Sunday, November 9, 2014

Rs vs. Ds - Questionist - Re-Blog

re-blog post of The Questionist... some formatting and all emphasis are mine... no edits of content.

Every once in a while a post comes along that shines a very bright spotlight on just how profoundly insulated some people's personal echo chambers are. This one is mind boggling in its contempt for reality. Before I deconstruct this fantastical narrative, I need to clarify that this is NOT a defense of Republicans, nor is it an indictment of Democrats.

Claim #1:
Democrats are responsible for 65 straight months of economic growth.
Facts: The economic collapse of 2008 resulted in economic indicators that reach 75 year lows. These numbers were so far from average that the chances of them improving were near 100%, no matter what the government did or who was in charge. This results from a statistical phenomenon called “regression toward the mean.”
One famous example of this phenomenon in action is the “Sports Illustrated Cover Jinx.” Athletes or teams that are featured on the cover are chosen only following extremely good performances. Regression toward the mean all but assures that their performance will not be as good as the exceptional performance responsible for getting them on the cover. The same phenomenon holds true for any variable metric.
The economic growth that we have realized is much smaller and slower than expected, and the evidence that Democratic policies are responsible is non-existent, especially considering more than half of that growth was realized under a Republican House.

Claim #2:
Democrats are responsible for record 56 months of private sector job growth.
Facts: See #1.

Claim #3:
Democrats are responsible for unemployment falling from 10.1% to 5.9%.
Facts: Both the Employment to Population Ratio (also called simply the employment rate) and the Labor Force Participation Rate have dropped to 30+ year lows.
The unemployment rate of 5.9% that we see on the news does not give us the entire picture. If you add those actively seeking employment + short term discouraged workers + long term discouraged workers + part time workers who want to work full time, the number is closer to 23%. And if we used the same unemployment measurement we used prior to 1994, unemployment would be around 18%.
Add to this that people who are reentering the labor force are getting jobs with lower wages and fewer hours, and add to this that income inequality is increasing, and add to this that wages are not keeping pace with inflation; and the 5.9% unemployment rate we see in the headlines is not particularly meaningful. And... See #1 – regression toward the mean.

Claim #4:
Democrats are responsible for the budget deficit being reduced by two-thirds.
Facts: This one is more complicated, and I'm not going to pretend to understand all the reasons for this. What we do know from looking at revenue compared to spending is that spending has largely leveled off, and revenue has slowly increased since a $500 billion dip following the collapse; so part of this reduction is due again to regression toward the mean. Spending under Bush increased at a faster than normal rate due to increased military spending and, because for most of his term, Republicans controlled both houses of Congress. Any time the same party is in control of both the executive and legislative branches, spending increases.
I'll conclude that this claim has some truth to it, but keep in mind that the National Debt has increased from $10.7 trillion to $18 trillion under Obama. In terms of debt as a percentage of GDP, it has increased under Obama from 65% to over 100%. As a comparison, under Bush it increased from 55% to 65%. This is a long term trend that has little to do with who is President or who is in control of Congress, but it is a distinctly unhealthy trend.

Claim #5:
Democrats are responsible for fewer Americans in harm's way in war zones.
Facts: The reduction in troops in Iraq was the direct result of the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement signed by Bush in 2008.
Yes, there are fewer troops overseas, but what Americans wanted and expected when they voted for Obama was a drastic reduction in military interventionism, not just the number of troops on the ground.
What we did NOT want or expect was hundreds of drone strikes in Pakistan, an invasion of Libya, American citizens killed in Yemen, 17,000 residual forces, diplomats, and defense contractors left in Iraq, and 10,000 troops left in Afghanistan after the end of 2014.
As recently as September of 2012 Obama said. “We are bringing our troops home from Afghanistan. And I've set a timetable. We will have them all out of there by 2014. And when I say I'm going to bring them home, you know they're going to come home.” This is clearly not the case.
We did not want or expect an escalation in Iraq that included renewed airstrikes. We did not want or expect a new war in Iraq and Syria.

Claim #6:
Democrats are responsible for zero attacks by al Qaeda on US soil.
Facts: I'm not sure how Democrats are responsible for this, and there are far too few data points to draw any conclusions about which party is better or worse at preventing terrorist attacks.

