Opinions on Arithmetic Differ: Both Sides Have a Number

Paul Krugman has been outdone by someone else who works for the New York Times

“Opinions on Shape of Earth Differ; Both Sides Have a Point” was exteme but
“In Battle Over Health Law, Math Cuts Both Ways” is the epitome of a nadir.

The key word which Krugman missed is “math”. To Krugman math is a set of artificially constructed theoretical systems in which meanings are more than usually precise and answers often have a right answer and a wrong answer.

For a true journamalist, math is black magic and any claim in math might be true. It is the perfect setting for he said he said.

I do not blame the headline guy. The article by DAVID M. HERSZENHORN is as appalling as the headline. The article contains plainly false claims on matters of fact. One is clear enough that the New York Times must publish a correction.

In this case the debate in which both sides have a point (by the jounamalists definition of debate) is between the CBO and Republicans in congress. Note that the non-partisan CBO is considered one side of the debate. No Democrats in congress are quoted at all. The debate is over the fact that the CBO scores repeal of the affordable care act as adding to the deficit. Notably, according to the rules of the last congress, this verdict is final. Not because the CBO is God (or even Moses) but just because some terms must be defined, the CBO scoring is written into the rules (and will be again as soon as the Republicans are done with their repeal the ACA stunt)

Herszenshon makes no mention of the fact that rejecting the CBO score is generally not allowed. The CBO score becomes just one opinion among many. Unfortunately for Ballance, the argument against the CBO score includes many lies.

Mr Herszenhorn asserts “The Democrats designed the health care law so that most of the cuts and new taxes begin early while most of the spending, on insurance subsidies, for instance, begins in 2014.” I stress this claim is made in his name and in the name of the Times. It is a false claim which must be corrected. The weasle word “most” doesn’t do the trick. It is there because the excise tax starts well after 2014. In fact, the tax increases and spending cuts roughly track the spending increases. The claim in the New York Times is deliberately vague but still false.

A grosser falsehood (in this case a lie) is put in the mouths of un named “Republicans.” “The Republicans also say that the budget rules effectively double-count nearly $400 billion in Medicare savings as both reducing the cost of the health care law and prolonging the life of the Medicare trust fund.” This is false. All of the budget rules discussed in the article are CBO rules which do not estimate the life of the Medicare trust fund. The DBO did not double count. Herszenhorn knows this. That is why instead of writing “the CBO” as in the rest of the article he wrote “the budget rules.” In this case as well he is attempting to mislead the reader. Again he fails. Via Ezra Klein note Paul Ryan admitting that the CBO didn’t double count

By stating a false claim of fact without either noting that it is false or allowing someone honest to contest the claim, Herszenhorn effectively makes the claim his own.

He goes on to do it again “They also complain that the projections omitted $115 billion in spending required to administer the law”! This claim is false. $115 is the forecast discretionary budget of agencies in any way involved with implementing the ACA. It is not an estimate of additional funding which congress is predicted to appropriate because of the bill. In any case, that would require new bills and Republicans don’t have to vote for them. The same post by Klein again

The $115 billion isn’t “implementation” but “discretionary spending.” And most of that spending predates the bill. As CBO Director Doug Elmendorf said, “CBO’s discretionary baseline, which assumes that 2010 appropriations are extended with adjustments for anticipated inflation, already accounts for much of the potential discretionary spending under PPACA.” The exact amount it already accounts for is $86 billion.

One car argue about the predicted additional $29 billion but not about the $86 billion which are just past appropriations of the agencies updated for inflation. The $29 billion forecast almost certainly won’t occur, since Republicans will not vote for them.

The outlay of the article is as bad as the errors of fact. Long befor explaining the CBO estimates Herszenhorn writes the colorful and totally nonsensical

And, for the love of gravity and basic mathematics, how can the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the official scorekeeper charged with keeping count of the nation’s fiscal condition, say that it would cost the government $230 billion over 10 years to repeal a law that would spend $930 billion to extend health insurance to 32 million people?

Evidently in the sub first grade understanding he ascribed to his readers A-B>0. The problem is that many readers will just read the first few paragraphs and most will remember “the love of gravity and basic mathematics” long after they have forgotton the tiny bits of mathematics allowed into the article.

This is mainstream journalism at its worst. If a major party argues somethign based on lies and nonsense, then counteraguments which would show them to be fools and or knaves must be suppressed. Math is totally mysterious. Plainly false claims of fact must not be checked because saying that a claim is false is shrill and unbalanced. Perhaps I overstate my claim. I have seen no evidence that such nonsense is repeated with so much deference if it comes from the Democrats.

There are lies, damn lies and statistics as presented by the MSM.