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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Speaker Boehner Can't Remember the 90s

Speaker Boehner Can't Remember the 90s

Thursday, 30 June 2011 04:20

That would seem to be the implication of his quote in an NYT article:

“The American people know tax hikes destroy jobs ... They also know Washington has been on a spending binge for many years, and they will only tolerate a debt-limit increase if we stop it.”

Actually, the economy was creating 3 million jobs a year in the late 90s, when the higher Clinton-era tax rates were in effect. This means that unless the memory of the American people is as bad as Mr. Boehner's memory, they could not know that "tax hikes destroy jobs," since it is not true. (It is impossible to know something that is not true.)

This error would seem to qualify as a "gaffe," like when then-Senator Obama referred to voters in Pennsylvania being bitter and clinging to guns and religion in response to bad economic times. It would have been appropriate for the NYT to press Mr. Boehner on whether he is really ignorant of the economy's job growth record in the 90s or whether he is deliberately saying things that he knows not to be true.

The "spending binge" presumably refers to the increases in spending that began when President Bush took office. (Spending as a share of GDP rose substantially during the Bush presidency. [Corrected - thanks Tom.]) Most of the increase in spending was on the military. If the Republicans were to support reversing this increase in military spending then they would likely enjoy wide bi-partisan support.

Comments (10)Add Comment
Supply and Demand is a Law, Not a Theory, Low-rated comment [Show]
Spending under Bush/Clinton
written by tom, June 30, 2011 7:42
Spending as a share of GDP fell substantially during which presidency?
written by Jay Z, June 30, 2011 8:10
I take exception to the comment of creating 3 million jobs per year. Yes, factually speaking the economy did create 3 million jobs per year. But beyond the headline number, how many of these jobs were sustainable? We had unsustainable demand as companies without business models were created overnight. Where are those jobs now? They were non-existent and tax policy did nothing to help create or hinder the number.
labor supply
written by bill, June 30, 2011 8:28
Jobs also increased after the Reagan tax increases. Reagan first cut taxes and later put in some increases when the deficit swelled.

Labor supply: labor supply is pretty untethered to tax rates. While one may wish to work less if taxes are higher, one may have to work MORE since for instance, your mortgage company or any other vendor of things you wish to consume don't lower their prices just because you have less money.
Or perhaps not
written by Matt, June 30, 2011 8:47
"It is impossible to know something that is not true."

I think modern conservatives provide a strong counterexample to that assertion - pretty much *everything* they "know" isn't true.
written by joe, June 30, 2011 10:18
"But beyond the headline number, how many of these jobs were sustainable?"

The economy lost about 2 million jobs after the dot com bubble. Seems that a vast majority of the jobs created were sustainable.

written by diesel, June 30, 2011 11:11
Now Dean. First you say that politicians aren't philosophers, and now you debunk Boehner's statements on philosophical grounds. "It is impossible to know something that isn't true."

"know to be true". Generally we say we know a statement to be true when there is a one to one correspondence between the elements of one statement which we assume to be factual with another whose factuality we can establish in the here and now. If I say "there is a horse in that barn" and I can walk over to the barn, open the door, touch the horse and say "there is a horse here in the barn, right now, right here", then the first statement is true. Elements in the first statement align with elements in the second.

Now when Boehner says "The American people know tax hikes destroy jobs....", you correctly point out the falsity of this claim by (imaginatively) walking to a place in history, placing your hand on data that reflect events and saying, "no, here is an instance in which tax hikes do not destroy jobs". "Knowing" describes this special one to one relation between these two statements, and Boehner cannot use that term to describe a relation between two statements that don't stand to one another in this fashion. All well and good (leaving aside more complex notions of causality).

Does it matter if Boehner does not know that there is no such necessary relationship between his statement and one we could produce? Or that the public doesn't know this? Or if Boehner knows that the public doesn't know? Or perhaps he knows that the public doesn't know and as his job as a politician is to influence, then he will do so by lying if necessary--this being your usual point. And what better way to lie than by assuring someone that they know something that is not true. This is lying raised to the second power. Lawyer or advertising-type nested lying.

But perhaps he's making a statement about the beliefs. He may truthfully say, "I know that the American public believe this to be true....." or "I believe that the American public believe this to be true...", but do you claim he can't say "I believe that the American public know this to be true...." because "it is impossible to know something that isn't true"? If belief is hypothetical--as yet undetermined, then "I believe Sherlock knows who the murderer is...." can be a true statement whether Sherlock's suspicions are correct or not. Does it make less sense to say "I believe that "the American people know that tax hikes destroy jobs""?

Heck if I know. Anyway, although Boehner may not be a philosopher (on the order of Rumsfeld the Wit), his statements imply philosophy and can be analyzed by more philosophically minded people--you for example.
written by john buell, June 30, 2011 1:44
It seems to me that the speaker's gaff with regard to taxes and unemployment is of a different form than Obama's remarks regarding some white working class citizens in Pennsylvania. Social theorists can provide some defense for the notion that economic insecurity and the pace of social change can have a bearing--though not strict one to one causality--on the salience of such social issues as guns.( William Connolly's Capitalism and Christianity, American Style has a provocative discussion of these connections, as do some of his posts on the blog The Contemporary Condition.) Obama's remarks were a gaff in the strategic sense that they could alienate some of the voters he was trying to attract.

What strikes me about the Obama gaff is that the press went after Obama--perhaps a reflection of their corporate orientation and a desire to drive working class voters away from him-- while leaving the Speaker alone.
The Lying Speaker
written by H-Bob, June 30, 2011 5:35
"Supply and Demand is a Law" apparently passed by the Fantasy-Land legislature !

"ignored the additional supply side output suppressed under Clinton with higher taxes that could have yielded more output and a higher living standard" ... that was shown by the Great Recession of 2008!

"It is also impossible not to know something that is true" -- yep, there are no creationists !

Regarding diesel's comments, he is inserting the term "believe(s)" into several different places where it was not said. Dean cannot refute all possible variations of what the Lying Speaker might have said. That actually is another double-standard utilized by the media: any accurate statement by a Democrat is false if different words are used (e.g., the phrase "I invented the Internet" was never uttered by Al Gore) but any inaccurate statement by a Republican is true if any possible variation of that statement might be true (e.g., adding "I believe" to Boehner's statement).
written by diesel, July 01, 2011 12:26
H-Bob. Diesel here. I agree with you.

Boehner said "The American people know.....blah blah" and Boehner is an American people, so what he's really saying is "We know....blah blah"
while the readers here know that what he says is not true. There's nothing about belief there, I was just rambling. Forget it. Too much coffee this morning.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.