The Billings Outpost

The more you know, the less you understand

Montana Republicans came out with a recent reminder that President Obama’s 2009 stimulus package didn’t work.

“Three years after President Obama signed his massive stimulus spending bill into law, it’s clear that even by the President’s own standards, the bill has been a failure,” GOP Chairman Will Deschamps said in a news release.

Except that it hasn’t. A recent survey by the Initiative on Global Markets of leading economists, including Nobel Prize winners and former advisers to both Democratic and Republican presidents, found that 80 percent thought the stimulus had made the unemployment rate lower than it otherwise would have been. A smaller, but still substantial, plurality thought the stimulus had been worth the cost when everything, including future tax increases, is taken into account.

Similarly, of nine major studies of the stimulus reported last year, six concluded that it helped substantially. One concluded that it had helped a little bit, and two concluded that it had not helped.

So what do Montana Republicans know that bales of high-powered economists don’t know? Nothing, probably. The only evidence Mr. Deschamps offered was that the president “promised” the unemployment rate would stay below 8 percent if the stimulus passed and that a million jobs have been lost since then.

That evidence overlooks key facts. For one, economists’ projections of the unemployment rate were based on a belief that the economy had contracted 3 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008. We later learned that the contraction was actually about 9 percent, so economists’ projections (not Mr. Obama’s) were bound to be too low.

Mr. Deschamps also fails to note that the million jobs we lost nearly all came in the early months of the Obama administration, before his policies had taken effect. We have now had 24 consecutive months of job growth. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the stimulus may have raised the number of employed by as many as 3 million at its peak.

But it is unlikely that Republicans much care. Belief that the stimulus didn’t work has simply become an article of faith, like Ronald Reagan’s greatness or Barack Obama’s Muslim faith.

For instance, a survey by Public Policy Polling found that a full 52 percent of likely Mississippi voters and 45 percent of likely Alabama voters in Republican primaries there said Mr. Obama is a Muslim, far more than the 26 percent who believed in evolution. It’s even more than the 33 percent who, according to a Survey USA poll, believe Obama was “definitely” or “probably” born somewhere other than the United States.

Such results unnerve those who have adopted the Fox News slogan of “We report, you decide.” Few of us have the number-crunching skills to figure out for ourselves whether the stimulus worked, and these issues can’t be settled by majority vote. So how can Republicans be so sure of themselves about an issue on which certainty is at best elusive?

The answer may be in a book by Chris Mooney due out next month, “The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science – and Reality.” Mr. Mooney argues that especially among Republicans, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and more knowledge is even more dangerous.

He argues that Republicans who closely identify with a particular point of view become more rigid in their outlook as they learn more about the topic, even when the evidence contradicts what they already believe.

Republicans have become more likely, not less likely, since Obama’s election to believe that he is Muslim, surveys show. And, even as the weight of scientific evidence of human-caused global warming gets heavier, Republicans get more skeptical.

They are so skeptical, in fact, that a front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, Rick Santorum, argues not only that humans don’t cause global warming but that the whole scientific theory behind global warming is a hoax.

Really? Try this thought problem: It is undisputed that 33 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide went into the atmosphere in 2010. Which is more likely: that all of that carbon dioxide may have some sort of effect on climate, or that hundreds of respected scientists worldwide are engaged in a massive conspiracy to falsify data and distort scientific evidence in order to promote a pro-Marxist, anti-growth agenda?

But wait a minute. Don’t liberals also reject evidence they don’t like and cling to preexisting beliefs no matter what? According to Mooney, not so much.

He argues, for example, that liberals who are predisposed against nuclear power begin to lose their fears as they learn more about the topic. Liberals actually seem to like facts, he argues, and are willing to change their views as they become more informed.

Chances are, your b.s. detectors are flashing red right about now. Mr. Mooney’s argument clearly doesn’t make sense if we define the difference between conservative and liberal as the difference between believing that the highest marginal tax rate should be 35 percent instead of 39 percent or that federal spending should constitute 18 percent of GDP instead of 22 percent.

But if you see the differences between conservatives and liberals as something more fundamental, as the difference between accepting core, unchangeable beliefs and between believing that truth always carries an asterisk, then Mr. Mooney’s conclusions don’t seem so unlikely.

You just have to open your mind a little.


Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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