Liberal professors and politicians in retreat and decline: How many of the pleasingly gloomy things you hear can you really believe?
As we noted last week, you're constantly told that women get paid 80 percent as much as men "for doing the same work." Everyone knows that claim isn't true, but everyone likes to repeat it.
As we've been noting this week, if you let the professors tell it, schools which seem demographically sublime are actually "segregated." This hypothetical school would be one example:
Student enrollment, Public School XThat looks like a demographic dream—especially if you're familiar with the actual demographics of our actual country's actual student enrollment.
White kids: 45%
Black kids: 20%
Hispanic kids: 20%
Asian-American kids: 15%
Sorry! That's just another "segregated school," our leading bean-counters have said.
Peculiar or bogus claims are all around, even Over Here within our self-impressed liberal tribe. And good God! Just in the past two mornings, two more familiar, pleasing feel-bad claims seem to have bitten the dust!
At Slate, Jordan Weissmann reports that the pleasingly gloomy "America on $2 a day" narrative seems to be taking on serious water. According to Weissmann, "a wildly influential 2013 study" by sociologists Edin and Schaefer—they followed up with a best-selling book about "extreme poverty"—has now received its "most serious challenge yet:"
WEISSMANN (6/6/19): The pair’s findings on the growth of extreme poverty also became an important data point in the argument over the legacy of welfare reform. In the 1990s, President Bill Clinton teamed up with Republicans in Congress to end the federal government’s old, often vilified program that gave cash directly to poor families. They replaced it with a system designed to make unemployed parents go to work. Edin, today a professor at Princeton, and Shaefer, a professor at the University of Michigan, argued that this change destroyed a key part of the cash safety net, fueling the rise of $2-a-day destitution.We can't evaluate the research. But the claim about $2-a-day poverty always seemed a bit implausible, much like the absurd-sounding claim about women receiving 77 to 80 cents on the dollar on average as compared to men.
Were they right? Edin and Shaefer’s eye-popping results have always been somewhat controversial, with critics—typically on the political right—arguing that they’re mostly a statistical illusion created by bad data. The debate has gone on for years in the pages of academic journals and white papers, with Edin and Shaefer countering detractors and refining their findings along the way. This week, though, a group of rival researchers released the most serious challenge to their work yet. Their paper uses newly available data to essentially double check and correct the government survey results Edin and Shaefer relied on. And, after all of their adjustments, $2-a-day poverty nearly disappears.
According to Weissmann, "America on $2 a day" has taken on serious water. Meanwhile, Bloomberg's Michael Strain recently attacked yet another pleasingly gloomy old saw, the one about the vast numbers of people who couldn't cover a $400 expense.
Strain's June 4 report for Bloomberg appears beneath these headlines:
Americans May Be Strapped, But the Go-To Statistic Is False"Why does the story persist?" Why do all these stories persist? What keeps all these overwrought tales flitting through the ether?
It is a myth that a large share of people can’t cover a $400 emergency expense. Why does the story persist?
Last evening, a group of leading anthropologists answered your question for us.
"Simply put, our brains were wired to function this way," these future scholars despondently said. They referred us to Professor Harari's account of the rise of our floundering, war-inclined species.
"We were built for tribal narrative, full and complete freaking stop." So the gloomy experts said, reporting to us from the future and singling out our own tribe.
We've been at this site for twenty-one years. We can tell you this:
You can't automatically believe the things our "liberal" academics tell you. We've seen this over and over again. This isn't just true Over There.
There she went again: Who the heck has been pushing that claim about the $400? Below, you see the way Strain began his report.
When they saw that familiar name, all the analysts howled:
STRAIN (6/4/19): A large share of Americans can’t cover a $400 emergency expense: You’ve probably heard politicians and journalists breathlessly report that shocking statistic more than once in the last year or so.That claim "ha[d] never seemed plausible to" Strain. Not even when Harris said it?
A few recent examples. Senator Kamala Harris, in April of this year: “In America right now today, almost half of Americans are a $400 unexpected expense away from complete upheaval.” Senator Elizabeth Warren last month: “The gap between incomes and costs is so gaping that 40% of Americans can't come up with $400 in an emergency.” And Senator Bernie Sanders, also in May: “Four in 10 [Americans are] unable to afford a $400 emergency expense.”
This claim has never seemed plausible to me. After all, if so many Americans can’t cover a relatively minor unexpected expense, that would affect daily life in obvious ways...
At any rate, you can't believe the things you're told, not even by your favorite reporters and friends. Our species is wired for gossip and fiction. Or don't you yet own a TV?