concrete ideas on reasonable incremental changes we could make to improve the problem. And in a reasonable nation, they might be worth talking about. If the federal government would give up its control of drug policy, the states really could be the incubators of innovation. But as it is now, states can’t even liberalize their cannabis laws without the federal government stepping in and arresting law abiding citizens. So if there is to be any real improvement in drug policy, it will start with the federal government getting out of the drug game, which it never should have entered in the first place.

Avik Roy Says Republican Reform Just Branding

Avik RoySupposed conservative reformer Avik Roy wrote an article over at the National Review on Monday trying to get in on all of discussion of the Republican apostates. What he’s trying to do is push back against the argument that many of us have made that these supposed reformers are doing nothing but tinkering around the edges of the dominant (and crazy) Republican center. But Roy claims we progressives are missing the big doings in the conservative pundit world, “Actually, there is something significant going on within conservative circles, something with potentially much longer-lasting effects than a shift on a few policies here and there.”

Ah, you see: we progressive getting all worked up about actual policy. There’s something more important than that! Can you wait to hear? I will torture you no more! “For many of today’s conservative reformers, equality of opportunity—especially for the poor—is the highest moral and political priority.” Ah, that explains it!

The problem here is that there is no such thing as “equality of opportunity”—at least not the way conservatives approach social policy. Last September I wrote:

There is a recent conservative meme to the effect of, “We believe in equality of opportunity, not equality of outcomes.” It sounds great, right? But what it really means is, “We believe in inequality of opportunity, and inequality of outcomes.” The fact is that there cannot be equality of opportunity if the outcomes are too unequal.

Right now, our economic inequality makes equality of opportunity a joke. But what do Republicans want to do? They want to make it worse.

Another aspect of this that is ridiculous is that Roy’s argument would mean that Mitt Romney is one of those reformers. And that explains what Roy is really on about. “Equality of opportunity” is not a new philosophy. It is a new talking point. It is a new branding attempt. It is a way for conservatives to cloud their image as heartless villains.

The rest of his article is more or less a declaration of defeat. He says, yes, the reformers believe what the Republican Party believes in. But somehow their priorities are different. And this means that they really do care about the poor. It’s really something to behold. This is especially true if you see his article in the context of the whole Republican branding campaign of the last many months. We already know that the Republican establishment is not willing to do anything other than re-brand their old unpopular ideas. And now Avik Roy is explaining that the same goes for the reformers. Good job, guys!

My Crush on Isabelle Carre

Isabelle CarreOn this day back in 1779, the great Irish songwriter Thomas Moore was born. James Bond author Ian Fleming was born in 1908. Most people aren’t aware of it, but Fleming wrote the children’s book Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang. It was published in three small volumes, but is basically one book. Fleming died shortly before the first volume was published. The film based upon the book is only vaguely related to it. Basically, they took the idea and the characters and created a new story. The screenplay was by Roald Dahl who is a much better writer than Fleming. Just saying.

On this day in 1910, the great blues guitarist T-Bone Walker was born. He is best remembered for writing one of the classics of twentieth century popular music, “Call It Stormy Monday (But Tuesday Is Just as Bad).” It seems that everyone has done that song at one time or another. Here he is doing it:

And human example of what I am talking about regarding guns, Wendy O. Williams was born on this day in 1949. At 44 she tried to kill herself with a knife. At 48 she tried with drugs. The month before her 49th birthday she got hold of a gun. There’s no backing out of that. It’s sad. Here she is with The Plasmatics doing (appropriately enough) “Butcher Baby”:

My childhood basketball hero, Jerry West is 75 today. Gladys Knight is 69. Magenta in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Patricia Quinn is also 69. And silly doctor Patch Adams is 68.

Also 68 today is one of the greatest pop musicians and songwriters of all time, John Fogerty. In the following clip, Bruce Springsteen says, “He’s the Hank Williams of our generation.” That’s about right. And here are the two of them doing perhaps my favorite Fogerty song “Fortunate Son”:

Creator of For Better or For Worse, Lynn Johnston is 66. And so is long-bearded bassist Leland Sklar.

Normally, the day would have gone to John Fogerty. But I have a crush. So the day belongs to the beautiful and talented Isabelle Carre who is 42 today. I only know her from one film, but just look at that face above: it makes you glad to be alive. (Of course, I don’t see many people smiling these days, so I’m a sucker for a smile.) The film is Romantics Anonymous, and here is my favorite scene:

Happy birthday Isabelle Carre!

Friendship Vs. Society

Fast and FuriousMatt Yglesias has some insights into the Fast and Furious films. I’ve only seen the original one, but that’s all that’s really necessary. The film has an interesting theme that I have always found compelling: friendship trumps all. The question the film raises is whether the main character owes more to his friends than he does to his oath of office. Generally, movies either find a way to have it both ways or they ignore the issue altogether. But it’s an important question, “What would you do for your best friend?” Would you help him cover up a murder? A rape? A white lie?

