Could Republican Anti-Expert Sentiment Crash the Debt Ceiling Talks?

By The Intersection | July 2, 2011 11:02 am

By Jon Winsor

A theme we’ve been exploring at the Intersection is the Republican tendency to reject or disregard expertise, particularly scientific expertise, and also settled facts among experts on US history.

National Journal recently had an interesting and unsettling article on GOP freshmen in congress and their attitudes toward what experts have been telling them about the debt ceiling:

“This is probably the most whip-proof Congress we’ve seen in our lifetime,” said Mike Franc, a former aide to then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, who is vice president of government studies at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “They don’t defer to credentials and expertise very easily. You have to earn it big time with them. Whipping almost by its nature requires a certain amount of trust and deference that someone really knows what they’re doing and is part of a team, and in that way you’re dealing with a different kind of Republican Party.”

…[T]roubling to anyone fearing a U.S. default is the growing chorus of Republican lawmakers and leaders who openly and defiantly question whether the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling needs to be raised at all.

One of those debt ceiling skeptics is a Republican presidential candidate presently polling in second place in Iowa:

Newly declared GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., echoed a popular view among some Republican lawmakers on CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday when she said that the August 2 deadline set by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is a lie.

Geithner holds no sway among House Republicans, whose contempt for the deadline only accelerated once Treasury, in May, moved the target date for default from July to August. That decision prompted a suspicion that the new early-August deadline is fully negotiable.

Ezra Klein has a rundown on what failure to raise the debt ceiling might look like. Josh Marshall discusses the polling numbers and the strange state of the debate around the issue, citing a Gallop poll that shows that 34% of the people polled don’t feel like they know enough about the issue to have an opinion. This actually seems sensible, considering that since 1962, the debt ceiling was raised 75 times without much fanfare–so the public hasn’t had to learn much about debt ceiling authorization. Let’s hope these people won’t need to learn…

Update: In yesterday’s column, David Brooks is onto this meme as well:

A normal Republican Party would seize the opportunity to put a long-term limit on the growth of government…

But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative…

The members of this movement do not accept the legitimacy of scholars and intellectual authorities. A thousand impartial experts may tell them that a default on the debt would have calamitous effects, far worse than raising tax revenues a bit. But the members of this movement refuse to believe it.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Politics, Uncategorized

Comments (46)

  1. Nullius in Verba

    The conservatives are saying that they’ll only vote for raising the debt ceiling if the budget is balanced with sufficient spending cuts to address the long-term problem. It’s not that they don’t know what a default might do, it’s that they intend to use the threat of it to force the issue.

    When you’re spending more than you’re earning because the wife has maxed out the credit card, is the answer to your problems to cut spending, or to just get the bank to raise your credit limit? This is the equivalent of refusing to raise the limit until your other half has done something about the excessive spending, or to force the issue by letting the credit card go overdrawn – so you can’t spend.

    Yes, it would be much better to reduce spending in a slower and more controlled fashion. But a default does solve the problem in its own unique way. The big question is, will the Democrats blink first?

  2. The Intersection

    This is an article that needed to be written. Though it seems we’ve strayed away from science, the discussion is deeply rooted in “the science of denial.” It’s high time the public’s disregard for experts becomes a household discussion. Recognizing the problem is half the battle.
    Jamie V.

  3. Minority Mandate

    It is a win-win for radical Republicans. Either they get draconian spending cuts to social programs, or they will force stop payment for the programs altogether.

    Bringing down the government, which has been identified as the enemy, can be joined with bringing down the US president, who has been identified likewise.

    What’s not to like if you are a wing-nut.

  4. Incredulous

    Well, the public’s disregard for experts is one way of putting it. The other way to see it is as the public’s growing resistance to argument from authority. Isn’t the whole point of universal education in a democratic society to create an educated populace who can make decisions based on knowledge instead of constantly deferring to a ruling class, whether it be hereditary or otherwise?

