By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Fun with math

New York Times columnist David Brooks used phony numbers yesterday to raise questions about the proposed stimulus package. “A study by the Congressional Budget Office found that less than half of the money for infrastructure and discretionary programs would be spent by Oct. 1, 2010,” he wrote.

Trouble is, Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post learned that the study Brooks cites does not exist. (Via Talking Points Memo.)

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  1. O'Reilly

    I’m sure Bobo has a reasonable explanation with lots of truthiness sprinkled about in it. Assuming the worst, that he knowingly conjured it, would there be any consequences for his ethical breach?

  2. Joel Monka

    Funny thing is, no actual numbers are even needed to show that much of the stimulus spending won’t hit the streets for years. Just for example, take the infrastructure spending: bridges and buildings have to be conceptualized, approved, contractors selected, blusprints drawn- even as a crash program, it will be the better part of a year before anyone without an engineering or law degree is hired. The same is true of a number of the other programs.If you wanted FAST results, the government could borrow the same amount of money and use it to cover all government spending for the rest of the year- which would allow a complete moritorium on personal taxes for the rest of the year! If nobody had to pay any taxes for the rest of the year- and I mean not withholding it at the paycheck, either- we’d see a spending spree the likes of which have never been seen before. And right away, within months. Is that the BEST way? Probably not. But it would be fast.But no matter what plan you prefer, President Obama gets the final decision. He won; elections have consequences.

  3. Bill Baar

    Anyone who’s spent Federal funds on construction projects can tell you that part won’t happen this year.

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Funny how quickly we move away from the outrage, isn’t it? The Republicans put out phony numbers, and Brooks either didn’t realize it or didn’t care. Yet two out of the three comments here are along the lines of, Well, if there was a study, it would say what the non-existent study supposedly said. Reality, folks.

  5. Mark

    If anything, I think this strengthens the GOP’s argument.The ineffective portion of the stimulus is the new spending that has to be approved by Appropriations. So now Democrats are forced to admit that the most efficient part of the stimulus is going to be the tax cuts being looked at by Ways and Means.The Republicans are arguing that tax cuts should be a larger part of any stimulus bill because it will provide economic relief the quickest.The fact that the CBO only analyzed the Appropriations portion of the bill that includes billions worth of wasteful spending shows that the GOP is right: tax cuts are the way to go. Road projects are nightmarishly slow.

  6. mike_b1

    $750B divided by 300 million comes to 2.5 million. So why not just give every man, woman and child in the US $2.5M apiece, with the stipulation that it must be spent on retiring debt first. The remainder will be taxed at a 50% rate, so the government gets some of the money back right away. This cuts out the middlemen — the banks — and puts everyone except for the truly overleveraged back on solid financial ground. Then we can get back to the business of buying everything in sight again.

  7. zadig

    Dan, it may come down to the fact that we expect the Right to pull stuff out of their collective asses, but we expect the Left to be better than that. My outrage meter burned out long ago for the Right. I save my outrage for a group where I think it may have an effect, if it’s needed.And I love, love, love arguments like “The fact that Right Winger X lied only strengthens their point”. Thanks, Mark.

  8. Mark

    I think “The Left” throws around the term lied a little too much.The non-partisan CBO put out a report. The Republicans used that report to debate on a valid policy issue. “The Left” needs to put the conspiracy theories to rest. We’re not out to get you. If the CBO report wasn’t complete, it is hardly the fault of any “Right Winger”. We didn’t infiltrate the CBO in order to kill the stimulus. Do a complete report. It will inevitably show that infrastructure spending is an incredibly inefficient way to stimulate the economy short-term. It’s a valid policy disagreement – not a massive government coverup.

  9. Mike F

    Maybe with all the information available on the internet, and with so many sources of information of varying reliability, people just expect this type of thing. When reading things on the internet, you’re sort of forced to rely on your own b.s. detector and to act as your own fact-checker.That said, the Times is supposed to be one of the sources that you check less reputable sources against. If he doesn’t have a reasonable explanation for this he should be fired and even if it was just sloppiness there ought to be some sort of suspension involved.He won’t be fired, of course. If it’s egregious he’ll get some sort of admonishment and make some sort of apology, if not it will probably go away pretty quietly. And if it did become a big story his stock would probably rise (since his celebrity would), if not at the Times then somewhere (especially since he’s really selling his opinion and not those pesky things like facts and reality.)

  10. Mark

    I am not a huge David Brooks fan by any means… but I have to defend him here.The CBO issued a report. He used the information from an official government report. Everybody on the Hill, Democrats as well as Republicans, were using the same information.Saying that he should be fired for writing a column that cited a government report is absurd.

  11. Dan Kennedy

    Brooks shouldn’t be fired. That’s ridiculous. But what I wonder is whether he was looking at the actual report — which concerned a different, older stimulus plan — or just riffed off the AP story.I expect someone who only has to crank out 1,200 or so words a week to go to the source material and understand what he’s looking at.

  12. O-FISH-L

    Dan, if I understand correctly, didn’t David Brooks rely on the Washington Post for confirmation that the CBO report existed? And didn’t AP also say the report existed, long before Brooks did? And didn’t Obama’s people constructively acknowledge that the report existed by arguing that it was taken out of context? How can something be taken out of context if it doesn’t exist?With the tap-dancing and contortions by some here in defending C-BS on the “fake but true” documents in Rathergate, the attack on a quasi-conservative columnist simply for relying on info published by two liberal news outlets (AP, WaPo) is hysterical.

