Believing and Time

People tend to say things are bad and getting worse. They tend to get irritated when I note that the thing they mentioned is bad but has recently become less bad. There is some deep unwillingness to accept that levels, changes, and rates of change are different. Certainly people will argue that something is too low because it has decreased (see military spending over GDP) or getting worse because it is bad (see again military spending — different people — same uh odd approach to numbers).

This post will focus on perceptions of changes (not levels). A very strange thing is that people say something has increased (or decreased) or is increasing *without* specifying the time interval.

So inflation has increased compared to 2018-2019 and decreased compared to 2021-2022. The murder rate has increased compared to 2019, decreased compared to 2022 and decreased a lot compared to 1992.

Wage inequality has vastly increased compared to 1979 and markedly decreased compared to 2019.

One can accurately say that these things have gone up and have gond down. Many more than one choose the interval which pleases them without justifying the choice, indeed without mentioning it.

One example consists of me following Paul Krugman (as usual) he tries to understand why poll respondents say inflation has increased when economists agree it has decreased — weirdly he, Paul Krugman, says that both sides have a point. He notes that inflation over 36 month intervals has indeed increased. He admits that the standard choice of 12 months or his choice of 3 or 6 is arbitrary. Inflation is the rate of price increase — the word does not specify the time interval — the standard 12 month interval is arbitrary (and also automatic deseasonalizing). People freaked out when it was noted that monthly inflation had been zero from (I forget when to I forget when) — they didn’t realize that you don’t have to average monthly inflation over 12 months.

The 36 months could also be “how much have prices changed from back when they were normal”. Or how much higher are prices than the lowest prices I remember from the fairly recent past.

In any case something has to be pretty striking to make Paul Krugman himself note that both sides have a point when one side includes all mainstream economists and says things which help Democrats.

Other examples are many people (conservatives and leftists) claiming that real wages are falling (they are increasing now)

and that wage inequality is increasing (it is decreasing)

Also inequality is increasing (means has increased A Lot since 1979) when wage inquality has dramatically decreased since 2020 (cancelling about a quarter of the Reagan on increase).

I now lament my Twitter quarrels (my fault for being stupid enough to use Twitter) with leftists who conclude that I am a conservative who asserts that US capitalism is perfect, because I note that things which are too high are lower than a few years ago. Can’t avoid a relapse to complaining how people just can’t handle the idea that something is bad, not getting worse, and in fact, getting a little less bad too slowly.

Finally, there is the headline which scared me enough to make me write this post “The Explosive Rise of Single-Parent Families Is Not a Good Thing.” I was alarmed as I had thought that this explosive rise had peaked. I hadn’t read that the rise had restarted. Indeed I read “Despite a small rise in two-parent homes since 2012,” In fact, as I had thought before being informed by the New York Times, the “explosive rise” has ceased.

I have to add that the column goes on to leave language truth and logic in the dust “Despite a small rise in two-parent homes since 2012, the overall trend persists.” now trend persists is presented as consistent with “sign of change over time has reversed”. Here we have basically a flat out lie combined with the change vs level confusion.The true statement is ‘, the level remains much lower than it used to be” not “trend persists” if “trend” and “persists” have any meaning at all.

Here I think there is a problem with intellectual honesty — people feel free to chose the time interval when discussing how things have changed and choose the time interval such that the change supports their argument.

This is not OK.