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.Was Stephen Moore "lying" in that passage? We're not sure, but saying that represents an extremely good way to lose an unloseable argument.
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!
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!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.
Statement B: Moore's presentation is clownishly misleading, presumably deliberately so.
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.