Bullet Trains, Green Jobs and ‘The War Between Data and Storytelling’

May 15, 2012

By Chris Reed

SAN DIEGO — The smug, insufferably superior politics of the faculty lounge have gone mainstream on the Left in the past decade to the point where many “progressive” pundits and Democratic lawmakers openly act as if it is a given that their side always knows best and that those who disagree are dimwits, rednecks or charlatans.

This was on full display in a recent post by Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum, which carried the headline, “The War Between Data and Storytelling”:

Krugman the liberal is all about the data: he hauls out charts, models, ‘signatures,’ and international comparisons. Brooks, by contrast, barely admits that data even bears on this question. He’s all about telling a plausible story: the chickens of globalization, failing education, high federal debt, and political sclerosis have finally come home to roost, so what do you expect? Of course the economy is in tatters.

“You see this play out on TV too. Conservatives tell a story, and Krugman then explains impatiently that the data simply doesn’t back up what they’re saying. Every week it plays out the same way. It’s like a kabuki show.”

I laughed so hard when I read this that I was at risk of breaking a rib. Why? Because I came upon Drum’s onanistic ode to the smarts of his side just hours after reading two amazingly damning passages in “The Escape Artists: How Obama’s Team Fumbled the Recovery,” Noam Scheiber’s new book about economics policy-making in the Obama administration.

The first part involves the sophisticated way Obama’s aides decided where to spend tens of billions in the stimulus package they would soon present to Congress. This is from Page 102:

“In December [2008], the economic team dutifully prepared a list of drab but high-bang-for-your-buck outlays to [Rahm] Emanuel. The list included … $20 billion to repair existing roads and bridges, $5 billion to repair public housing units and another $5 billion to upgrade sewage treatment facilities. …

“Emanuel’s brother, Ezekiel, a doctor who was joining the administration as a health care adviser, happened to be staying with the future chief of staff when the list arrived via fax. “There’s nothing that really gets my heart racing,” the brother later complained. “What would get your heart racing?” Rahm Emanuel asked glumly. “I don’t know. How about high-speed rail — getting from New York to D.C. in 90 minutes?” Within days, some $20 billion in high-speed rail investments had immaculately materialized on the list.”

Are you kidding me? The Obama administration’s obsession with high-speed rail began as a way to get Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel’s heart racing? This is at the root of the president’s determination to trick/bully California and other states into building immense boondoggles by providing them initial billions until the projects became too big to fail?

Bullet train

Just last week, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came to Sacramento to warn the Legislature it better launch construction of the California’s bullet train soon or it risked losing the $3.3 billion in federal funds that had come its way because of Doc Zeke. The fact that California has less than 20 percent of the funds in hand that it needs for the $68 billion project and no prospects for outside investment went unmentioned by LaHood. Instead, he exhorted the broke state government to make the bullet train a priority — and, incredibly, Gov. Jerry Brown appears to agree.

Yo, Kevin Drum. Yo, Paul Krugman. This is not the triumph of “facts” over “storytelling.”

But what’s incredible is that, on the very next page of Scheiber’s book, there’s an even more depressing/appalling/insane anecdote. President Obama has spent three-plus years talking about how green jobs will rescue the economy. All along, he’s known it was a lie. The book reads:

“Energy was a particular obsession of the president-elect’s, and therefore a particular source of frustration. Week after week, [economics adviser Christina] Romer would march in with an estimate of the jobs all the investment in clean energy would produce; week after week, Obama would send her back to check the numbers. “I don’t get it,” he’d say. “We make these large-scale investments in infrastructure. What do you mean, there are no jobs?” But the numbers rarely budged. The U.S. clean energy industry was so microscopically small that even doubling or tripling the size of it, a major accomplishment that could take years, would produce an insignificant number of jobs relative to the size of the country’s workforce.”

So Obama has understood this since before he took office, thanks to the honest counsel of the UC Berkeley professor who would become chairwoman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers. Yet he hasn’t changed course, constantly hyping the “green jobs” narrative and continuing to throw billions at Solyndra and similar projects while being hostile to the thriving conventional energy industry and indifferent to the larger private-sector economy.

Yo, Kevin Drum. Yo, Paul Krugman. Who’s using data? Who’s engaging in storytelling?

Green jobs

This is all particularly galling in California. The green jobs cult is so powerful in both Sacramento and the media that one routinely hears the absurd narrative that a 2006 state law forcing a gradual unilateral switch to cleaner but much costlier forms of energy will help the state’s economy, not create a huge competitive disadvantage. The much more likely result is that we’ll look back at the present 11 percent unemployment rate as the good old days.

We’re also home to the only remaining state-federal bullet train project. Other states having figured out that high-speed rail is incredibly costly, requires perpetual operational subsidies, and doesn’t carry nearly enough passengers to substantially reduce congestion and pollution.

