September 22, 2003
Information As Troll Repellent

I hope it's not also reader repellent . . . .

A troll who calls himself (herself?) 'JadeGold' has been infesting North Georgia Dogma. I hate to have to do someone else's homework for him, but I very much object to being accused of "misrepresentation", having "little regard for the truth", and saying "false" things by someone who exemplifies all three characteristics. Some of you may wish to skip this entry: it could get messy. The issues are important, not just the economic question -- is the current economy even worse than Carter's? -- but the question of how to argue about economics, or any other subject.

My first remark in the comments to this post castigated 'JadeGold' for the bigoted use of the inane epithet "Repugs" -- no apology was offered -- and went on:

Those of us over 40 or so have good reason to believe that Carter's was the worst economy since Hoover's -- certainly far worse than either Bush's. And I can say that even after spending five of the last six months unemployed. Of course, "not as bad as Carter's" isn't a very high recommendation of anything -- economy, foreign policy, whatever.

'Just John' replied:

Carter didn't have the n[e]t loss of total jobs that W has.

To this I replied:

Maybe not, but Bush doesn't have 14% inflation, 18% interest rates, and gas lines two blocks long. Taken as a whole, I do not believe the current economy is nearly as bad as Carter's.

By the way, is this "net job loss" stated as a percentage of the workforce, or as a total number of jobs lost? The wording suggests the latter, which is rather misleading: if there are (e.g.) 30% more people in the workforce today and the total jobs lost are 15% or 20% or 25% more this time than last time, Bush would be doing better (or less badly) in proportion to the size of the workforce. Not adjusting for the size of the workforce is just as misleading and (if intentional) dishonest as not adjusting for inflation when comparing dollar figures from different eras.

To return to our story, 'JadeGold' replied:

What's sad is that some conservatives have such little regard for the truth.

Maybe not, but Bush doesn't have 14% inflation, 18% interest rates, and gas lines two blocks long

No, Dubya doesn't. But neither did Carter. Under Carter, inflation averaged 10.7% (with a high of 13.5% in 1980). Unemployment under Carter averaged 6.5% as compared to 8.6% in Reagan's first 4 years. Job creation under Carter averaged about 3.1% annually, while Reagan averaged 2.1% over his 8 years.

I won't quote all the foolishness that followed, but how's this for sophistry? I wrote:

I didn't say inflation averaged 14% under Carter, I said or at least clearly implied that it hit 14%, which it did. If the average for his (thankfully) last year in office was 13.5%, then there were months in that year in which the rate hit an annualized 14%. (Duh! In something so variable as economic statistics, it would be difficult for 12 monthly numbers to average 13.5 without some of them being even higher.)

The reply:

Even this tortured explanation is false. Funny, but false. In an attempt to parse his figures, the good Dr. claims that certain months in 1980 might have had an annualized inflation rate of 14%. If we accept this as true (and by no means is it necceassrily true or false)--that must mean certain months were well under an annualized inflation rate of 14%.

Apparently 'JadeGold' doesn't understand how averages work. If twelve numbers average out to 13.5, and some of them are over 14, but not very far over, the rest of them cannot all be "well under" 14, unless you define "well" as one percent or not much more. And I didn't say that some months "might" have been over 14%: I remember the Carter years very well, and distinctly remember often thinking "Jeez, 14% inflation, how soon can we vote this moron out?".

I have now tracked down monthly inflation data for the last half century to show that:

  1. Yes, the inflation rate did hit 14% under Jimmy Carter, just as I wrote, in fact almost hit 15% in March 1980 (14.76%) and was over 14% for five months in a row (February to June). So much for "might".
  2. The inflation rate never went under 12.5% the whole year. So much for "well under".
  3. Contrary to what another commenter wrote, Carter did not just inherit Ford's inflation and pass it on to Reagan. When Ford took office (August 1974) the inflation rate was near 11% and had been in double digits seven months in a row. (How much of the severe inflationary spurt of 1973-75 should be attributed to the oil embargo of 1973 and how much can be blamed on Nixonian economic incompetence is an interesting question, on which I suspect even competent economists disagree. Anyone who wants to put all the blame on Nixon will get no argument from me.) Two years and two months later, when Ford was voted out in favor of Carter, it was less than half that: 4.88%. Laugh all you want at WIN buttons, but he, or his subordinates, must have been doing something right. By the time Carter was inaugurated (January 1977) it had crept up to 5.22% and Carter nearly tripled that number. November 1980, when he was voted out in favor of Reagan, was the 21st consecutive month of double-digit inflation, including, as I have already mentioned, five consecutive months over 14%.

I could go on and impugn the other arguments 'JadeGold' offers, but it's hardly worth the time. Of course, as she (or he) earnestly argues and no one denies, inflation is not the only measure of an economy. It may be possible to prove that the current economy is worse than Carter's. It will take better and more honest arguments than 'JadeGold' has come up with, and those of us who have been unemployed for parts of both the Carter and Bush II administrations will be particularly hard to convince. At least this time around I haven't had to take a job moving pianos for the minimum wage (then $2.70 per hour), as I briefly did in February 1978.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at September 22, 2003 10:49 PM