Green Room

What we don’t know

posted at 4:45 pm on February 17, 2010 by

Commenting on Thomas Friedman’s suggestion for a 50-page report on global warming to be called “What We Know”, Russ Roberts reminds us to be careful about what we say about the stimulus as well:

Most of what Thomas Friedman thinks we know is based on multiple regression analysis trying to hold other factors constant other than human carbon emissions and making a variety of assumptions about the interactions between those factors along with the factors we cannot measure. That is hard to explain to a sixth grader. It can be done But it’s not knowledge. It’s an attempt to gain knowledge.

It is very similar to writing a report for a sixth grader on how the stimulus turned out. We have fewer jobs than we had before. That’s what we know. But even I, a skeptic, wouldn’t call that knowledge about whether the “stimulus” package worked or not. But I wouldn’t use the CBO estimate either. The CBO estimate is a repeat of the forecast it made before the legislation passed. We don’t know how many jobs were created or destroyed by the legislation.

Most of what we write about the effects of stimulus are just that, “an attempt to gain knowledge.” A bureaucrat writes down some numbers. Reporters and bloggers find flaws. Econometric models estimate the effects, but those models were used to propose the policy put in place. It’s not likely those models would go back and say the proposed plan didn’t work: Econometric models aren’t built to do that: If the model has as a premise that future government spending will create jobs, it isn’t going to tell you that past government spending did not. Meanwhile, those in political opposition will look to find contradictions when none really exist. (GDP growth can lead employment growth.) And people get angrier and cynical.

There is nothing wrong with saying we don’t know. It might have worked; it might not have. What we know is there are between three and four million fewer jobs than a year ago, and the deficit is larger. We want to know more. We are trying to know more. And if the volume of studies since 2000 of the Great Depression are any indication, we’ll still want to know more a century from now.

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OK…For the last time.

You (numbskull, FOX -watching, Conservative, sexist, homophobic, tea-bagging, racist xenophobic prole typical whitey living in middle America), do not know much at all. You are too angry and dumb to understand things. Calm down, put down your giant-sized Slurpee and Big-Mac and listen to US. We know better. We are experts in “knowing”. We went to really good colleges. We are Democrats and Liberals and we are SMART. We are trying…. REALLY REALLY trying, to make things all better but you keep yacking and not listening.

Just get out of our way and SHUT UP. Just keep on working and giving us a good portion of that money you make and we will distribute it to other SMART people who will then make things all better.

Thank you.

Opposite Day on February 17, 2010 at 5:29 PM

There is nothing wrong with saying we don’t know.

Kind of funny. Have you ever known a leftist who admitted what he didn’t know, or one who didn’t think that such an admission would be a violation of their sacrament?

rrpjr on February 17, 2010 at 5:47 PM

Meanwhile, stimulus not withstanding, the earth keeps doing what it has been doing for the last 4.5 Billion years.

percysunshine on February 17, 2010 at 5:47 PM