  5. RPF

    “Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” – Richard Feynman

    Although the experts appear to be right in this case, it’s always good to read only enough about a problem to learn what it is and then figure out the answer on your own.

  6. Michael Tobis

    Incredulous: “Isn’t the whole point of universal education in a democratic society to create an educated populace who can make decisions based on knowledge instead of constantly deferring to a ruling class, whether it be hereditary or otherwise?”

    Yes, it’s a very nice theory. In practice it doesn’t seem to be working.

    Expertise is advisory, not dispositive, of course. But an incapacity on the part of the society to recognize relevant expertise basically demonstrates the failure of the education to which you refer.

    The fact that the congress is risking the entire international financial system over the usual squabbles about Keynesian stimulus vs stupidly timed belt-tightening isn’t just a sign that some people in the congress are clueless about economics, though it is that. It is a sign that they and those who elected them basically have no appreciation of how the world works. In other words, the universal education wasn’t adequate.

    In a complex world, nobody can understand everything. We have to accept the substitute of a network of trusted experts with real expertise and deserved trust. It is hard to achieve under the best of circumstances. Most of our problems, I suspect, boil down to a failure of this process.

  7. Karen

    Hmmm…could some of these horrible anti-expert people actually be (oh my) SKEPTICS?

    Skepticism, a trait normally prized by scientists…
    Carl Sagan: “My parents were not scientists. they knew almost nothing about science. But in introducing me simultaneously to skepticism and to wonder, they taught me the two uneasily cohabiting modes of thought that are central to the scientific method.” “Nevertheless, he (Thomas Jefferson) believed that the habit of skepticism is an essential prerequisite for responsible citizenship.”

    I am not defending crazy Michelle Bachman, but do observe that sometimes the views expressed at this blog concerning politics lean away from a scientific, critical thinking perspective and toward more of a certain-direction party view. A little motivated reasoning going on?

    A good question is : what constitutes actual expertise and who are the right or true experts? There is an entire field of research on expertise development, and weighing some of those opening their mouths to weigh in in political decisions, a great deal is left to be desired. I certainly am a skeptic as to some appointed to authority especially in politics, and one political party or the other doesn’t have better authorities than the other. If I were a freshman in Congress, I would not be listening to the Nancy Pelosis and Harry Reids running the show there. Their expertise is not impressive and new “expertise” is needed. I welcome the skeptics!

  8. TomInAK

    “Experts” got this country into the mess that it’s in. Why should we blindly defer to them now?

    It seems to me that today’s “Expert” tends not to be a wise, knowledgeable, impartial authority on whatever topic is at hand but a credentialed partisan who is trotted out in an attempt to shut up the opposition via the argument from authority that Incredulous refers to.

  9. Not so sure

    How many of the authoritative experts foresaw the last economic collapse? Politics is orders of magnitude less clear than the “murky science.” Geithner is a political appointee. Haven’t the expertise of Secretaries of Defense and various generals been questioned on the conduct of war?. This episode may play out in a variety of ways which may make Aug. 2 irrelevant. (14th Amendment, for example.) But don’t take this comment as supportive of Bachmann, her politics, or either party’s playing chicken with the markets.

  10. Giantsquid

    @Karen “Hmmm…could some of these horrible anti-expert people actually be (oh my) SKEPTICS?”

    If their argument explains the data and is based in physical reality then yes they might be skeptics.


    ““Experts” got this country into the mess that it’s in. Why should we blindly defer to them now?”

    Who might these experts you’re referring to be? Bankers? Economists?

  11. Epicurus

    Good post.

    Skepticism is good but skepticism without willing to be informed is another thing entirely.

    The US has never defaulted on it’s debt. Do some reading on the history of the counties that have defaulted before (Greece is a good example). Their economic problems are far worse because they have a credibility problem in bond markets that can take centuries to live down. Counties that have never defaulted such as us and Japan are given a lot more breathing room. I truly fear for our country if we go down the default path.

  12. Joe

    What do the “experts” say about continuously spending more money than you take in?