  13. R. Scott Buchanan

    Can’t anybody do math anymore? $750 billion divided by 300 million people would be $2500/person, not $2.5m/person.Given the fact that everyone here let such a basic and obviously false (to anyone with basic numerical fluency) claim pass without challenge, I wonder what other insane claims we’ve let pass.

  14. O-FISH-L

    R. Scott, it’s called Oba-math, and as of Tuesday it’s taught in 57 states, with one to go. How dare you challenge it!

  15. O'Reilly

    Idiots love conflating two people, as FISH does with mike_b1 and Obama; and guilt by association as Republicans did with Obama, Ayers, Muslims, terrorists, Arabs and Wright. You got nothing.

  16. O'Reilly

    Funny how quickly we move away from the outrage, isn’t it? The Republicans put out phony numbers, and Brooks either didn’t realize it or didn’t care. Yet two out of the three comments here are along the lines of, Well, if there was a study…You say “outrage” I would say “reasonable expectation of credibility and accountability.”Maybe we’re conditioned to expect no accountability whatsoever from Republicans and their mighty wurlitzer. Fox started in on Obama on Inauguration Day with sophistry, slime throwing and taking him down a peg. What consequence do you think Bobo should suffer for his laziness? Isn’t he accountable for the facts he asserts? He could rehabilitate himself by writing a column on the the source of the false CBO that everyone is citing include John Boehner in his weekly Republican radio address rebuttal.

  17. Ani

    Maybe someone could just write the column Brooks should have written.

  18. NewsHound

    Obviously our politicians should be straight forward with the simple truth and the media should report and comment accurately without distortion.However, so much of this is twaddle right from the source and soon, like every other national problem and debate, becomes useless information.As for the economy, the cure for a recession is a recession. This one is pretty deep and could be very long lasting. What is to say that the world could not be in an economic recession for a century? We hope not. The sooner we are out of this mess and back to being productive the better.Unfortunately, many of our major and once thought of as strong companies were operating with fake earnings. Beyond that, corporate America was being governed by legalized embezzlement with little or no control from the investing public.But fixing the recession by taking money of of the very same economy we are putting it back into does nothing except take more out in the end due to frictional cost.In simplistic terms, for example, a small tribe in New Guinea barters pigs for its currency. If the tribe is going through an economic recession its tiny government borrows pigs from tribe members and gives the same pigs back out again as an economic reform, only for the debt to be paid back at some later time, and thus return the same pig back again for the government’s payment of debt.Few saw this economic failure coming, and likewise we wonder if anyone knows how to get out of it or when it will happen. Why would anyone who couldn’t see this coming know so much now? It seems when we read the newspapers or watch shows like CNBC everyone that is speaking is just repeating what they’ve read or heard from others.

  19. mike_b1

    Ah, that’s what happens when I do the math in my head instead of with a calculator.I guess I have something in common with Albert Laffer after all.

  20. NewsHound

    Mike, it was only the zeros, and mistakes with zeros is not uncommon. It seems everything has too many zeros these days.

  21. O-FISH-L

    News Hound, at least while they are alive, the pigs are something tangible and valuable either on their own or as currency, kind of like when the dollar was backed by gold. I think an equal or bigger problem is the constant whirl of the fed printing press, churning out dollars less valuable with each run and potentially soon to be worthless. If anyone thinks these are bad times, wait until the dollar loses its status as the default world currency.Hound, I agree with you, let recession cure the recession.

  22. O-FISH-L

    $2500 / $2,500,000. What’s $2,497,500 among friends?

  23. NewsHound

    O-FISH – so sadly that the money being used for recovery by lowering income taxes on the so-called middle class will be paid back with the tax increase by printing more money.Printing money to compensate for a fake GDP is such an illusion to sending money back to the consumer to stimulate the economy. Too much smoke, too many mirrors.

  24. mike_b1

    O-Fish, nothing, apparently. Just like the tax rebate Bush implemented that gave $600 to lots of people who then were told to go spend it even though they were already living well beyond their means, and which will end up costing the American taxpayer tens of billions in the long run.

  25. NewsHound

    Mike – I agree with your observation. You can not take something from the very same economy and put it back into it and gain wealth. Only EFFECTIVE productivity in excess of conservative consumption gains wealth. For example, one member of the family can not borrow money and give it to another spouse to spend and thus conclude that the family wealth has been increased or improved, no matter what the purchase. If it is used frivolously or in useless consumption without future value, then wealth is actually decreased.

  26. Rick in Duxbury

    Mike, if you think that $600 bucks was scandalous, I heard Bush also forced mortgages on people who couldn’t or wouldn’t make the payments. Good thing Barney Frank was there to protect us from him!

  27. mike_b1

    Sure, Rick. A tiny gay man from a Boston suburb was responsible for bringing down the entire economy. All this after the Cheney Administration made the total destruction of Fannie and Freddie its second highest objective, after waging war on Iraq. (Yes, Cheney Administration. Bush thinks Fannie Mae is the place where you can get “those delicious chocolates.”)

  28. NewsHound

    There is little now to distinguish Republicans from Democrats. they are just hood ornaments of all design and appearance, pledged and well paid to look out for us and our country. They all failed us. The not so tiny gay man from Boston was pretty much insulated from this with a guaranteed salary and future retirement from the USA with his savings in Municipal and State bonds, tax free of course. Yes, tax free! And, I thought he liked taxes. It depends who is paying and who is receiving. Nevertheless, he is smart and hardworking. But, not smart enough.

  29. Nial Liszt

    A non-partisan Gang of 25 from Dan’s employer.

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