Policy: Economy

Do liberals hate analogies? Or do they just hate conservatives?

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Timothy P. Carney,Economy,Budgets and Deficits

Liberal New York Times blogger Paul Krugman doesn't read conservatives, because conservatives are, ipso facto, hacks and unwonkish. He makes that clear repeatedly. He also has many smart, younger, liberal followers.

Matt O'Brien at The Atlantic, for instance, concurs with Krugman's silly "Wonk Gap" thesis, citing as a prime example that the Heritage Foundation made an analogy between the federal budget and a family budget.

The analogy doesn't work perfectly, because, well, no analogies work perfectly. They always have limits. In this case, the most important differences are (1) the federal government can raise tax rates through an act of Congress, while I can't raise my income similarly, (2) the federal government can print its own money, (3) If you cut spending, you don't singlehandedly slow down the economy around you.

But if you want to, say, explain to the average reader how much more Uncle Sam spent last year than he brought in, maybe it's helpful to bring those trillions of dollars down to a scale more accessible — such as the median family's annual budget.

It would seem to me that analogies become problematic when you apply the rules of one situation where the rules of the other don't apply — like if you said "a family can't create its own money, so the federal government can't either." But if you want to compare the size of overall debt and current deficits, I think the analogy works, even if not ideally.

But, no, the liberal Twittersphere won't tolerate this unwonkishness. "The 'credit card' analogy is just wrong," writes liberal economist Noah Smith, "since credit card interest rates are high and Treasury rates are low."

The analogy itself is bad, hackish, unwonkish! Is this Heritage use of the family budget, credit card analogy, as O'Brien writes "a pretty damn good example" of some Left-Right "Wonk Gap"?

Well, here's O'Brien himself tweeting out Ben Bernanke saying: "Not lifting the debt ceiling is like a family trying to improve its credit rating by not paying its credit card bills".

CREDIT CARD! Clutching my pearls!

Here's liberal think tank Center for American Progress chiding phony budget cuts: "It’s like trying to save money in your family budget by taking away your kids’ allowance when you don’t actually pay your kids an allowance."

"Family budget!" Impeach!

That liberal blogger Krugman, pioneer of the "Wonk Gap Theorem of American Policy Discourse"?

"What will happen to our stature if and when China takes away our credit card?" To be fair, a Republican was president when Krugman wrote that, so it's completely different.

Take back that Nobel Prize!!!

Here's liberal George Zornick at the Nation writing in the context of immigration and federal spending constraints: "this is like setting strict spending limits for your household, and then sticking to them even though you have another kid."

B-b-but, these "kids" are adults while most family's kids are kids, so the analogy FAILS!

All of these analogies, judging by the standards of these liberal bloggers, are bad, unwonkish, and designed to deceive.

I disagree. I think many of these analogies do their job, because they make limited claims based on the limited family-U.S.A. analogy. But here's someone using the analogy in a way that is misleading: President Obama saying Congress ought to budget like a family does:

A few months ago, I received a letter from a woman named Brenda Breece. I wanted to share her story because it speaks to what a lot of families are going through — and it offers a good example of the kind of responsibility that’s needed in Washington right now ...

Just as the Breece family is making difficult sacrifices while still investing in the future – by helping their daughter pay her tuition — my budget does the sameFamilies across this country understand what it takes to manage a budget. They understand what it takes to make ends meet without forgoing important investments like education. Well, it’s time Washington acted as responsibly as our families do. And on Monday, I’m proposing a new budget that will help us live within our means while investing in our future ...

After a decade of rising deficits, this budget asks Washington to live within its means, while at the same time investing in our future. It cuts what we can’t afford to pay for what we cannot do without. That’s what families do in hard times. And that’s what our country has to do too.

Which all brings us to a confusing conclusion:

The problem with the Krugmanite view that the Left is so much wonkier! than the Right may not be that Krugman and his fans don't read enough conservatives. It may be that they don't read one another enough!

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