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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press Why Would the NYT Think that Politicians Debate Philosophy?

Why Would the NYT Think that Politicians Debate Philosophy?

Tuesday, 18 December 2012 05:22

For some reason the media routinely bring up philosophy in discussions of politicians' actions. This is utterly bizarre. There is no one in national office who got their position based on their philosophical treatises. They gained their positions by appealing to important political constituencies.

The NYT again committed this sin, telling readers in an article on the budget standoff that:

"The two sides are now dickering over price, not philosophical differences, and the numbers are very close."

Does anyone think that President Obama and Speaker Boehner had been debating points of philosophy in their discussions?

This piece also raises the possibility that the government will use different inflation indexes for different programs in order to accomplish political ends telling readers:

"The new inflation calculations, for instance, would probably not affect wounded veterans and disabled people on Supplemental Security Income."

This sort of political manipulation of government statistics is unusual in the United States. It would have been worth highlighting this part of the tentative agreement.


Comments (9)Add Comment
Manipulating Inflation
written by Robert Salzberg, December 18, 2012 5:02
The WaPo also reports that the President's plan manipulates inflation where it wants:

"Obama is seeking adjustments to blunt the impact on the very old and the infirm. His offer proposes to exclude disability payments, known as Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, and to provide a bump-up in benefits for retirees who reach age 85, Democrats said."

Your view?
written by foosion, December 18, 2012 5:10
What's your opinion of the reported deal? Are the outlines acceptable or would you wait until January?
you miss the allusion to GB Shaw....
written by pete, December 18, 2012 10:20
Dickering over price not philosophy alludes to GB Shaw asking the woman if she would sleep with him for $100, she says no, he says how about $1M, she says ok, but you ain't got it. He says that's Ok, we now know you are a whore and we are just negotiating price....

Here the sausage being ground together by Obama/Reed/Boehner is simply that....it is ugly, inefficient, doesn't correspond to anything any economist of any persuasion would like, and so they are just negotiating price...who will give and how much...Or spun a different way...Obama is the whore to the SEIU, Boehner the whore to the Chamber of Commerce....and so forth...
written by Jennifer, December 18, 2012 10:23
The breathlessness of the coverage from the major media on this "breakthrough" is really offensive. All of the talk has been on "will they get a deal" "how close are they" and while numbers that will be "saved" are mentioned what is NOT mentioned about is how this money is being taken out of pockets who need it most. It's nice they are going to manipulate it some so they can SAY it doesn't hurt the most vulnerable but if they meant half the stuff they campaigned on THEY WOULD NOT DO IT AT ALL.
no last minute deal...they will kick the can...extend all bush cuts...
written by pete, December 18, 2012 10:54
this is the silly negotiating again...the irresponsible bush cuts will likely be extended for all, not just the 98%.
Just a euphemism
written by John Q, December 18, 2012 2:12
When WaPo refers to "philosophy", they mean ideology. And yes, there are ideological differences. Pragmatism on Obama's side, delusional economic beliefs on Boehner's side.
written by mel in oregon, December 18, 2012 2:27
both obama & boehner are very ignorant & delusional. we know what a crackpot boehner is. but obama has some of the stupidest people in the world working for him. an ex-ample is bernanke as fed chief pretending quantative easing will eventually bring an economic recovery & a housing recovery for people with foreclosed homes & for the unemployed. look, the conservative program obama has will never bring about an economic recovery. just because boehner is almost as far to the right as the tea party doesn't mean obama is any good. fdr & jfk turn over in their graves every time the name barack obama is mentioned.
boehner is not tea partyish....
written by pete, December 18, 2012 8:37
And where are the calls for outlawing drones. Clearly Obama has authorized the killing of more 6 year olds in Afgahnistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia than died in Newtown.
2 or 3 philosophies...
written by pete, December 18, 2012 8:54
There is rampant pragmatism, and there is a tiny bit of libertarianism. Most in congress and Obama are pragmatists...essentially get reelected, or simply minimize the pain. Ron Paul is gone. Rand is iffy. There are a couple of socialists, perhaps, like dear old Bernie. I prefer the non-pragmatists like Paul and Sanders, since they are predictable. Pragmatists, like Claude Raines in Casablanca, blow with the wind.

Most people confuse the libertarian philosophy (quasi budhist....violence is to be shunned, individuals should be left free to find their own path, etc.) with some economic arguments. The two have some natural overlap, but not always. In particular, libertarianism is a "means" not an "end". There is no pareto efficiency goal or social welfare function. Simply the fact that there should be a very high bar to intruding on an individuals freedom. Economics has specified social goals, which might be incompatible with libertarian philosophy.

Pragmatism lowers this bar of intruding on individual liberty to the ground. Anything goes. Concentration camps, drone killings, torture, state owned enterprises, etc. All of this easily fits someones lunatic pragmatic goals, and can be justtified with some bizzare social welfare function. This of course includes redistribution among the wealthiest in the world, like within the U.S., while allowing the poorest in the world to die of starvation...amazing...but...anything goes...

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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.