Obama Silences Political Scientists!

Did you hear this news, prominently featured on talk radio?

The American Political Science Association Annual Meeting.
… It's a chance to introduce highlight criticism of policies to a lot of people. And I noticed that the hurricane center's track is —
and I'm not alleging conspiracies here. The hurricane center is the
regime; the hurricane center is the Commerce Department.

It's the government.

It's Obama.

And I'm noticing that that track stayed zeroed in on New Orleans day after day after day. And
the APSA reacted to it accordingly, canceling the entire convention. What could be better for the Democrats
than the egghead profs cancel their meeting?
Even though the
media wasn't going to televise a lot of it anyway, they can't televise
it if it isn't happening.


[Humor Alert!!  Undaunted by the confusion from my last effort to educate through humor, I am trying again.  Sometimes it is helpful to start with something so outrageous that it is obvious to all.  Then you gradually move to equally silly ideas that actually have plausibility for some.

There is an important investment lesson here in the conclusion, so bear with me.]

The fake quotation above is almost true.  The only changes are that the APSA has been substituted for the GOP and New Orleans for Tampa.  (HT to Brett LoGiurato at Business Insider for the original story).

This is a great example of misunderstanding how the Federal government works.  Here is the real story. Radio host Rush Limbaugh claimed that President Obama was ordering the National Weather Surface to forecast the hurricane's path towards Tampa specifically to disrupt the Republican National Convention. On Wednesday, Limbaugh said:

"The National Hurricane Center, a government agency, [is] very hopeful that the hurricane gets near Tampa…The National Hurricane Center is Obama. The National Weather Service is part of the Commerce Department. It’s Obama…I can see Obama sending FEMA in in advance of the hurricane hitting Tampa so that the Republican convention is nothing but a bunch of tents in Tampa. A bunch of RVs and stuff. Make it look like a disaster area before the hurricane even hits there."

Two Mistakes

First, this is a classic example of one of the most common fallacies people have about government. Keep in mind this isn't any sort of partisan issues.  Pundits of all stripes are susceptible to this same sort of thinking. The temptation to view bureaucracy as a monolithic entity, always obeying the President, is strong, but severely misguided.

In fact, the relationship between any US President and the federal bureaucracy is very complex. The scientists and bureaucrats working in the National Weather Service have long careers that transcend several presidential administrations. The so-called skeptics who suggest conspiracy at every turn should stop and think of Occam's Razor: That which can be asserted without evidence, can and should be dismissed without evidence.

Second, it is what I call "light switch thinking."  Most events involve probabilities, not a "yes or no" outcome.  No matter what the outcome in Tampa or New Orleans, the risk was there.

No matter the outcome on the policy effects of Bush, Obama, and the Fed, the actual result must be compared with what would otherwise have happened.

Is this Important?

To my surprise, a significant fraction, over 20% of my economic blogging colleagues in the regular quarterly poll conducted by Tim Kane (now at the Hudson Institute, doing a new blog with Glenn Hubbard — best of luck on both fronts!), continue to believe that government data paints an overly rosy picture.  Check here for all of the results.

We see this kind of reasoning repeatedly, as multiple sources criticize government data.  Typically they think that the President has the power to cook the books.  In fact, the top-level statisticians spend careers trying to get everything right — imputing job creation, measuring inflation, and doing seasonal adjustments.  The people criticizing the data have no background, no education, and no experience.

Professional policy anlaysts take pride in speaking "truth to power."  This seems to have been replaced by those serving up lies to the masses — telling them what they want to hear.

Investment Take

There is an important investment lesson, and it is simple.

There is a bull market in deception.

Sometimes the motive is politics.  Other times it is selling gold.  It might be a lucrative deal with a hedge fund, perhaps steering funds to manage.  It could simply be pandering for page views, since the conspiracy story sells best.

A reader alerted me to this humorous item.  Shadowstats, which was thoroughly discredited here and here, continues to  be the go-to source for those seeking to paint a picture of disaster.

One of their predictions has been a multi-decade forecast of hyper-inflation, supposedly unrecognized by government data.  Let's check the prices:

Shadowstats subsrciption six years ago:  $175.

Subscription now?  $175.

If you want to follow economic progress, you need only follow the data.  If you want to cater to your pre-dispositions, you can always find a source that will spin your way!


You may also like


  • Proteus August 28, 2012  

    Yes, it’s kind of gotten out of hand. Maybe Obama ordered cloud seeding attempting to alter the hurricane’s path.
    I saw a story or two that intimated the Republican convention leadership was not too smart to pick Tampa due to the threat of hurricanes – ignoring all of the other factors that went into choosing the site. As you say, “The risk was there.” Building collapses, tornadoes, earthquakes: someone somewhere would have found fault with another city’s selection.

  • Perry August 28, 2012  

    The conspiricy thing seems to work with a lot of folks. Here in Texas it’s pretty hard to have a conversation with anyone because folks are so uninformed. But they have become almost paranoid of government conspiricys and plans to impose Martial Law on us all. To what end is yet undefined, I suppose just because “they” can.

  • lou August 29, 2012  

    We’re living in a “fact free world”. How we got there should be the subject of a national debate.

  • The_Dumb_Money August 29, 2012  

    It is very sad. You are one of the good guys, and I appreciate the work you do on your blog. There are even financial bloggers whom I respect and follow on Twitter, who are otherwise geniuses, but totally go off the rails on this sort of political stuff, letting ideology blind them to facts and common sense. And it’s not just the U.S. where this is a problem. In the Arab world millions believe Neil Armstrong converted to Islam. And millions across the world believe 9/11 was staged by (insert: U.S., Bush, Isreal, take your pick). In Germany, it was revealed recently, a huge percentage of schoolchildren apparently believe Hitler protected human rights. It goes on and on and on. Yet I am not sure we are in a particular bull market for deception now. It is a short step from looking outside of the U.S. to looking outside of our time, at history, and seeing the myriad deceptions of the past. Still depressing though, to see it in action. And I do wonder if the internet makes it all flourish more — no statistics on that though.

  • Johan Linden August 30, 2012  

    Good balanced post!

  • steveo September 1, 2012  

    Occam’s Razor.
    Interesting how people accept this ‘theory” as fact, the only thing going for this theory, is that the Guy had a real cool and unusual name.
    The basis and implementation of such a razor are both absurd, and blinding in supposed simplicity.
    Keep your eyes open, and don’t believe everything that you see. Also, don’t disbelieve what you know as fact.