BREAKING: Drum spots thirteen-year-old "lie!"


The drama of full-throated claims:
Kevin Drum decided to steer for one of our pet peeves.

In this new post, he journeys back some thirteen years to accuse Steven Moore of a "lie." Here's the passage by Moore which Drum quotes, as highlighted by Drum:
MOORE (6/13/05): In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan chopped the highest personal income tax rate from the confiscatory 70% rate that he inherited when he entered office to 28% when he left office and the resulting economic burst caused federal tax receipts to almost precisely double: from $517 billion to $1,032 billion.
Without any question, that presentation by Moore was grossly misleading and bogus. In Drum's post, this is his immediate assessment:
DRUM (following directly): This is wrong. Partly that’s because Moore didn’t even use figures from Reagan’s first and last years in office. But mainly it’s because he didn’t account for inflation or population growth. Once you do that, it turns out that federal tax receipts actually went up 14 percent on Reagan’s watch, or 1.7 percent per year.
For the record, Moore was using figures from 1980 and 1990. As such, his numbers covered a ten-year span. Reagan held office for eight.

As Drum notes, that was actually the lesser part of the problem with Moore's presentation! The larger problem was the fact that he didn't adjust for inflation. As Drum notes, comparisons like these come from a clowncar if you don't so adjust.

So far, so obvious. But uh-oh! Drum goes directly at our pet peeve in the text which follows:
DRUM (continuing directly): Moore’s statement isn’t just wrong. It’s a lie because he knew perfectly well it was wrong and said it anyway—and I savaged him for it at the time. But if it’s wrong for Stephen Moore, it’s wrong for everyone else too. And just like Moore, if you know better, it’s a lie. My goal is to make sure that everyone knows better so that we’ll all stop lying, either deliberately or otherwise.

Unless you have a very specific, technical reason for using nominal dollars—and they exist!—always adjust for inflation. Generally speaking, you should usually adjust for population growth too. Stop lying!
Was Stephen Moore "lying" in that passage? We're not sure, but saying that represents an extremely good way to lose an unloseable argument.

Moore's presentation was grossly misleading. It may well be that this was deliberate, though you can never quite know.

Presumably, Moore knew that, as a general matter, you have to adjust for inflation in making a comparison like this. Then too, you can never quite be sure.

That said, Moore's passage also contains some accurate information. When Drum says that Moore's "statement is wrong," he needs to say, at the very least, which statement he means.

We're always amazed when people like Drum want to make these dramatic claims of wrongdoing. We have no idea why he wants to make Statement A rather than Statement B:
Statement A: Stephen Moore is lying!

Statement B: Moore's presentation is clownishly misleading, presumably deliberately so.
As soon as you make Statement A, you're heading down the road of a debate you're going to lose. There are a hundred ways for a modestly-competent opponent to create a winning misdirection, given your fiery claim.

Is it really unsatisfying to make the alternate statement, in which you (accurately) say that Moore's statement is straight outta a gong show? His presentation was, in fact, clownishly bogus. Is it really insufficiently thrilling to start by saying that?

We live at a time of moral confusion and liberal loss and decline. We liberals seem ever-eager to make the most dramatic possible statements about the moral wrongdoing of the lying racist people we keep losing to.

In fairness, if we had ignored as much guild misconduct as Drum has over the years, we'd want to convince ourselves of our own moral greatness too. That said, this loud moral shouting on the part of our tribe increasingly strikes us as a signal of our ongoing defeat.

Moore made an absurd, gong-show presentation. If you want to lose an ensuing debate, you should loudly proclaim that he "lied."

Also this: We're puzzled by this formulation:

"My goal is to make sure that everyone knows better so that we’ll all stop lying, either deliberately or otherwise."

As every conservative pundit will know, a lie is a deliberate misstatement. We have no idea what that phrase "or otherwise" means.

This is the way we lose debates. In fairness, we've been at it a very long time, and we're highly skilled at the practice.


  1. I tend to agree with Bob on this point, which he's made repeatedly and for a very long time. I wish he would engage with the comments here, because I'd like to ask him why it is that liberals lose when we overstate things, as he argues, but somehow conservatives have been extremely successful running a long-term con on the American people, who seem to forget and/or forgive the most ridiculous arguments and statements.

  2. Logic 101, a la Somerby?

    "As every conservative pundit will know, a lie is a deliberate misstatement"

    But, Somerby wishes Drum had said:
    "Statement B: Moore's presentation is clownishly misleading, presumably deliberately so."

    Instead of:

    "Statement A: Stephen Moore is lying!"

    Since when is "deliberately misleading" someone any different than making a "deliberate misstatement" and thus lying?
    I get that "lie" sounds more incendiary than "deliberately misleading", but the latter is just mincing words. It would make more sense for Somerby to recommend leaving out any reference to "deliberateness" if he really wants to coddle the other side. Ultimately, I don't think the conservative elite will give a tinker's dam which of the formulations you use. They will continue to be deliberately misleading. And Somerby is naive to think this will change if people like Kevin Drum change their vocabulary.

