Charlie Peters and Ezra Klein on "Neoliberalism"
Avoiding Weimar Russia

For Some Reason, Mark Thoma Feels He Has to Acknowledge Stanley Fish...

And because Mark has acknowledged his existence, I feel impelled to do so too:

Economist's View: Interpreting Economic Statistics through Normative Lenses: Do economic statistics represent a value-free picture of the economy'sperformance, or are such judgments necessarily value laden? This is Stanley:

The All-Spin Zone, by Stanley Fish: It all sounds so – well – rational: There’s a world of fact out there waiting to be accurately perceived, but the distorting power of words, abetted by the psychological disorders of passion and bias, tends to obscure it and lead us astray. And the remedy? Watch your words and watch your mental processes, paying particular attention to your “existing beliefs” lest they “reject evidence that challenges them.” In short, Jackson and Jamieson recommend, “practice active open-mindedness.”

But... a 2006 statement by Karl Rove to the effect that “Real disposable income has risen almost 14 percent since President Bush took office.” Jackson and Jamieson regard this claim as “so divorced from reality as to seem unhinged.” Why? Because the real disposable income Rove cited “was a statistic that measures the total increase in income, not how that income is distributed.” That is to say, the 14-percent increase did not benefit everyone, but went largely “to those in the upper half of society”; the disposable income of the lower half had “fallen by 3.6 percent.”

Does this prove spin? I don’t think so. What it proves is that in Rove’s view, the health of the economy is to be gauged by looking at how big investors and property owners are doing, while in Jackson’s and Jamieson’s view, an economy is not healthy unless the fruits of its growth are widely shared. This is a real difference, but it is a difference in beliefs about what conditions must obtain if an economy is to be pronounced healthy. It is not a difference between a clear-eyed view of the matter and a view colored by a partisan agenda...

Dierdre McCloskey assures me that Stanley Fish is smart, so I cannot acknowledge Fish's existence by nominating him for the Stupidest Man Alive. I can, however, nominate him for Most Mendacious Man Alive. Here's why: If Karl Rove believed that an economy is doing well when its super-rich are getting richer and that the economy is doing well, Rove would say so. Rove would say something like:

We see that President Bush's economic policies are successful because the Forbes 400 today are far richer than they used to be.

Labor Secretary Elaine Chao actually did say something similar: that the economy was doing well because the stock market was up, and the stock market is what matters.

But that's not what Rove says. He says "Real disposable income has risen almost 14 percent since President Bush took office." And then he is silent. And his subsqeuent silence speaks. His subsequent silence says that that 14% number is what you need to know--that there is no major qualification that needs to be made. And so Rove's subsequent silence is a loudly spoken lie: Rove agrees with Jackson and Jamieson that a healthy economy is one with large and broadly-distributed income gains. And he agrees with Jackson and Jamieson that that is not the case. But Rove wants his auditors to think that that is in fact the case--hence his one sentence, followed by silence.

Now Stanley Fish--whom Dierdre McCloskey assures me is very smart indeed--knows all this. But he doesn't say it.

So how are we to interpret Stanley Fish's false statement that Rove on the one hand and Jackson and Jamieson on the other have "a difference in beliefs about what conditions must obtain if an economy is to be pronounced healthy"?

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