Yglesias presents this in the context of economics. This kind of attitude is most associated with “low trust” societies. If you can’t trust the society at large, it makes sense that you would latch more strongly onto your personal relationships. It also looks like high trust societies grow faster. That’s not surprising. Economic transactions require a certain level of trust. If you know that a product will work as advertised, you will be more likely to buy it. Another thing that should surprise no one is that the level of trust goes down as income inequality goes up. On the simplest level: people become more segregated. What’s also true is that everyone knows that life is unfair; the more unequal it is, the more they see just how unfair it is.

What’s more interesting than these two unremarkable observations is what we get when we combine them: income inequality causes economic growth to slow. You would think that the rich would worry about that. Of course, you would also think the rich would worry about revolution but they never do. There are other reasons why income inequality will cause economic stagnation. For example, a very rich person can only spend so much. And demand is what drives the economy.

I thought this discussion of friendship was interesting for different reasons. When I saw that the government was going after the friends of the Tsarnaev brothers, I was really mixed. On the one hand, I don’t think I would help a friend cover up a murder. On the other, I think our society should applaud friendship. I don’t like the idea of everyone becoming some kind of government robot. That would be a society that I don’t want to live in. I felt the same way when the Unabomber was ratted out by his brother. That’s not to say that I condone murder, but loyalty is a value too. As I said, I accept turning in murderers. But anyone who would turn in a friend for tax evasion is not much of a friend.

The best society is one where strangers can trust each other. But that doesn’t take away from the need for loyalty in our personal relationships. And I don’t think society should celebrate those friends and family members who do place the collective above them. We should have mixed feeling about it. It should be seen as a decision (Even if an easy one!) and not just automatic as though of course everyone turns in his brother when he does something wrong.

The New Season of Arrested Development

Arrested Development Season 3Peter Queck and Bhaskar Sunkara provided me with my first review of the fourth season of Arrested Development. And they managed to put just about everything I hate about “criticism” into one article. Their fundamental problem with this recent material is that the producers of the show have changed its structure. Before, all plot lines were cross cut. Now, they are related in a way that doesn’t have a catchy phrase to describe them. But I can explain: each episode is told from a different character’s perspective. Thus, we commonly find out later that some story of character X was going on just off screen from when we first learned about character Y’s story.

Queck and Sunkara claimed that the cross cutting situation was “communism” and that the new structure destroys that. Leaving aside the strained metaphor, they seem not to understand the very basics of storytelling. Season 4 is no less integrated than Season 1. It is just integrated differently. More or less we could say that the cross cutting of the first three seasons was extended to be episode long. Thus in episode 1, we watch Michael’s story. In episode 2, we watch George’s story. They are happening at the same time. That is, in fact, cross cutting.

These guys also attacked the third season episode “S.O.B.s,” which I consider one of the best of the entire series. It lampoons the entire television industry in a wonderfully self-referenced, postmodern way. It is the most “inside” episode of a most “inside” television show. Their problems with the episode call into question how much they are even capable of meeting the show on its own terms. And that, as most of you know, is my biggest problem with critics: the pretense that their way of engagement is the only way. It’s fine to dislike something but it is not fine to complain that you thought it should have been something else.

They also commit the “not funny” sin. We all do this from time to time. Their problem is not just with the fourth season but with the third as well. Of it they wrote, “The quality of the show in the third season seemed to actually track its increasingly tenuous prospects, rolling out gags and characters more cruel, tasteless and grotesque than funny while circling a comedic black hole of self-reference.” Well, some of find the black hole of self-reference very funny. And I thought the fourth season rarely missed on a gag. And it isn’t like there isn’t a lot of stuff that would have fit very well in the first season.

Take for example, the scene where Lindsay and Tobias are sitting with a real estate agent. He asks if they have children. Lindsay says no, and Tobias doesn’t contradict her. As usual, they are both hoping that the agent might be interested in them sexually. After much very funny dialog, Lindsay admits that they actually do have a daughter. Tobias laughs uncomfortable, “Yeah, I should have caught that.” The camera pulls back and reveals their daughter Maeby was just out of frame. She says, “I could have spoken up but I just wanted to see if you guys got there.” As Zoidberg says, “Now that’s funny!”

But there was one part of their critique that I thought was dead on: the show is much less friendly. It is like the producers see the world in a much more negative light. And in that way, the show was not as much fun as it used to be. Clearly, that’s what the producers wanted, however. Part of it, I think is that George Michael and Maeby have grown up. George Michael especially is more an actor than a reactor. And he’s not nearly as nice a kid as he was. But what else could happen? He’s a Bluth, after all. The biggest change, however, is Michael who is far worse than he was in the first three seasons. But this is in line with his character arc. He got much worse over those first seasons. But now you can definitely see why he can’t seem to find a steady girlfriend.

Other characters have changed in various ways that don’t relate to the changed tone of the show. George’s brother Oscar is played quite differently (and I think better) by Jeffrey Tambor. Lucille is about the same, but I thought the writing could have been a bit more crisp. The Funke family is the same. G.O.B. is more or less the same, but it’s not clear where the producers are taking him. I’m hoping for a soft landing on that one, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Anyway, I wouldn’t count the opinions of a couple of guys who didn’t like season three of Arrested Development. Unless, of course, you didn’t like season three. But mostly, their review came down to the usual, “They didn’t do what I wanted them to.” Exactly how good the fourth season is will depend upon the upcoming feature film. I think that will color how we see this new season in the long run.