    1. The difference boils down to intent. Which is so damn hard to prove. Is it deliberately misleading? That you can prove. Is it a lie? You're on your own there homie. Which card are you going to play? The guaranteed win or the extremely difficult win? The gimme, the freebie or the difficult/next to impossible to prove maybe?

      Really people, is Bob the only one here that can play this game?

    2. How in hell do you prove that someone "deliberately" misleads? If it is indeed deliberate, then it was a lie.

    3. "The difference boils down to intent."

      It doesn't. Not adjusting for inflation is misleading, but technically it's still a perfectly accurate statement. Making an accurate statement is not a lie, by any standard.

    4. @anon 4:50: if you claim a statement is "deliberately misleading", then you are claiming intent, i.e. that the person INTENDED to be misleading. And if you can show intent to mislead, you have shown a lie.

    5. And, anon 4:50, a person accused of being "deliberately misleading" will still resent your accusation; you are claiming to know their intent was nefarious, i.e. to mislead. If you really want to "play the game" as you call it, then why accuse someone of a bad intent? Just say "your statement was misleading, and here's why..." and leave out the accusation of malicious intent. You and Somerby don't seem to understand the uselessness of his distinction.

    6. "You are either ignorant or lying. Either way, continuing this discussion without you telling me which, is a waste of time."
      How hard is that?

  3. Actually the really dishonest thing is not what I am reading here. Inflation and population growth are relevant.

    But the larger point is - he uses total revenues. Total revenues to promote cuts to the income tax and Laffer Curve nonsense. Like FICA tax revenues went up because of income tax cuts.

    In 1980, the FICA tax rate was 6.13% on the first $25,900 of income. For the self employed it was 8.1%. By 1990 it was 7.65% on the first $51,300 of income and for self employed it was 15.3%.

    It wasn't an economic burst caused by tax cuts that caused those revenues to rise, even in nominal terms - it was significant tax increases that did it.

  4. "You lie!" - Joe Wilson, Republican, currently serving as US Representative from South Carolina, shouted at President Obama in 2009 when Obama was speaking before a joint session of Congress. Wilson was re-elected in 2010 by a large margin, and continues to serve.

  5. "Moore made an absurd, gong-show presentation."

    Moore sounds misleading, just as misleading as all other bullshit fed to the American public every day.

    In fact, D-hacks (including Mr Drum) appear to be much worse than the R-hacks, who tend to rely more on bullshit rhetoric than bullshit logic.

    D-hacks (including Mr Drum) are the ones who will be repeating endlessly that 'program is cut' when its rate of growth is reduced.

    1. It's a simple enough concept to debunk your Republican talking point.

      Let's say there are 1,000,000 people who each receive $100 from a government program. That's $100,000,000. Next year, suppose 1,250,000 people qualify for the program, but the government only budgets $110,000,000 for the program. The program had more money, but the amount per person went from $100 to $88 per person. That's why it's called a cut.

      Suppose the $100 fully pays for a drug. That means the recipients get 100% coverage of the cost. If the drug costs $150 next year, but each person only receives $110, that has gone from 100% to 73% coverage per person, even though the per capita outlay from the government rose. Again, a cut, this time in purchasing power.

    2. Teaching mathematics to a Conservative? Good luck with that.

    3. 6:00 might have better luck reaching Comrade Mao if he/she uses rubles instead of dollars.

    4. Sadly, it sounds like Drum&Co zombified you well, my friend.

      If program's budget is growing at a slower rate than was once planned, the program is not cut, no matter what's happening to drug prices or the number of enrollees. Not to mention that you don't know what the drug price will be next year.

      Similarly, if you were first promised a 20% salary raise, later revised to 18% raise - that doesn't amount to a pay-cut.

      It's that simple, I'm afraid.

    5. Mao - If you get a 10% raise, but the inflation rate is 50%, do you think that your salary has increased? I suppose you could say yes, because this year's number is bigger than last year's number, but in any real sense your pay has gone down.

    6. If I'm promised a 10% raise next year, and you say I got a pay cut because I was promised 15% earlier, then I say you're bullshitting me.

      You could say that the increase is below inflation -- but that's exactly the point: either you call things what they are, or you spin, mislead, and bullshit. Hacks spin, that's their job.

    7. Being a paid hack yourself, you ought to know.

  6. Yesterday, Somerby suggested that we tell Hannity viewers that they are being "conned" by Hannity. How is that different than saying "Hannity is lying to you"? What does "con" mean? And why is saying "conned" ok, but "lying" isn't, but "deliberately misleading" is aok?
    I also note that Somerby admonishes Drum for accusing a conservative PUNDIT of lying, and even that's not Ok. Apparently, when Somerby uses the term "The Others" he includes the conservative elite as well, you know , the ones like Hannity who are "conning" (but not lying to!) their audience.

  7. IMHO the use of statistics and statistical inference by media and politicians is almost always incorrect. I think it's fine for Drum to point out bad statistics work by the other side as long as he also points out similar problems with statistical work on his side.

    1. In Drum's post that David in Cal didn't read:

      "But if it’s wrong for Stephen Moore, it’s wrong for everyone else too. And just like Moore, if you know better, it’s a lie. My goal is to make sure that everyone knows better so that we’ll all stop lying, either deliberately or otherwise."

      Any part of that you don't understand, nitwit?