Lies, and the lying liars who lie about the people who tell them.

2003-09-04 13:57

I heard Al Franken on the radio last night. I didn’t take notes, but here’s roughly what he said that caught my attention:

During the time of the Bush administrations, zero net jobs have been created. That means that, if the Bushes had been running this country since it was founded, no one would have a job.

I got the words wrong, I’m sure, but the essence was quite clear. Premise, conclusion.

There’s a few things that bug me about this. See, there’s a lot of hidden premises here. One of them is that Presidents create jobs. I don’t know that this is the case; my guess is that, if government does it at all, it’s legislators, not presidents. Another is that, unless there are more jobs now, everything is bad. You can’t just get a better job; that’s not a new job, because you’re still just one person with one job. If everyone’s salary improved, but the same number of jobs were out there, then that wouldn’t be progress by this metric.

Worse is the more serious assumptions. Are we to conclude that the circumstances we are now in are completely typical? I would easily believe that, no matter who was in office, if we were to be in the couple of years following the Internet Bust, we would have very few “net” jobs – which is to say, a lot of people would be losing jobs, even as new jobs are coming into being. But I don’t think it’s fair to blaim Bush for the crash of internet companies.

Did the government play a big role in the internet boom-bust cycle? Not really. I don’t think that a different president would have made the “business models” of the internet age work. I don’t think anyone could have, least of all some guy who signs and vetoes bills. Honestly, if we had to point fingers, I think the DMCA would be where to point them, but that’s not the real issue here.

The real issue is that Franken’s attack on Bush is totally meaningless. It’s stringing a meaningless statistic together with a vehement hatred, and that’s all there is. “Net jobs” are not a useful metric for much of anything, without a lot more information. For instance, what jobs are being lost? What new jobs are turning up? Don’t say “created” – that implies that there’s some agency in the world, some central source of jobs, which mills them out on an assembly line. It’s not like that.

I’m one of the jobs lost this year. According to official statistics, I went from an employee of a tech firm to some unemployed guy. On the other hand, it looks pretty likely that I’ll be able to make a living as a writer. That moves me to “not having a job”. Permanently. It moves me to working flexible hours, getting slightly lower pay, and having the world’s coolest boss (although he did make me work on Labor Day). The “loss” of a job there isn’t exactly crippling the economy; in fact, I’m still producing things, and I’m still getting food. People like me look bad for economic statistics, but we’re just fine.

So, the statistic, even if we assume it’s true, is pretty much meaningless. Worse, even if it were assumed to be meaningful, it wouldn’t tell us anything about the topic of the vitriol — Mr. Bush — because he hasn’t got a damn thing to do with it. He’s not the one making hiring decisions. Between Congress, terrorist attacks, the internet bust, and accounting fraud — none of which, so far as I can tell, was done by Mr. Bush — I see plenty of reasons for our economy to be a bit slow; in fact, it may even be sort of good for us to take a breather.

So, then, what do we learn? We learn that Al Franken, like everyone else in the industry, is also one of the “lying liars”. He said that a lot of readers were demanding that he be angrier again; they really liked his earlier Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot. (And hey, I can’t argue with that conclusion.)

What bugs me is that he said, in this radio interview, that he, unlike “them”, was honest. And that’s bullshit. Al Franken and Rush Limbaugh are sides of the same coin. They’re people with a message, and the message is important enough that they lie to make people believe it. Maybe it’s not lies; maybe they’re stupid. Maybe they’re just so enthralled by the visions of sugarplum futures that they can’t be bothered to stop and ask simple questions like “is there any reason to believe that the internet bust wouldn’t be bad for the economy no matter who was president?”, or “what the hell does gay sex have to do with the fact that heterosexuals are, by and large, willing to cheat on their spouses and then dump them?” These questions would take away good rhetoric, and the rhetoric, not the truth, is where the money is.

This isn’t to say that everything Al Franken says is wrong. He’s right some of the time. But you know what? So’s Rush Limbaugh. So’s George Bush. Clinton said a few things which were neither lies nor evasions. But all of them are interchangeable demagogues, trying to push people into adopting their own positions, and too passionate about it to care about inconvenient facts or reason.

So, Mr. Franken, a suggestion: Include yourself on that list. Look closely at your own motivations, at your own rhetoric, and at the way you let your assumptions change your interpretation of the facts you’re so proud of checking. You’re no different from the rest.

Peter Seebach

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Comments

  1. > Did the government play a big role in the internet boom-bust cycle? Not really.

    While the dot-com bust played a significant part of the current recession (as did 9/11), the largest portion of jobs we're losing are in manufacturing. These are jobs that are going overseas due to trade liberalization.

    > Don't say "created" - that implies that there's some agency in the world, some central source of jobs, which mills them out on an assembly line.

    Although it has been. During the Depression (admittedly straits more dire than the we are facing... for the moment) the New Deal was created. Although it has been villified, it was an economic stimulus package that worked

    > So, the statistic, even if we assume it's true, is pretty much meaningless.... Worse, even if it were assumed to be meaningful, it wouldn't tell us anything about the topic of the vitriol -- Mr. Bush -- because he hasn't got a damn thing to do with it. He's not the one making hiring decisions.

    Again yeah but no. He's worked awfully hard to help large corporations evade taxes and easily relocate their manufacturing jobs overseas. The danger of making goods more cheaply is that somebody has to purchase those goods, and shrinking the middle-class isn't a good way to stimulate the economy.

    > Between Congress, terrorist attacks, the internet bust, and accounting fraud -- none of which, so far as I can tell, was done by Mr. Bush...

    He could have set corporate fraud prosecution as a high priority for his DoJ which would very likely help consumer confidence a great deal...

    > ...I see plenty of reasons for our economy to be a bit slow; in fact, it may even be sort of good for us to take a breather.

    Granted. Greenspan doesn't have a lot of maneuvering room.


    You're right on one front however. The current trend of talking heads fronting reactionary rhetoric does not constitute a dialog. The both the right and the left have fallen prey to this wrong-headedness which is somewhat perpetuated by the sound-bite nature of political reporting in the current media climate. The internet seems to be helping somewhat by allowing those who have interest to seek out more in-depth reporting without having to go digging through libraries and such. We still have a long way to go though towards defusing the culture of rhetoric in search of one where honest-to-god problem-solving is rewarded.

    Jj · 2003-09-05 10:34 · #

  2. Oh, it's quite possible that Bush has some influence here - but I object strongly to the vast oversimplification.

    Me, I mostly like trade liberalization. The people getting these jobs need 'em more than we do... And I think that should be taken into account when worrying about the effects on our job market. I think any simple attempt to summarize the effects of any large-scale economic policy (even the one I just made here) is doomed to failure. That means that, so far as I can tell, all of the talking heads, including people like Franken and Limbaugh, are going to be lying a little bit in their need to make their points.

    — seebs · 2003-09-05 11:53 · #

 
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