Sunday, March 22, 2009

I'm 95% Confident Nate Silver Is Full Of It On This One

Like (almost) everyone else on the planet, I respect the hell out of Nate Silver. He generally doesn't make assertions that he hasn't tested thoroughly (one of these days he's going to run 10,000 simulations through 10,000 simulations and rip a hole in the fabric of time), and this level of rigor has made him scarily accurate on most non-Oscar subjects.

So why is he doing the ol' Kaus trick of creating a false choice between Current Policy Proposal A (here, the bonus tax) and Not Mutually Exclusive Progressive Policy Idea B?


If we want to address wealth discrepancies in this country (and I think that we should), we should do so by changing marginal income tax rates ... if we're monkeying around with tax policy, it's important to do so in an economically coherent way.


The compensation paid to AIG's employees, however, is less a moral failure than a market failure ... there are some ways to address these market failures; the more time we spend focusing on those, and the less on AIG, the more money we the taxpayers will save ourselves in the end.

And again:

Moreover, I wonder if it does not augment the view that the financial crisis was perpetuated by a few bad apples, when the real causes were far more systemic, and systemic reform will be required avoid their recurrence.

Bonus Kaus points to that last post for (a) suggesting that the Democrats will somehow be hurt by taking a popular position on a contentious issue and (b) the completely untenable and wildly inflammatory comparison in the headline ("That Thing I Hate Is Like That Thing You Liberals Hate", another Kausfiles staple).

Silver seems to be endorsing a Law of Conservation of Outrage here -- the idea that the electorate is so emboldened/distracted/whatever by the claw-back of the AIG bonuses that they simply won't have the energy/willpower/whatever to clamor for reform to the tax code, or Wall Street practices, or laws regarding executive compensation, and so on.

But ...

(1) There's no logical reason why there can be only one response to this mess, and the former could just as easily be a springboard for the latter.

(2) For a site based on thorough statistical analysis, isn't it a red flag that there's not even so much as a scatter plot or a line graph on these posts? If there's anyone who could put together data proving the link between allegedly misdirected rage and failure to pursue meaningful reform, it's Silver. Pics Logistic regressions or it didn't happen.

(3) The same evidence-free theory was advanced by Sheryl Gay Stolberg, making it highly probable that it is utterly wrong or horribly banal.

(4) A half-assed glance at recent history (the Kausific Method) also suggests that scapegoating and fingerpointing can totally co-exist with structural reassessment. After the Enron collapse there was both an outlet for populist ire (the criminal prosecution of Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling -- and, man, you could beat a federal agent to death with a brick of cocaine and get a lighter sentence than Skilling did) and a genuine attempt at reform (Sarbanes-Oxley).

So I think I've got Silver here -- all I need now is for Mickey to endorse Silver's view, and I'll be assuredly correct.