Sunday, 31 July 2011

Tea Party Theology and Economics

There was an interesting article in today's WaPo about the Tea Party and the challenges that John Boehner faces in working with them. I found a short story at the end of the article telling. It describes a meeting at a chapel of three South Carolina Tea Party Republican congressmen:

At one point, Duncan said, Mulvaney picked up a Bible and read a verse from Proverbs 22: “The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.”
“It’s telling me to really be bold, to really fight for structural changes,” Duncan said.
“Mulvaney snapped the Bible closed. And I said, ‘Guys, that’s all I need to see,’ ” Duncan said. “Tim said, ‘Yep.’ And we stood up and walked out.”

I found it fascinating. It's one thing to be engaging economists from the Chicago school of economics in discussions over Laffer curves and the like, at least we're all presupposing relevance of data and empiricism. But how does one reason with and negotiate with men who reject context and economic theory and reality in favour of simplistic readings of 14 word aphorisms written a few thousand years ago. "That's all I need to see". Pretty much says it all. I guess maybe the Democrats need to just dig into the book of Proverbs to fight back on this one. Personally, this reminds me of Prov 26.9.

Tea Party and the Shock Doctrine

I was reading John Boehner's description of Tea Party objectives recently. Consider the following from an interview with John Boehner:

Speaking on conservative radio host Laura Ingraham’s show this morning, Boehner agreed that failing to raise the limit before the deadline would be devastating, and said the “chaos” plan won’t work when asked by Ingraham what’s motivating the recalcitrant Republicans:

BOEHNER: Well, first they want more. And my goodness, I want more too. And secondly, a lot of them believe that if we get past August the second and we have enough chaos, we could force the Senate and the White House to accept a balanced budget amendment. I’m not sure that that — I don’t think that that strategy works. Because I think the closer we get to August the second, frankly, the less leverage we have vis a vis our colleagues in the Senate and the White House.  (source)

The objective is nothing less than to deliberately cause "chaos" in order to manufacture a means of forcing their views on an American public held hostage. One Tweeter that I follow claimed that this is terrorism. Setting aside what should and shouldn't count as terrorism, it does strike me that the strategy that they've laid out clearly follows the shock doctrine as described by Naomi Klein. From the Wikipedia article, "The book argues that the free market policies of ... Milton Friedman have risen to prominence in some countries because they were pushed through while the citizens were reacting to disasters or upheavals. It is implied that some man-made crises, such as the Falklands war, may have been created with the intention of being able to push through these unpopular reforms in their wake." And what do we have here? A completely contrived crisis with the intention of pushing through unpopular reforms. The big difference here is that the perpetrators are telegraphing their passes, letting us know that they're quite intentionally creating a crisis, telling us why they're doing so and what they hope to thereby accomplish and yet we still seem largely unable to respond. In  TP democracy, it's not the will of the people that guides government policy, [poll: 19% want spending cuts only, (markup link)] it's the positions of those willing and able to break things and then hold the citizenry hostage.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Franken and Minnery and Focus on the Family

Much to the delight of many of us, Al Franken "eviscerated" a Focus on the Family representative, Tom Minnery, during the recent hearings on repealing the Defense of Marriage Act. Minnery's testimony included this line: "children living with their own married biological or adoptive mothers and fathers were generally healthier and happier". Franken points out that the study he used to justify these claims is making claims about nuclear families and the definition they use of "nuclear family" does not exclude gay married couples. To quote from the study, "A nuclear family consists of one or more children living with two parents who are married to one another and are each biological or adoptive parents to all children in the family."

But the study, is entitled "Family Structure and Children’s Health in the United States: Findings From the National Health Interview Survey, 2001–2007" and included data gathered in the US from 2001-2007, as the title suggests. In that time period, only one state in the US, Massachusetts, allowed gay marriage and that state only allowed it since 2004. So, while the strict definition of "nuclear family" as defined in the study may include any family that had married parents, in fact, the data collected really must almost entirely involve nuclear families that include a married mother and father. In that sense, Minnery's claims are  legitimate even if he wasn't explicitly quoting the study's definition of "nuclear family". Insofar as it makes claims about nuclear families, it's, in fact, making claims about families consisting of one or more children living with two opposite-sex parents who are married to one another and are each biological or adoptive parents to all children in the family, because, with a tiny exception, the only people who could be married during the time period under consideration were opposite sex couples.

Of course, Minnery wants us to conclude that same-sex marriage is undesirable based on the data and I doubt the data allows us to draw such an inference. In fact, there's good evidence to the contrary. See, for example, "US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study: Psychological Adjustment of 17-Year-Old Adolescents" which showed "According to their mothers’ reports, the 17-year-old daughters and sons of lesbian mothers were rated significantly higher in social, school/academic, and total competence and significantly lower in social problems, rule-breaking, aggressive, and externalizing problem behavior than their age-matched counterparts in Achenbach’s normative sample of American youth". So Minnery is almost certainly wrong about the undesirable family ramifications of same sex marriage. He may even be a bigot, I don't know. But I don't think it's fair, at all, to suggest that he completely misrepresented or lied about what one could conclude from the study in question.