But we have a Democrat-dominated Sacramento, our state leaders are advised by lots of sharp Krugman acolytes, and we’ve got Kevin Drum dispensing wisdom from his home in Orange County, so it’s just a matter of time before data triumphs, storytelling recedes and prosperity blooms.

If anyone out there actually believes this, please be in touch. I’ve got a subdivision in Riverside County I’d like to sell you.

Reed is an editorial writer for the U-T San Diego newspaper (formerly the San Diego Union-Tribune) and runs the Calwhine.com politics blog.

8 comments

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  1. Beelzebub
    Beelzebub 15 May, 2012, 10:20

    Paul Krugman is a communist dressed in democrat clothing. The fact that he won a nobel prize and the fact that Obama (who turned Libya into a sandbox in violation of the War Powers Act of 1973) won a nobel peace price (HAH!) 🙂 just goes to show what a gamed world we live in.

    They LIE and LIE and LIE and LIE some more, all with a straight face.

    Wasn’t it the esteemed economist Krugman who once said “Deficits don’t matter”? HAH!

    Whether it’s the bullet train or the Ca budget or the massive welfare fraud or the bailouts for the crooked banksters or the tax hike measures – IT’S ALL PREDICATED UPON FRAUD AND LIES!!!

    That’s the way your system is designed. The writing is all over the wall

    Open up your eyes and look at it!!!

    Reply this comment
  2. Rob McMillin
    Rob McMillin 15 May, 2012, 10:30

    Krugman isn’t a communist, but he certainly is a fraud. He long ago surrendered any claims to being an economist, the most famous recent example of which is his idiotic likening of Solyndra to Pets.com, i.e. he cannot tell the difference between state money and risk capital. He is best understood as a Team Blue partisan, as is Drum. Where Drum goes astray is in pretending that Krugman has any semblance of credibility with respect to actual economics anymore, a trade Krugman long ago retired from.

    Even when he speaks on subjects that have actual quantifiable data behind them, Krugman tends to go for the cheap shot rather than actual analysis. Iowahawk’s lengthy takedown of Krugman’s assertions about school performance in non-union Texas vs. unionized Wisconsin is a fantastic example of this. (Read also the followup post, which contains responses to counterarguments author David Burge subsequently received.)

    Reply this comment
  3. Beelzebub
    Beelzebub 15 May, 2012, 11:59

    “Krugman isn’t a communist, but he certainly is a fraud”

    Many of his economic philosophies certainly mimic that of a communist. He might not be a card carrying one – but what difference does that make if he thinks and espouses policies like one? Perhaps he hides behind democrat clothing – as I stated above.

    The fact that he received a nobel prize is proof positive that the entire global system that protects these frauds is a farce.

    Same with Obama – who is a war lord given a nobel peace prize. I mean that is roll over hilarious!

    Reply this comment
  4. RealityCheck
    RealityCheck 15 May, 2012, 21:10

    Economics is storytelling. Facts change, the data changes. This is what is true: Obama kept Tim Geithner and the other Bush econs. When I read the list of gimmes from Mayors and other clowns is they wanted to create more jobs by building bigger administration beehives.

    Solyndra, is what it is , a big government gift of taxpayer money. Krugman has called Obama accurately. But hey lets resort to communisim if if moves your world. Solyndra should have gotten investors via 401k’s like Enron, the non- communist way of private investment and risk.

    High speed rail cost too much because of leeches like Curt Pringle. Too many bribes ,oh consultants to be paid.

    Reply this comment
  5. Beelzebub
    Beelzebub 16 May, 2012, 06:54

    “But hey lets resort to communisim if if moves your world”

    IMO any pol or economist who says “Deficits don’t matter” and that the way to escape our financial turmoil is to INCREASE SPENDING – he is the equivalent of a communist when it comes to economic policy.

    If you want to bury your head – that’s your choice. Don’t ask me to do it.

    Reply this comment
  6. I'mjustsaying...
    I'mjustsaying... 16 May, 2012, 08:09

    Great article today Chris. I’m wearing green to work today…maybe they’d like to count it as a ‘green job’…you know, anything to increase those numbers.

    Reply this comment
  7. RealityCheck
    RealityCheck 17 May, 2012, 12:50

    What is IMO ? a mayonaise subsitute? FYI a communist desires to force one view regimentation and then feign no desire to force bury another’s head? Just saying.

    Reply this comment
  8. Beelzebub
    Beelzebub 17 May, 2012, 19:46

    Maybe we’re talking about 2 different Paul Krugmans. The one I’m talking about is the nobel prize winner who thinks we can spend ourselves out of a massive financial crisis. That’s like a drunk who thinks he can drink himself sober. There are many aspect to ‘communism’. Economic policy was the backbone of ‘communism’. And if you read Krugman’s philosophy it mimic a communist in many, many ways. That’s the reason ‘communism’ went broke. They spent themselves to death. What don’t you understand about that?

    Reply this comment

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