Afterword

Some people may be wondering how I justify my generally savage discussions of action films. These are cultural critiques. I always admit that the films are competently produced. The point is that these kinds of films are pernicious propaganda. My effort is to point out some of the ways they go wrong. This isn’t any different than a physicist critiquing the science in a film. And of course, I’ve done that too.

Low Taxes Exacerbate Inequality

Dylan MatthewsDylan Matthews reported today on research by Alvaredo, Atkinson, Piketty, and Saez on taxes and income inequality. They looked at the change in the top income shares since 1960 and compared it to the change in the top marginal tax rate. And not surprisingly, they found a very strong correlation. For example, in the United States, the top 1% of earners have seen their share of total income go up by a staggering almost 10 percentage points. Meanwhile, the top marginal tax rate has gone down by almost 50%.

Here is the graph:

Income Shares vs. Marginal Taxes

The article put forward a couple of explanations as to why this is. The conservative idea is that having lower taxes makes rich people work harder and for productivity to grow. If that’s the case, why was growth so great under Clinton who raised the top tax bracket and so poor under Bush Jr who lowered the top tax bracket? There really is no evidence for this theory; it is all just the conservatives’ desire to justify their anti-tax mania.

The middle ground is that lowering taxes causes the rich to do less tax avoidance. That is to say that the rich aren’t actually richer, they just look richer on the books. This doesn’t explain much because it is simply not the case that the rich aren’t richer. Also, Matthews pointed out that if you include income from capital gains (the main way to avoid income taxes) the results of the graph above hardly change.

That leaves the liberal explanation. Matthews only mentioned one part of this: the rich have more money and this gives them more political power. This is undoubtedly happening. And it isn’t even limited to campaign contributions. It is just that the richer people are, the more parties they can give and the more politicians see them as “the right kind of people” who ought to be helped. What’s more, let’s not forget that our politicians are the rich.

Another important aspect of this is that lower taxes on the rich incentivize inequality. A company makes profits. Those profits could be used to reward the work force with raises (or bonuses). Or the company could invest in infrastructure. Or the company could distribute the profits to the owners. The lower the top marginal tax rate, the larger the incentives to distribute profits. This is more or less the same mechanism as found in the conservative explanation. But instead of the rich working harder, the rich just take more money from the lower classes.

In the end, I’m sure that this correlation is due to all of these causes and more. However, I think that my explanation is likely the strongest of these factors. There is a related factor, however: the “greed is good” mentality. The truth is that social forces kept greed in check for a couple of decades after World War II. But that really started to fall apart in the 1970s. Then we got the Reagan years where policy made a bad social phenomenon even worse. A big part of Winner-Take-All Politics discusses the fact that income inequality is not just a question of taxes. That’s clearly true. But it is wrong to think that taxes can’t be used as a mechanism to mitigate the problems of income inequality. There are direct and indirect effects. And we are clearly seeing this in the graph above.

The only real question now is if we live in a democracy. In general, I don’t think we do.

Obamacare Polls a Little Positive

We Heart ObamacareJonathan Bernstein has words of wisdom for us: Ignore Those Polls! Those being the recent CNN poll that show that over half of the people don’t like Obamacare: 43-54. Apparently, Republicans are claiming that the poll proves them right: the people hate Obamacare! But then liberals have pushed back. Of the 54% who don’t like Obamacare, 16 percentage points of them don’t like it because it is not liberal enough. These are people like me who still want Medicare for all but who will take Obamacare over the Republican alternative, which is nothing at all. That means the numbers look more like this: 59-38. Liberals win, hooray!

But Bernstein points out that most people don’t really know what they’re talking about. It isn’t until next year that Obamacare even begins its full implementation. So asking people about Obamacare now probably shows about as much as asking people who they will vote for in 2016. And he’s right. The truth of the matter is after Obamacare is fully implemented, people will start to have real opinions on it—opinions that are based upon their experiences and not the latest talking points they heard on the TV machine.

Still, I think Bernstein is wrong to pooh-pooh the poll all together. After all, a couple of years ago, Obamacare polled far worse. Two years ago, the numbers were 43-48. My guess is that the change is liberals moving from being against Obamacare to being for it. In the end, that 38% is just the Republican base. And they will be against it until they forget it was a Democratic program. We can look forward twenty years from now when Republicans carry signs that say, “Government Hands Off My Obamacare!”

So I wouldn’t go as far as Jonathan Bernstein. The Republicans are kidding themselves if they think that this poll is good news for them. One thing about us liberals: we’re so used to getting nothing that when we get a minor victory like Obamacare, we take it—even if we grumble about it. Democrats do have a reason to be encouraged by this poll. However, Bernstein is right: in the final analysis, it doesn’t matter. Obamacare will prove itself or it will not. But given it only has to complete with the Republican offer of nothing (not even the fee for the gaming license), it looks hopeful.