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Monthly Archives: December 2011

I’m puzzled by this chart from the Brookings Institution‘s Hamilton Project, which attempts to predict how long it will take the United States to return to pre-recession level employment.  The chart plots three scenarios: a pessimistic option, in which employment grows at 208,000 jobs per month, as it did in 2005; an optimistic option, in which employment grows at 472,000 jobs per month, as it did in the best month in the 200s; and a middle option, in which employment grows at 321,000 jobs, as it did in 1994.  The takeaway from the graph, presumably, is that it will take a very long time to return to full employment.  The problem with the graph, is that its assumptions are entirely arbitrary, to the point that its predictions are largely meaningless.

The function of science, or social science is to use observed data to create theories that make predictions.  In this case, Hamilton is observing the period 1990-2008, a period of time that neither included nor followed a large recession, then theorizing that 2012-2025, a period of time that does follow a large recession, will behave like 1990-2008.  Hamilton is essentially saying that because job growth never exceeded 472,000 jobs per month when unemployment was low, it cannot possibly exceed 472,000 jobs per month when unemployment is high.  It’s just bad science, and it’s exactly the same bad science that failed to predict the recession in the first place.  Any scenario planning based on historical data leading up to 2008 would have deemed it impossible that employment would fall by 12 million from 2008 to 2010.  Why then, does Hamilton continue to use a forecasting method when that method’s limitations have been so clearly exposed?

Reading Noah Millman’s somewhat hair-brained scheme to try to oust President Obama, I found myself asking an unexpected question: Why would a conservative want to oust Obama?

I’ve felt for some time that Obama’s re-election is basically a lock, which makes the above question largely moot, but I realized that for all my time spent reading conservative commentators, I really haven’t seen a coherent conservative critique of Obama’s policy, or an explanation of why electing a Republican in 2012 would better serve conservative principles.  Conor Friedersdorf has criticized Obama’s security state apparatus along libertarian lines, quite validly in my opinion, but he hasn’t made much of a case that any Republican candidate would be better on civil liberties besides Ron Paul and Gary Johnson.

I understand the basic logic here, that the Republican party tends to support more conservative policies that the democratic party and that thus, voting for a Republican–any Republican–would advance conservative causes.  But my sense is that:

  1. Contrary to the shrill cries of right-wing media, Obama’s policies really have been quite conservative, especially since the Republican party captured the house.
  2. The republican party is likely to retain the house and to capture the senate.
  3. The Bush presidency was pretty destructive both to the country and to conservativism, especially during periods when the Republican party also controlled the house and senate.
  4. The Republican field is extremely weak, to the extent that the potential nominee could easily be as bad or worse than Bush.

Given these factors, I actually expected thinking conservatives like Millman to simply write off 2012 presidential elections.  Unless there’s a coherent conservative critique of the Obama Administration that I’m not aware of, why fight for the Romney-Perry-Gingrich smorgasbord when the guy in office is doing a pretty solid job?

Update: I may have misread Millman’s post as supporting his hair-brained scheme, as opposed to merely proposing it.  He says he’s likely to back Obama.