  13. bad Jim

    Where were all these tight-fisted conservatives when George W. Bush and a Republican congress caused our enormous deficits with tax cuts, two wars and an unfunded Medicare drug benefit?

  14. Spiny Norman

    Some commentors here do not appear to understand that there are at least two kinds of skepticism: informed and critical skepticism, and skeptical dumbshittery. These people do not seem to understand that both Feynman and Sagan, both of whom they quote out of context, understood this distinction quite acutely.

    Isaac Asimov, as usual, got right to the point: “Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

  15. “When you’re spending more than you’re earning because the wife has maxed out the credit card, is the answer to your problems to cut spending, or to just get the bank to raise your credit limit?”

    Neither. The answer is to get more money from your fat-cat boss.

    The answer here is to raise taxes on the greedy s.o.b’s who have it.

  16. Drm

    This article is partisan Democratic Party politics masquerading as objectivity.

  17. Nullius in Verba


    Your boss says: “Why should I work for nothing to support your excessive spending? I quit. Now it’s your turn to support me.”

    So now you’ve got more expense and less income. How has that helped?


    I’d suggest it’s not even masquerading as anything else.

    Personal blogs can say and do what they want, but I thought this was supposed to be part of a general science magazine. Do the magazine’s owners know they’ve become a Democratic campaign outlet?

  18. Incredulous

    #14 Spiny Norman

    “Some commentors here do not appear to understand that there are at least two kinds of skepticism..”

    There is also a tendency to say if you don’t agree with me you must be stupid. It is really easy to get caught up in your own world view and believe that is the only valid viewpoint.

    # 15 Tony Lawrence

    Ok, that is fine. Take away the money from the “greedy rich people.” When you run out of those, where do you get more to keep up the spending at yet higher spending levels? They are a really small segment of the population. Does more money just magically appear? Feel free to point out where and when redistribution of wealth has worked.

  19. Incredulous

    #6. Michael Tobis

    “Yes, it’s a very nice theory. In practice it doesn’t seem to be working.”

    Well, it seems to be working better than the alternatives. In a democratic society, every decision will leave people feeling that they “lost” on some really important point and everyone else must be stupid not to agree.

    The real problem is we don’t have real representation. We have non-elected political party leadership making backroom decisions and selling us out regardless of the pretty campaign speeches and promises. Both sides of the aisle. If we elect someone that doesn’t play along, they are shut out of the process. The voters have a pretty good grasp on how the world works. They live in it. It is the leadership that lives in a fantasy world where they get to do as the like and screw everyone else. Much like the last big company I worked for was having layoffs and the biggest worry of the main office was remodeling the the CEO’s office wine cellar.

  20. Mike

    Or you could increase your income while reducing spending.

  21. Not so sure

    Discussing anti-intellectionism re: evolution, climate change is fine. Discussing anti-intellectionism re: a tactic in a political skirmish is absurd.

    Nullius, your last paragraph in #17 is, imho, below the belt.

    For the record, I support the President’s position on this issue.

  22. RPF


    I don’t think you’ve read much feynman. He was more of a, “you’re wrong and I’m right” person than he was a, “hmm possibly let’s discuss things” skeptical person. Anyway, Feynman hated politicians and often wondered if there was any integrity in Washington dc and concluded that there wasn’t.

    With political issues like this, there isn’t a cut and dry right or wrong. If it was that type of problem we’d have a mathematical formula or physical model to plug our ideas into that would produce the correct answer.

  23. Nullius in Verba


    Yes, you could.

    You could say the same thing to any of the world’s poor.


    My last paragraph wasn’t intended as an attack, but as a serious question. Are these effectively personal blogs run on the magazine’s website, or are they journalists writing articles for a science magazine in a blog format? Who “owns” them?

    Maybe the magazine’s owners support the Democratic campaign themselves and are happy to use the magazine as a platform. Maybe they’ve given the bloggers carte blanche, and don’t mind what they do. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with what they’re doing. But I find it surprising and somewhat incongruous. Science is generally perceived as being apolitical, and publishers are normally careful to keep brands separated. It changes the image of the magazine as a whole to be seen playing on one side in the political arena.

