Inadvertent Great Books: Introduction to a Series

There’s a kind of book that I call an inadvertent great book: a book that had modest or narrow goals, and yet ends up teaching us something profound about the human experience. Somehow, inadvertently, the book turns out to be a useful metaphor for a much broader range of subjects, and offers insights that reveal something previously hidden in the real world.

Note that I won’t focus on books that are merely intentionally great — books that might exceed expectations but are in-line with what the author intended.  There are many of those, and it’s easy to find discussions about them.  I’m focusing on books that you might pass over again and again, thinking that the subject is irrelevant to your life or the topic uninteresting. The books I review are often intentionally great in their topic, but are nonetheless inadvertently great in general.

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No, 71% of Doctors are not concerned about Hillary Clinton’s health

It’s a shocker of a headline:


And it’s a lie.

First, it’s conducted by a group known as “American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS)”. Here’s part of their Wikipedia entry:

The association is generally recognized as politically conservative or ultra-conservative, and its publication advocates a range of scientifically discredited theories, including the belief that HIV does not cause AIDS, that being gay reduces life expectancy, that there is a link between abortion and breast cancer, and that there are links between autism and vaccinations.

In other words, charlatans.

And, their polling is just as specious.  Even they describe it as “an informal internet survey” — not scientific at all. Are the respondents really doctors? Did people submit multiple entries? All we know is that only people who are attracted to this nutball organization were the ones venting their spleen.  Assuming they know what a spleen is…

Do 20% of Trump’s supporters oppose the freeing of slaves after the civil war?

2/25 Update: The NY Times has improved, but not completely fixed, its erroneous claims. This post is updated.

Those Trump supporters.  It’s not bad enough they support The Donald, but 20% of them are pro-slavery! So says a recent article in the NY Times. In Measuring Donald Trump’s Supporters for Intolerance, Lynn Vavreck wrote on February 23rd, 2016:


It’s Horrible.  Reprehensible.  Staggering.

Oh, and it’s not true.  So not true that the Times quietly changed the text two days later, making it a bit less untrue:


But it’s still not true, in so many ways:

  • The poll does not ask about freeing the slaves after the civil war.  Let me repeat that. They did not ask people if they thought slavery should not have been abolished.  At least the NY Times fixed this claim.
  • The data on the emancipation proclamation does not show a 20% disapproval (OK, fine, 17% is close)
  • The question is not about disapproval of content of the emancipation proclamation per se, but of its implementation via executive order. It comes in the context of a series of questions about the constitutionality of executive orders. One could imagine that the 17% who opposed it might have approved of it via legislation or martial law. And certainly many have questioned the legality of many of Lincoln’s actions during the civil war: having concerns about the legality of it is not the same as supporting slavery.
  • The breakdown given in the cross-tabs  isis only for Republican likely primary voters, not Trump Supporters.

So what does the data actually show?  Here’s the table in question taken from the published results:

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The question asked is “Do you approve or disapprove of the executive order which… (A) Freed all slaves in the states that were in rebellion against the federal government;”.  And 17% of republicans said they disapproved of it.  That’s bad, without a doubt: 17% of republicans said they disapproved of the Emancipation Proclamation (unless it’s just because they felt it should have gone further and actually freed all the slaves, in which case, bravo for staying true to the party’s roots.  But i doubt that’s the case).

That’s ironic beyond words, since the GOP was the abolitionist party.  But consider the sequence of questions it’s part of:

  • “125. Approval of Executive Orders Do you approve or disapprove Presidents using executive orders?”  83% of likely republican primary voters (LRPV for short) somewhat or strongly disapproved.
  • “126. Constitutionality From what you know now, do you think executive orders are constitutional or unconstitutional?”  38% of  LRPV felt they were unconstitutional
  • “128. Disapprove of the executive order which… Do you approve or disapprove of the executive order which… (A) Freed all slaves in the states that were in rebellion against the federal government;” 17% of LRPV disapproved.  (Question 127 was Approve of, and 70% of LRPV approved of it).

The poll asks about executive orders in general, and then asks about a series of executive orders of which one is Lincoln’s, it’s not surprising that some republicans, having just said that all executive orders are unconstitutional (and the majority of republicans said they disapproved of), felt obligated to be consistent about Lincoln.   But this is the methodology of a biased push poll, and the answers are suspect because of that.  Conduct an unbiased poll that asks if Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was a good thing and get back to us?

The answers are very clearly not about the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which is what actually abolished slavery after the civil war.  We have no idea how many republicans, let alone Trump supporters, think that slaves should not have been freed after the civil war, but there is no reason to assume it’s anywhere near 20%.

Let’s be clear, I don’t like Donald Trump’s politics, but slandering his supporters is not a winning strategy for anyone.

The full poll data are here:

About that .7% increase in GDP the CBO predicts from repealing Obamacare

The CBO has a new report out predicting the effects of repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka Obamacare), and one item that has caught the eye of conservatives is the following passage:

According to the agencies’ estimates, from 2021 through 2025, a repeal would increase GDP by about 0.7 percent, on average—mostly by repealing provisions that, under current law, are expected to reduce the supply of labor.

What that means is that in each of those years, the CBO predicts the GDP will be higher  by 0.7% in 2025 than it would have been without the repeal of the ACA, all other things being equal.

I have heard it compared, on Fox News, to the 2.x% something growth rate the economy currently has, suggesting the views should compare those two numbers and conclude that a 0.7% increase is significant.  I have seen other people suggest that it means $1,400 extra in everyone’s pocket.  Both of those are wrong and misleading.

But the 0.7% number is not a growth rate, it is how bigger the economy will be in 2021 through 2025 due to repeal.

Let’s compare the effects of an economy that is .7% larger to the current 2.x% growth rate, as Fox News suggested.  Let’s say that the growth rate for the next years will be 2.5%.  That means, in 10 years, the economy will be 28% larger than it is now.  The 0.7% increase won’t even make it 29% larger than it is now.

Put another way,  an economy that is 0.7% larger in 10 years means that repealing Obamacare will increase the growth rate by 0.07% (0.0006978, actually) each year — an almost invisible change that will almost certainly be washed away by other events.

When other people suggest that it will put $1400 extra in each person’s pocket, they are making two huge mistakes.  The first is that they are confusing GDP and GDP per capita.  If the population grows by 10% and the GDP grows by 10%, my “share” of the GDP is unchanged.  That 0.7% of extra GDP will be split amongst a lot more people.  But let’s say family income $100K a year.  A 0.7% increase is $700.  You need a family income of $200K for the 0.7% increase to give you $1400 extra, gross.

The second mistake is that just because the GDP per capita grows, it does not mean that I, personally, will get it.  Average family income in the USA is unchanged over the past 15 years, so that extra 0.7% in the GDP will not find its way into your or my pockets (unless you’re a 1%er).

The reality is that 10 years is a long time, and a 0.7% change in GDP is too small of an effect to predict with any accuracy.  It’s essentially 0.  But what is not hard to predict with some accuracy is how many people on Medicaid will lose their insurance, or how many people will no longer be able to afford to buy insurance.  Those numbers are staggering.

Even if you want to repeal the ACA for other reasons, the reality is that there is no meaningful increase in the economy you can use as an argument to support doing it.