Claim #7:
Democrats are responsible for record stock market growth.
Facts: This is perhaps the most clear example of regression to the mean. A stock market at rock bottom has nowhere else to go but up. In addition, the Federal Reserve dumped 16 trillion printed US Dollars into the market in 2008-2009, and has continued to pump 85 billion printed US Dollars into the market ever since. There is no possible way that the stock market could NOT have gone up under these conditions, and the negative effects are a dramatic increase in wealth inequality, a huge stock market bubble, and economic growth that is supported almost exclusively by debt. Despite the record stock market numbers, the US economy is very sick in a very real and long term sense.
Again, this has nothing to do with which party is in power, and much to do with short-sighted monetary policy on the part of the Federal Reserve. Almost all politicians focus on short term solutions with complete disregard to long term effects. This cliff will be very difficult, if not impossible, to retreat from.

Claim #8:
Republicans are responsible for two economic recessions.
Facts: Recessions are largely the result of natural economic fluctuations, and the only influence that politicians can hope for is to reduce the effect or shorten the duration. The recession of 2002 was a direct result of the bursting of the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s.
The collapse of 2008 was the result of several factors, none of them having anything to do with which party was in power. The precipitating factor was the collapse of the housing bubble which was, in turn, precipitated by artificially low interest rates by the Federal Reserve and ridiculously easy lending terms which resulted in millions of people getting mortgages that were above their abilities to maintain.
Another factor was the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act which separated commercial and investment banking. This allowed commercial banks to, effectively, gamble with our money. The repeal of this act was supported by both Democrats and Republicans, and signed by Bill Clinton.

Claim #9:
Republicans were responsible for the worst financial collapse since the Great Depression.
Facts: See #8.

Claim #10:
Republicans were responsible for the worst terrorist attack in history.
Facts: This claim is probably the most disconnected from reality of any of the claims on this list. One only needs to read exactly what Osama bin Laden himself explained as the reasons for the attack. []
Among the motivations stated by bin Laden for the attack were: long term US aggression in the Middle East, US attacks on Somalia, US support for Russian atrocities in Chechnya, Guantanamo Bay, the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, immorality of Americans (including the President), US support for Israel, and US sanctions against Iraq. (People seem to forget that Clinton was bombing Iraq throughout his term on a regular basis.)
None of these alleged provocations had anything to do with which party was in power, although the most immediate of them (and infuriating for bin Laden) happened on Clinton's watch.
Another possible motivation for the 9/11 attack offered by terrorism experts is that bin Laden wanted to provoke America into a war that would incite a pan-Islamist revolution. Considering what is currently happening with the Islamic State, one can only conclude that this strategy has been largely successful.

Claim # 11:
Republicans were responsible for the two longest wars in US history.
Facts: This claim regarding the war in Iraq is mostly true. This happened on Bush's watch with fabricated claims made by his administration, and a large majority of Republicans supporting the Iraq War Authorization. Note that a majority of Democratic Senators also voted in favor of the resolution.
This claim regarding the war in Afghanistan is, however, completely false. Only three members of Congress did not vote in favor of this, one Democrat and two Republicans.

Claim #12:
Republicans are responsible for the worst record of job creation since Herbert Hoover.
Facts: It is true that job creation under Bush was the worst since Hoover, and a certain amount of blame can be placed at the feet of Republicans. Another factor is (you guessed it) regression to the mean. After the dot-com boom, employment was exceptionally high, and it was a statistical near certainty that job creation would slow down or decrease.
Another factor is that the forces that led to the 2008 collapse were working against the economy well before the actual collapse itself. It's also worth a reminder that governmental actions have limited effects on job creation, and what small effects there are can lag several years behind the action.

Claim #13:
Republicans are responsible for a complete collapse of the stock market.
Facts: See #8. (It's interesting that three of the seven claims against Republicans are essentially the exact same claim. I could have come up with a lot more legitimate complaints against Republicans.)

Claim #14:
A budget surplus turned into a trillion dollar deficit.
Facts: It's true that Republican led spending on military intervention added to the deficits experienced under Bush. But yet again this can, to a large degree, be explained by regression to the mean. The 1990s saw an unprecedented information revolution, and a dot-com bubble that was further inflated by a badly timed reduction in capital gains taxes (which was supported by both Democrats and Republicans and signed by Clinton).

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