    But if they know and are happy with it, then that’s fine. I’ll adjust my expectations accordingly.

  24. Brian Too

    I’d say the Repubs (really, the Tea Party, but it’s difficult to tell the difference these days) would have a valid political argument if they said something like, “the majority of the deficit should be addressed through spending cuts”. I’d even go for a few rounds of extremist fisticuffs if the Dems were entrenched in a position of “the deficit should be 100% addressed through raising taxes”.

    However that’s not happening. The Dems have already conceded, right from the beginning, that cuts were necessary. No arm twisting needed.

    What the political debate in the US should be about, and is not, is how much tax increases, how much spending cuts, who gets tax increases, who takes the hit on the cuts.

    The political left is arguing from a reasonable, defensible standpoint. The political right is not.

    And saying that the Dems are in an equivalent argumentation mode because they are trying to protect entitlement programs, is a false equivalency. Since they have already conceded that cuts are necessary, persuading them to give something up on the entitlements is a lesser issue. They will soon see that other programs also need some protection. Entitlements will be on the table just like everything else, including defense, the environment, space and science, education and all the rest.

    There are only 2 ways to fix the budget imbalance, short of defaulting on the debt. The Repubs are trying to take one of those ways completely off the table and declare it untouchable, a sacred cow. That’s unreasonable.

    Right wing ideology has already given the wealthy everything they could possibly want. Corporations also enjoy a position of unique privilege, being both legal persons and corporations where no one is individually responsible for anything. No one points out that continually acceding to the wishes of the rich and powerful have not produced the economic gains that were promised. In fact the opposite has happened. Yet in the “right is wrong”, “black is white”, “down really means up” topsy-turvey world of right wing politics, we just haven’t done it enough! Give them more! More! More!

    In this spirit, I guess we should declare the financial meltdown of 2007-08 a huge success! Failure now means success!

    It’s a good way to build China though.

  25. Beltway Bill

    How bloody arrogant. Ohhhh teases. The so called experts have done a marvelous job the past 5 years. Please let us kiss your ring Master Jon.

  26. Gaythia

    @23 It ought to be obvious that the owners and management of Discover undoubtedly were well aware of Chris Mooney’s journalistic credentials, which include being the author of “The Republican War on Science”.

    @24 Addressing the budget deficit does not depend solely on spending cuts or taxes. There is a third way to fix the budget imbalance, which is to have, over the long term, an economy that is competitive with other economies in the world.

    That is why Jamie Vernon’s comment from a previous post: :”At what point do we admit that we have “sacrifice[d] our commitment to the research and innovation that will help create more jobs?”” is so crucial.

    As with an individual budget, going into debt for a higher future purpose is often an excellent idea.

    Unfortunately, it is largely the same anti-science forces that criticize science for an ivory tower attitude and lack of relevance to the rest of the world, that paradoxically are also critical of scientists who are multidisciplinary and concerned with controversial subjects with direct impact on the significant issues of our times.

    Identifying this as part of an overall “anti expert sentiment” seems reasonable to me.

  27. Nullius in Verba


    I posted this on the other article, but it’s relevant here too. First, define the problem as the tea partiers see it:

    The basic problem is that not even the rich have enough money to dig you out of this hole. Nor would they stand for it. They would move operations elsewhere, reducing revenue even further. Tax rises are not a sacred cow, they’re a non-solution.

  28. The Intersection

    What’s interesting about this story from the point of view of The Intersection is the troubled relationship between the freshman lawmakers and expertise. The Heritage [!] vice president Mike Franc points this out in a direct quote. Michele Bachmann calls Tim Geithner August 2 date “a lie.” Also in the story, a financial industry lobbyist says that freshman lawmakers may need a crisis for them to understand the stakes.

