Demonstrations of innumeracy in the campaign talking points of 2012
Various fact-checking sites exist. The purpose of this page is not to be another fact-checking site. The purpose of this page is to show how many common lines of economic and political lines of reasoning used during election years demonstrate innumeracy. This can occur as a result of people ignoring readily available numerical information or ignoring easy to recognize trends or relationships. The examples on this page are given to encourage readers to recognize the mathematical reasoning and say, "Oh yeah, that should have been obvious."
Draft: May 2012
It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.
- Mark Twain
| Gas Prices
"When George Bush left office gasoline was $1.83" This phrase has been used by many who oppose Obama and claim that Obama has been bad for the economy.
How is it an example of innumeracy?
4: Inconsistent logic. In 2008 FOX reported that the president had no control over gas prices. In 2012 media pundits blamed the president for gas prices. The logic driving prices did not magically change over 4 years.
5: Failure to consider well-known long-term causes or contributing factors. We've known since the early 1970s that increased dependence on fossil fuels would eventually drive prices up. Yet, in 40 years we have done nothing to change our choices that increase our dependency. Even worse, many of those currently complaining about high gas price opposed attempts to reduce our demand for oil.
The 99% vs. the Job Creators Various pundits have been describing our economic situation in terms of either the 99% or the Job Creators.
How does this demonstrate innumeracy? 1: Incorrect correlation of readily identifiable sets; equating unequal sets
"Tax cuts stimulate the economy." "Job creators need tax cuts." Various phrases like these have been repeated ad nauseum to promote tax cuts and oppose politicians who support tax hikes.
How does this demonstrate innumeracy?
1. Failure to check readily available empirical evidence: After the tax cuts of 2001 employment and wages stagnated leading to the creation of the term "jobless recovery" which we now recognize as the housing-commodities investment bubble. In fact, in the 8 years following the Bush tax cuts private sector employment actually dropped by 2 million jobs.
2. Reducing the many non-linear dimensions of income and spending to a single linear dimension: Not all spending and investment creates jobs. Not all income is derived from creating jobs. Not all investment creates jobs. Some income is actually derived from down-sizing, investment bubbles, and job-destroying risky speculation.
3. Linear extrapolation of nonlinear relationships: The opportunity costs of taxes change drastically with wealth. Consequently, the impact of taxes on the economy will also.
Deficit & Spending
Various sound bites have been used to blame the deficit on Obama including:
binge spending, most liberal president ever, socialism, etc. Yes, Obama
could have made more fiscally austere choices. But these accusations demonstrate
innumeracy for a number of reasons.
2. Failure to check readily available data & failure to extrapolate trends
Employment & Unemployment
Since Obama took office job growth has remained low, and unemployment has remained high. Naturally, many blame Obama. Although growth has been disappointing, much of this blame is founded in innumeracy.
How does this demonstrate innumeracy?
1. Failure to recognize contributing factors and integral relationships
a. Unemployment is the integral of both employment growth and population growth. As a result, current unemployment includes all changes in employment, including the decline 2001 through 2003 and the decline 2008 - 2009 both of which preceded Obama.
2. Failure to recognize trends and extrapolations
a. Over the 8 years before Obama took office total private sector growth
was negative (ie. 1.4 million more jobs were lost than created.)
3. Inconsistent logic
a. Most of those blaming Obama for the high unemployment praised Bush
even though most of the decline occurred under Bush.
Related Pages at this site
|Summation and Conclusions
It is important in the discourse of democracy that we challenge actions and ideas that are not working. However, the most important parts to that challenge is to get both our fact right and our logic correct. The examples given above are given to show how easily we fall prey to ideas that sound plausible but actually have blatant underlying flaws that we should be able to identify quickly.
One side being wrong does not necessitate that the other side is right. But an invalid line of reasoning means we need to seek another line of reasoning. Each of these examples demonstrates invalid reasoning. Since, the real world does not simply divide into one dimensional binary opposites we can not just assume that an opposite is true. But we can be certain about what is false.