28 October 2016

A Proposal That May Raise Your IQ

I have a proposal that could raise IQs by tens of points.

My conservative friends are struggling with facts. Rush Limbaugh has warned his listeners that fact checking is a liberal conspiracy. Conservatives I interact with tend to dismiss facts as evidence of a grand conspiracy or as a distraction to really important facts. I post information about a simple fact and they trot out the same, tiresome and by now obsolete challenges. Unemployment claims at their lowest since 1970? Well labor force participation rates are down. Created another 200,000 jobs? Well wages are stagnant. Or they'll even dismiss these facts because they can't be trusted.

This falls into a tiresomely predictable denial that makes them look foolish. "We didn't land on the moon!" "The economy hasn't gotten any better since the height of the Great Recession." "There was no Spanish Inquisition!" It's made them stupid. And given that so many of their arguments begin by denying facts, they've done nothing to enhance the cognitive abilities of Democrats who've learned to tune them out.

Not only does it make everyone stupid but it derails real conversation about economic reality. I'm generally optimistic about the economy but I'm also aware that we face challenges that require policy changes. Our policies are tailored for a time when either capital or knowledge workers limited. Neither one now does. The policies that will now work are the policies that treat entrepreneurship as the new limit. (Fortunately, policies are changing to some degree in various places. The number of entrepreneurship programs inside of universities in the last 20 years has exploded, for instance, suggesting a wonderful grassroots response to entrepreneurial opportunities.) There are good reasons to be worried and good reasons to be optimistic. Deciding which facts are facts based on who is sitting in the Oval Office just muddles that.

So here's the proposal. You go ahead and take credit or assign blame on a fact and then let's move on to discuss it. Let me demonstrate.

The economy has created jobs every month for 6 straight years. That's good.

Republicans? You can take credit for this because you've got Congress and governors in 31 states.

Democrats? You can take credit for this because you've got the White House and governors in 12 of the 20 states with higher than average incomes.

One other tactic that works regardless of who you support is to laugh and say, "Really? You really think that the American economy cares that much about who is in office?"

Done?  Regardless of who you are, you make sure that your party - or no party - gets credit. Run through whatever justification filter you need in order to settle in your heart that you have no reason to doubt your party or political independence .... and then let's move on to analyzing the actual statistic and the question of what that suggests about policy with no commitment to making the statistic great or awful, with defending or attacking it.

Meanwhile, Republicans can stop with the conspiracy theories that require them to deny that anything good is happening or act like an Alzheimer's victim whenever mention is made of the terrible performance of the economy under the last Republican president and Democrats can stop pretending that the American economy magically responds to a change because of a new face in the Oval Office. It's more complicated than that and it is in this complexity that the really interesting discussions play out. And perhaps I'm naive about their intelligence but I actually think that once they start to again accept facts, Republicans will have some really interesting things to say - challenging Democrats and Independents in a way that will increase their IQs as well rather than continuing to make everyone stupid.

Most of the interesting changes in the economy in the future probably won't come about because of a change in laws or government budgets. They'll come about because businesses have figured out how to design work to be as engaging as video games. Or because birthrates continue to drop. Or because returns to capital continue to drop and pension funds and 401(k)s struggle to fund retirements. Or not. Economic policies at the federal or local levels can ignore or work with these realities in ways that will exacerbate or mitigate these trends but rarely will they start them. Meanwhile, if conservatives continue to pretend that every fact is further proof of a conspiracy, they'll just find themselves more and more marginalized. Because right now their biggest problem isn't their most prominent candidate: it's the fact that they are now committed to changing or ignoring facts rather than changing their mental models. Until that changes, not only will their prospects suffer but so will political dialogue in this country.


Jason Brunson said...

I agree with you that we need to start treating entrepreneurship as the current economic limit. Your book should be required reading for all politicians and CEOs.

But, I don't think you are giving enough credit to the economic counter points raised by conservatives. I don't listen to fox news or talk radio so maybe they are spouting nonsense but what I do read and here is that:
A. There are counter points to a totally optimistic economic outlook. Job participation rates are one, stagnant wages may be another, the distribution of economic gains could be yet another, and so on.
B. The biggest point I read though does not deny that the economy has made gains, it says that the economy has made those gains at the expense of future gains and we will not be ready to deal with the next secular down turn in the economy. Basically we are kicking the can down the road.

But really I think denial of facts is just a part of the hyper partisanship in this country. Both sides try to bury anything that pops up as a potential "fact" that's days they might be wrong.

Ron Davison said...

I'm going to quote you on the required reading quote. Thank you.

I don't deny conservatives have good points to make. I feel like a centrist - right of center when I go to Europe, left of center here - and think there is no reason that I shouldn't be able to toggle my vote between Democrats and Republicans depending on my mood and whether I see more attempts at micro-management by government or abuse by corporations. As it is, I'd be embarrassed to vote Republican.
And there are counterpoints but none of them seem particularly compelling to me. For instance, wages have been stagnant but I don't know what else we'd expect when unemployment was so high; now that unemployment is again healthy, wage gains are returning to normal.
And yes, I'm sure it's true that there is a degree of non-partisan fact squelching but I also think that the GOP - particularly the majority of it that supports Trump - is taking fact blocking to a new level.

(Oh, and if you're not in the top 5, it'll happen. In fact, if you compare against your cohort, you might be surprised at where you are already.)