    The story strongly implies that this isn’t just a “tactic”, it’s about lawmakers’ real suspicions, which adds a twist to the negotiations (it’s not really brinkmanship when you suspect there’s no brink, or not much of one).

    And this isn’t a partisan issue. Here’s an op-ed by a recently retired Republican staffer who served on the House and Senate Budget Committees:

    –Jon Winsor

  29. JMW

    Part of the problem, too, is that the concept of the role of “expert” has changed. I will (once more) refer to John Ralston Saul’s “Voltaire’s Bastards”. These days, “experts” are people who provide solutions to problems.

    In reality, many of the problems facing us today are of the class called “wicked problems”, the kind with no good solution – merely a choice between which foot do we want to shoot ourselves in. But “experts” are only experts if they can find solutions, and so they propose things not knowing – and perhaps in some cases not caring – if they will work. They get money for providing solutions, then for explaining why the solution didn’t work. I’m looking primarily at the economics, political and social science experts when I say this.

    When experts learn to look at history, and say, “This was tried once before, and it didn’t work. So we don’t need to try it again;” when they learn to say, “I thought this would work, but I was wrong;” and, when they learn to say, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure”, then we can start trusting them again.

  30. Johnny

    “Expertise” is just another word for unelected liberal.

    “Expertise” is just a code word for “Academic” which means liberal 90% of the time.

    So what we have are liberals acting under the guise of “experts”, supported by their liberal media friends like “The Intersection”, demanding that Republicans acquiesce to their wishes.

    Call me when “expertise” is allowed to be a conservative republican from a libertarian think tank.

  31. Nullius in Verba


    “It ought to be obvious…”

    Sure. That was a book about science. I’ve hardly ever complained about Chris connecting politics to science so long as there was a strong science theme to the discussion – principles of science, funding of science, acceptance of science, whatever. But we’re starting to get stories that have no connection to science at all – and are evidently outside the domain of expertise of science journalists. If I was running a science magazine, I’d be questioning that – whether I agreed with the politics expressed or not.

    “There is a third way…”

    Yes. The way to a healthy economy is to make doing business quick, cheap, and easy. Contracts are respected and enforced, barriers to trade are removed, infrastructure provided, and the business environment is kept stable for the long term.

    Investment in activities that are likely to yield a higher return are a good idea. Banks and venture capitalists do that anyway. Businesses should – and do – invest in research. But they won’t invest in research with no pay-off.

    I’ve no objection to borrowing to develop profitable innovations, if that’s what you want to argue for. But that’s not what the Republican rebels are talking about.

    “At what point do we admit […] that will help create more jobs?”

    Creating jobs is not the aim. Creating wealth is; creating more goods and services, for less effort. (For everyone, not just the rich.) Jobs are the price you have to pay to get them.

    Borrowing and spending creates jobs, saving and paying of debts destroys them. Trade is based on the idea that what we do and produce for other people is exchanged for (and approximately balanced by) what other people do and produce for us. Money measures the temporary imbalance between the two; (i.e. it measures how much we have done for other people without having being repaid for it). If we save money, it means we are putting off the work others owe us until later – which means they can’t do it now. That’s unemployment. If we spend it instead, that means getting the work done now, creating jobs. Borrowing to spend creates jobs now at the expense of jobs in the future. Paying off debts instead of spending the money on goods and services destroys/cancels the jobs the earlier borrowing created. As the economists would say, unemployment is related to the marginal propensity to save.

    To put it simply, unemployment is going up because people are saving and paying off debts more. The government is borrowing to cancel the effect of that out. But it doesn’t solve the problem, it just puts it off. (And piles it up.)

  32. Gaythia

    @#31, There is much, much more to connecting societal cultural and economic advancement with business success than saying that “The way to a healthy economy is to make doing business quick, cheap, and easy.”

    With regards to science and innovation, I think that the key problem starts here: “Businesses should – and do – invest in research. But they won’t invest in research with no pay-off.”

    In scientific research, much work is done without knowing if there will be a payoff, or in even knowing the areas where a payoff might result.

