26
Jul
10

Politics and Charts

It’s really hard to keep up with political discussions about economics. There are lots of reasons for this difficulty. One is that intellectual labor is divided. Nothing new about that but it the more knowledge we amass the more people have to keep it all together. So, when politics shifts to talk about economics, it’s hard for the average person to keep up.

Here’s a completely impractical, but I think, nonetheless, interesting partial remedy. What if members of the administration, when they went on TV or gave a press conference, brought charts and data with them. All data from economics papers are made available by the author and certainly scientists are required to have data available so that their experiments can be replicated and reviewed in detail. Why not for politicians. I’m not saying this should be a law that is “enforced” but just something it would be good to do. How awesome would it be if Geither made the data he was referencing available on some website so that after the show other people could review it at their leisure and so see the numbers he’s referring to. Sources, statements, and extrapolations could also be analyzed.

I think this would have one main benefit, which is that numbers might actually become important. Neither I nor the host of the show, David Gregory, knows enough economic data to know (or to even question) OFF-HAND if Geithner is quoting numbers that are not generated from the best methods, irrelevant, or deceptive (date periods are especially deceptive, since numbers can change a lot depending on when the time period is, take for example, before or after the financial crash). But if politicians started to regularly give their data sources, it would encourage the use of solid and informative numbers. Of course, this is exactly a reason that politicians probably would not choose to make their data available, but if there were pressure for this sort of thing, then we might be able to raise the comprehensibility of certain types of political issues.

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