David R. Henderson  

Alex Tabarrok on Obama

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Alex Tabarrok went to see President-elect Obama speak at George Mason University on Thursday and came away impressed. Why?

Here are Alex's words:

His [Obama's] goal is "not to create a slew of new government programs, but a foundation for long-term economic growth." Very good.

But that's bad reporting. What Alex should have said is, "Obama said his goal is 'not to create a slew of new government programs, but a foundation for long-term economic growth.'" See the difference? The way Alex put it is that Obama's goals are what Obama says they are. But Alex is not in Obama's head. He doesn't know what Obama's goals are. All he knows is what Obama says his goals are. One of things politicians are good at, and Obama seems particularly good at, is making people believe them. But centuries of experience and tens of thousands of data points should make us, and should have made Alex, skeptical.


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COMMENTS (15 to date)
Andrew M writes:

I see no reason to think Obama was lying, though I doubt that he has any idea how to promote long-term growth.

But even if he was lying, it's still somewhat encouraging that he felt he had to *say* that he wants to lay a foundation for long-term economic growth. Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, and all that.

David R. Henderson writes:

Andrew M,
Notice that I didn't say I think he's lying. What I wrote is that Alex should be skeptical, not credulous.
Best,
David

Jacob Oost writes:

I am truly disturbed by Obama's skills at mass hypnosis.

Grant writes:

Andrew, the best salesmen believe their own lies and half-truths. Our brains and our culture evolved to detect deceit, and deceit evolved as well. Whether or not a salesman or politician believes what he is saying is often besides the point.

If he doesn't honestly think he knows how to foster long term growth; if he wouldn't actually bet on his ability to do so, then he is a liar.

GabbyD writes:

Prof Henderson,

not lying? isn't that exactly what you said:

1) Obama said X
2) Obama may not mean/believe X, but he said it anyway

If obama didn't mean what he said, isn't this lying by ANY STANDARD?

i dont get the distinction you are trying to make here. either he is lying or he isn't. either he means what he says, or doesnt.

which is it? (in your opinion)

Jacob Oost writes:

Gabby, saying somebody *may not* be saying what their true intentions are is not the same thing as saying that they *definitely aren't* saying what their true intentions are. David was saying, and I agree, that when reporting what a politician says they are going to do, you should say "politician x says they are going to do a, b, and c," rather than saying "politician x will do a, b, and c." You are treating something as a certainty when it isn't.

Niccolo writes:

Andrew M.


Obama is a politician. Plenty of reason to beleive he's lying right there.

a student of economics writes:

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john Spencer writes:

I find it interesting that we mince and parse every word of Obama, and others before him, trying to have the words support our preconceived notions. Action will ultimately be the judge, unfortunately no one will allow any kind of success or step forward without turning it into a verbal disaster. Why, because we thrive on bad news, conflict, plight of others, fear. Just look at the media. It is full of overplayed, negative articles about other people and situations. Just today, "Chicago in crisis" because of a simple snow storm. It always snows in Chicago in the winter.

So, here is the outlook, doom and gloom. It is everywhere, and about almost everything. It is a mindset.

You watch, every single word President Obama says on Jan 20 will be snipped, analyzed, and bashed. If McCain were there, the same would be true.

GabbyD writes:

@Jacob Oost

thats not what prof henderson said tho...He said (jump in anytime prof!) that he believes that obama may not believe what he says:

"The way Alex put it is that Obama's goals are what Obama says they are. But Alex is not in Obama's head. He doesn't know what Obama's goals are. All he knows is what Obama says his goals are. One of things politicians are good at, and Obama seems particularly good at, is making people believe them"

We are never in other people's heads. When we don't believe what people are saying, we believe that they are lying. When we say things we don't believe in, we are lying.

isn't this just what the word 'lying' means?

for me, its ok to think another person is lying. its your freedom to do so, this is esp true for politicians.

David R. Henderson writes:

Dear Gabby,
Jacob Oost put it accurately. It's simply bad reporting to state what Obama's goals are. All we know is what Obama says his goals are. I tend to believe that Obama, because he is a politician, is not telling the truth, but that is not my point. My point is that you should report accurately.
Best,
David

AB writes:

My question is, when Obama says "foundation for long-term economic growth", is that just a clever way of justifying the creation of new government programs? There are, after all, people who believe that government programs can provide such a foundation.

Then again I grew up around Chicago, which might have left me with an overdeveloped mistrust of politicians.

Dirtyrottenvarmint writes:

People were excited about Hitler's economic policies as well.

Hitler planned to create full employment and a foundation for long-term economic growth in the Reich. Hitler planned to achieve this by investing government money in industry and putting government policy wonks in charge of guiding privately-run companies towards long-term growth. Big businesses overwhelmingly supported this plan and eagerly accepted the new government investment.

Oh, and Hitler was supported by the German people because he promised to restore Germany's international image and honor, while keeping her out of any new wars.

Troy Camplin writes:

ANd if Obama thinks making more government programs will create that foundation, then isn't Obama actually arguing that he will make more such programs?

I am happy he's been making noise about tax cuts, though. I hope he does what he says there. Unfortunately, the Democrats are also making noise about opposing those tax cuts. Apparently they don't want the economy to recover, or else they would want more money in the economy.

Bob Murphy writes:

Great post! I loved what you said your point was. :)

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