    This is one of the reasons that government funded research is so crucial. Investments in areas that increase basic human knowledge in fields such as the sciences is important. Some of that research will have to be done without knowing if they will immediately yield a higher economic return. Some of it will turn out to have been a dead end. Sorting and prioritizing is necessary, but a measure based on immediate monetary payoff is too limiting.

    If we are interested in advancing our society, and other human societies, in ways that allow us all to live better lives, these sorts of expenditures are worth making.

  33. Incredulous

    #32 Gaythia

    “In scientific research, much work is done without knowing if there will be a payoff, or in even knowing the areas where a payoff might result.”

    There is very little basic basic research being funded. It is unfortunate, but that is the current state. If there is no real application (preferably with a lot of monetary potential, or military angle) or big headlines to be made around election time, it doesn’t get funded.

  34. Gaythia

    @32 I agree, the way I phrased that certainly doesn’t reflect the reality of grant writing.

    And I would support a return to greater funding in more basic areas. But now, even less esoteric public research is under threat.

    Focusing on “Cheap, quick and easy” is not going to yield good long term societal benefits.

  35. Spiny Norman

    @Incredulous: as a working scientist, I am not going to take seriously the opinions of people who have no training in science or mathematics on technical issues.

    Technical fields are technical, and understanding them may require years of study in math and specific technical fields. All ideas are NOT equal. Some ideas are more right (i.e., more consistent with the evidence, and with greater predictive value) than others. Some are blatantly wrong.

    I know more about molecular biology than 99.9% of the U.S. population, but I know next to nothing about brain surgery or about building a semiconductor fabrication plant. Should I, then, be offering my opinion about how to dissect your left ventricle, or which specific photolithographic techniques Intel should be implementing in the next $2 billion fab that Intel builds? No. No, I should not. No more than Sen. James Imhofe should be suggesting that he knows more about climate than people who have spent their entire careers thinking about little else.

  36. Spiny Norman

    Nullius in Verba: the string of platitudes in your post is reminiscent of the intonations of Hare Krishnas in airports. A string of platitudes that may have some connection to reality but, fundamentally, amount to free-floating religious moralization. It’s closer to astrology than to astronomy: both are rule-based systems of explanation, but one is falsifiable and the other is not.

  37. Gaythia

    @34 It seems to me that one of the problems with science communication in this country, is that many confuse the concept of “expert” and “elitist”. While it would be hoped that everyone would inform their opinion on various topics by an information dissemination process that respected and utilized the knowledge of experts; they still are entitled to have opinions. Indeed, in a democracy, it is necessary.

    I think that a certain amount of humility and, in most cases, respect for the idea that a person may be honestly attempting to interpret issues correctly, is needed if we are to be effective educators and communicators.

  38. Incredulous

    #35. Spiny Norman

    “Incredulous: as a working scientist, I am not going to take seriously the opinions of people who have no training in science or mathematics on technical issues”

    But you do have an opinion on the federal budget? You have training in that?

    I am not really being snide about it. We all have to give an opinion on things that are outside of our expertise. Just because you are a working scientist doesn’t mean you don’t have valid input on the budget. Scientist is your job. You are a citizen regardless of your occupation. As a citizen you are responsible to elect people to make the decisions on your behalf. But your opinion doesn’t outweigh everyone else any more than mine does.

    The people of Oklahoma have the right to elect any idiot that they choose. He is responsible to do whatever he thinks is right for his constituency. Thankfully he is only one man and there are 99 Senators , 435 or so Representatives, 1 President and 9 Supreme Court Justices to keep him in check. He can be censured. He can be voted out. Isn’t democracy grand? As much as it sucks at times, democracy still beats the alternatives.

  39. Incredulous

    #37 Gaythia

    But another problem is that when the scientists do go to speak to the elected officials, they have their hand out and are just one faction of many special interests promoting their own agenda with nothing to distinguish them from the others. Everyone else comes with requests that are important to them as well.

