Feelings vs. Data, Political Items, and Awe

Today Paul Krugman counters feelings with facts, this time about the economy; also, items about DeSantis, red state murders, Truth Social ads. And a new book about awe.

NY Times, Paul Krugman newsletter, 27 Jan 2023: Wonking Out: Inflation and the Imputation Game


When it comes to economic assessment, feelings are no substitute for hard data. A plurality of Americans say that we’re in a recession; the actual numbers on jobs and gross domestic product show an economy that remains quite strong.

Indeed, gut-based analysis may be even worse these days than it was in the past, given how much economic views are affected by partisanship: Republicans rate the economy worse now than they did in June 1980, when unemployment was 7.6 percent and inflation was 14 percent.

Among my premises and principals: don’t trust your intuitions; don’t trust ‘common sense’; don’t trust your gut. Those are all effective methods of Type I thinking, in Kahneman’s terms (see here), good for automatic, involuntary response in survival settings. But any complex truth is better arrived out using Type II, requiring effortful mental attention, and attention to facts, not reliance on stories or ideologies. And we live in a complex world.

Krugman goes on to stipulate that no set of data is perfect, in particular the constraints on government agencies to, say, measure inflation. The piece is actually rather wonkish, as the title suggests, in examining how various government measures are put together. He concludes,

So where does that leave us? We should analyze the economy using data, not feelings. But we should also be aware that hard data is often softer than it seems, and one should be prepared to question what the data says if it, um, feels wrong. Yes, that’s pretty unsatisfying.

In terms of where inflation is right now, I’d say that the preponderance of the data points to rapid disinflation. I’m eagerly awaiting the Employment Cost Index, due on Jan. 31, although I worry that analysts may place too much faith in what is, after all, just another estimate.

And I have to say that even though I’m pleased to see some belated vindication for those of us who viewed inflation as a transitory problem (even though we never imagined it going so high for so long), I’m a bit disturbed by just how optimistic many of the financial newsletters I receive have gotten on this subject. Are business economists letting their feelings get ahead of the solid evidence?


Other items noticed today.

Salon, Amanda Marcotte, 27 Jan 2023: Ron DeSantis thinks he can troll his way to the White House — but there’s a big flaw in his strategy, subtitled “Bigotry, book bans, and science hatred don’t play as well outside of the MAGA base”

As Krugman did yesterday with Edsall, here is Marcotte in part responding to a piece by Jamelle Bouie noted in my same post about how DeSantis uses cultural issues to distract from his unpopular social proposals.

Trolling, after all, is the entirety of the DeSantis campaign strategy. It’s how he won Florida and how he clearly intends to win the White House, by dunking on one “triggered” liberal at a time. It’s why DeSantis does stupid stuff like pretend to believe President Joe Biden is taking away a gas stove he likely has no idea how to operate. It’s why he embraced the spectacle of showing up in Philadelphia, a city he has never lived in and has no real relationship to. Being seen protested by “the libs,” especially if they are predominantly people of color, is the most surefire way to gain popularity with the MAGA base. It’s pure tribalist warfare.

As Jamelle Bouie of the New York Times pointed out Tuesday, DeSantis doesn’t just troll for attention, but also to distract Republican voters from the array of policies he supports that they very much do not want. “By leaning into high-profile battles as a culture warrior par excellence,” Bouie writes, “DeSantis has made himself the hero of conservative elites and the bête noire of liberals and Democrats without so much as mentioning his radical and unpopular views on social insurance and the welfare state.”


AlterNet, Mia Brett, 25 Jan 2023: Opinion | Ron DeSantis’s huge step toward academic control

The opening lines are a useful summary of the CRT controversy.

As I explained for the Editorial Board, CRT is a sociolegal framework to analyze ways in which our legal system perpetuates racism.

It’s not anti-white people.

It’s not about making white people feel guilty.

It won’t hurt white people or bring about white genocide.

Yet Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and others are treating CRT as it were a major threat to American life. Not satisfied with controlling k-12 education, many Republicans are now seeking to make the public university system an arm of government control in order to outlaw CRT as well as violate trans people’s rights.

Then it goes on about DeSantis’ tactics are similar to those used by the Nazis, to “enforce political narratives and other ways of thinking.”


As previously noted in general if not in specific.

Axios, 27 Jan 2023 (via): Not an anomaly: 2020’s red states have higher murder rates

The murder rates in Trump-voting states from 2020 have exceeded those in Biden-voting states every year since 2000, according to a new analysis by ThirdWay, a center-left think tank.

Why it matters: Republicans have built their party on being the crime-fighting candidates, even as murder rates in red states have outpaced blue states by an average of 23% over the past two decades.

  • Four reliably-red states consistently made the top of the list — Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Missouri.


NY Times, Stuart A. Thompson, 27 Jan 2023: On Trump’s Social Network: Ads for Miracle Cures, Scams and Fake Merchandise

Subtitled: “Truth Social, the social network started by former President Donald J. Trump, has struggled to attract large brands.”

It’s exactly what you’d suspect from MAGA voters.


East Bay Express, Lou Fancher, 25 Jan 2023: The Science of Wonder

Let’s try to end on a positive note. I’ve recently begun reading a new book called Awe: The New Science of Everyday Wonder and How It Can Transform Your Life, by one Dacher Keltner. Here’s another book I might have passed over as “woo” but the back cover has endorsements by Pinker, Gilbert, de Waal, and Peter Docter, the director of the Pixar film Inside Out, for which Keltner was a consultant. Keltner is at UC Berkeley.

Interesting book, yet apparently Keltner is not aware of the science fictional concept of “sense of wonder,” which must be very close to what this book’s theme is. Nothing about it or science fiction in the index. More about this as I read it.

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