Thursday, July 26, 2012

Don't have a Cohn, man!

"You didn't build that."

It's the gift that keeps on giving. Back in June--after the President's "the private sector is doing fine" gaffe--I had a little fun at the expense of first Jonathan Chait and then Jonathan Cohn. Both were determined to "prove" that, somehow, Obama's statement was actually true, even though Obama quickly backtracked on the statement and said almost the exact opposite: "It is absolutely clear the economy is not doing fine."

Cohn, in particular, was almost beside himself with angst over the remark and the reality--in his mind--of it's truth. Though as I noted in the above piece, Cohn didn't have the same problem with the misuse of Romney's "I like being able to fire people" comment. While he recognized it was being taken out of context, he still thought it meant something, with regard to the real Mitt Romney:
Romney never said he enjoys firing people, although the particular choice of phrase does reinforce doubts about Romney's perspectives on the economy.
Now, this is same basic tactic being employed by the Romney Campaign, with regard to the President's recent words, the "you didn't build that" spiel, as I've noted. Regardless of the specific context of those words, the argument is that they reveal something about Obama's core beliefs, his basic ideology, when it comes to work, success, and difference between collectivism and individualism.

But Cohn will have none of that. The Romney Campaign's citation of other Obama quotes to back up their narrative are particularly infuriating to Cohn. Those quotes are found here. The ones noted by Cohn:
Yes, there have been fierce arguments throughout our history between both parties about the exact size and role of government — some honest disagreements. But in the decades after World War II, there was a general consensus that the market couldn’t solve all of our problems on its own.--Barack Obama, 2012

Only government can break the vicious cycles that are crippling our economy, where a lack of spending leads to lost jobs which leads to even less spending.--Barack Obama, 2009
He than asks the questions: "Do either of these sound like Obama thinks business owners don’t work hard for their success? Or that the market never works?" apparently believing that no thinking person could answer either in the affirmative. But just to be certain there is no doubt, he explains exactly why the answer to both must be a resounding "no." With regard to the second comment, he goes even further, essentially claiming that Keynesian economics--as he and the Administration understand it (i..e. wrongly)--is the whole truth, nothing but the truth, and no one disagrees:
Virtually every mainstream economist, left and right, would agree with both the proposition that sometimes market economies stall and that, on those occasions, government can take action to get them going again. This is basic Keynesianism and, as far as I know, even Romney’s own economic advisers would concede as much. Between left and right you can typically find an honest, and worthy, debate over the size, shape, and timing of optimal government intervention during downturns. But you don’t generally get an argument over whether some government intervention makes sense at least some of the time.
Note the faulty reasoning: any sort of intervention is Keynesian (not true) and every mainstream economist agrees (also not true). And note the failure to correctly characterize Obama's second quote: Cohn is arguing that allowing for some intervention is somehow equivalent to accepting the idea that "only government can break the vicious [economic] cycles." No. Just no. What Obama said in the past is clearly in keeping with his fundamental ideological tenets, as evidenced in these past quotes and his more recent one.

But more importantly, Cohn suffers from the same amnesia as others in the media elite: they tend to accept that the phony narrative--cobbled together by the Obama Administration and its willing media dupes--is inarguably true: the "economists on both sides agree" narrative, wherein no respected thinker on either side disagreed with the need for the Bailout or the Stimulus. Here is Ryan Lizza unquestioningly accepting that narrative in the beginning of this year.

The real problem, of course, is that people like Chait just don't know what they're talking about, when it comes to the economy. They gobble up talking points and allow themselves to be spoon-fed "expert" opinion, then regurgitate it back up as the unvarnished truth. There's just no dissuading them of their certainty on these things. So, understandably perhaps, when others fail to fall in line with the narrative and even question some of the premises of that narrative, they're dumbstruck, to say the least. Their angst turns to fury, as they lament the lack of understanding on the part of others, wholly ignorant of their own.

My advice to Cohn and others like him: don't have a cow, man! Step back and allow for the possibility that you may be wrong. That's the only way you'll ever realize that you are.

Cheers, all.

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