Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Rhetoric and evidence

Republicans are really good at coming up with rhetoric and sticking to it. Take class warfare as an example. If you have listened to any Republican over the past few weeks you almost certainly heard them use that phrase. Mitt Romney came out today and said the Wall Street protests were "dangerous" and "class warfare". I'm not sure what his conception of dangerous is. But that doesn't matter. They research these phrases and stick to them in order to create and drive the narrative they want. And that serves to drive public opinion to their side.

Another instance of rhetoric is Republican insistence that gov't regulations are killing jobs. I must have heard that phrase at least 20 times today on CSPAN. They just repeated it over and over. Its one thing to say that tax plans or whatever other policy they dislike is class warfare. That's something that is hard to quantify and is mostly a statement of opinion. But when they claim regulations are killing jobs that is something we can quantify. We can test whether its true or not.

Bruce Bartlett does the legwork for us:

The table below presents the bureau’s data. As one can see, the number of layoffs nationwide caused by government regulation is minuscule and shows no evidence of getting worse during the Obama administration. Lack of demand for business products and services is vastly more important.

These results are supported by surveys. During June and July, Small Business Majority asked 1,257 small-business owners to name the two biggest problems they face. Only 13 percent listed government regulation as one of them. Almost half said their biggest problem was uncertainty about the future course of the economy — another way of saying a lack of customers and sales.

The Wall Street Journal’s July survey of business economists found, “The main reason U.S. companies are reluctant to step up hiring is scant demand, rather than uncertainty over government policies, according to a majority of economists.”

Academic research has also failed to find evidence that regulation is a significant factor in unemployment. In a blog post on Sept. 5, Jay Livingston, a sociologist at Montclair State University, hypothesized that if regulation were a major problem it would show up in the unemployment rates of industries where regulation has been increasing: the financial sector, medical care and mining/fuel extraction. He found that unemployment rates in these sectors were actually well below the national average. Unemployment is much higher in those industries that one would expect to suffer most from a lack of aggregate demand: construction, leisure and hospitality, business services, wholesale and retail trade, and durable goods.

As I suspected, the evidence doesn't really back up the rhetoric. Usually this isn't a big deal. But this type of rhetoric is the reason for Republicans' policy decisions. And its wrong. But they continue to repeat it as though its true beyond all doubt. What liberals need to do is call them out on the fact that they are wrong and either use that correction as the new narrative or pivot off the correction and create one of their own. Maybe then Republicans won't constantly drive narratives and potentially influence public opinion.

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