    There is also a long history of scientists making unfulfilled promises as to the benefits of their research. They are quick to say warm fuzzy things like the cure to X will be found in the rainforest and then it will be found in the oceans. I am not sure where it supposed to be now. It keeps moving. Instead of representing their research honestly, they hype it with all kinds of vague promises and dire consequences that are calculated to scare them into submission rather than reflect reality. Add to that, the history of all the programs that were enacted to improve science and mathematics education which failed and left us to slide farther and farther down the list of rankings. It is amazing that they are still in the budget at all.

  40. Nullius in Verba


    If we genuinely cannot distinguish research with a payoff from research without, then any research would be as good as any other, and it would be as valid to do those bits we think look promising as any other. Remember, by not doing some of the “cheap, quick, and easy” application-led research, you might just as easily miss out on a fundamental long-term advance as by not doing basic research. In practice, of course, we do have some idea of likely probabilities and pay-offs.

    And it’s still possible to overspend on it.


    As a working scientist, you ought to recognise Argument from Authority when you see it.

    Scientific discussion is based on evidence, and the only sense in which an expert is more worth listening to is that he or she is usually able to marshal the evidence better and explain it with more clarity.

    If you can construct a valid case for a particular photolithographic technique, then it doesn’t matter who you are. The argument speaks for itself. Conversely, it doesn’t matter if you are acknowledged to be the greatest expert in the world – if you can’t or won’t present the evidence, then your opinions are of no more worth than the man on the street.

    If, as you say, scientists in other fields don’t have the knowledge to judge climate science, then your opinion as a scientist (and those of all those scientific organisations declaring support for the global warming theory one of my friends here is so keen on posting) are of no more worth than the man on the street, either. The difference is that as scientists you and they ought to know that, and not accept or claim scientific authority on a subject they haven’t checked personally.

    In practice, of course, there’s enough overlap with fields like physics and statistics for experts in those fields to check, and some of the errors have been so bad that even an educated layman can understand.

    One such error is the persistent and pervasive use of Argument from Authority. It is easy enough for a layman to understand that it is a fallacy and opposed to the principles of science – and therefore anyone who uses it is no scientist.

  41. Joe S

    Ask any economist and they’ll explain to you that August 2nd most likely IS a phony date in terms of default. An actual default wouldn’t likely occur until sometime later, during the recess. In this case the president, seeing an emergency at hand, would likely raise it unilateraly citing constitutional authority to do so. There wouldn’t be congressional support to file suit against the executive for doing so, but it would draw serious attention to the issue. This is all little more than high-stakes political gamemanship. You’re engaging in the debate at a very base level when you start calling on people to blindly believe the words of a political actor like Geithner. Both sides refer to experts and both understand what’s at stake here. My advice to you- stick to what you know- history, economics, and politics clearly is not included in that.

  42. TTT

    It would be much better to reduce spending in a slower and more controlled fashion. But a default does solve the problem in its own unique way

    So would Obama invoking the 14th amendment to allow the government to continue paying all its debts regardless of Congressional input, thus sidestepping the frivolous ultimatums currently being screeched by the party of gaybashers, creationists, and tri-corn hats.

  43. Nullius in Verba


    Unlikely. It would be challenged in the courts, which would mean the US government would be paying its bills with money the recipients were unsure was even valid – not the way to encourage market stability. And it would put Obama in the position of engaging in risky high-profile Constitution-dodging manoeuvre for the explicit purpose of running up more debt in a move that is sure to drag out in the courts and hence the news cycle for years.

    From a political point of view, Obama’s best bet is to let it happen, after making what appears to be a sincere attempt to do a deal, and then try to blame the resulting economic chaos on the Republicans. Which might or might not work, depending on whether word gets out about why the Republican rebels are doing it. If Obama gets to pick and choose which bills get paid (it’s pretty much undefined who decides), and selects Republican districts for the resulting cuts, it could get quite nasty.

    It would be better for both sides to do a deal. It’s just a matter of negotiating the price, and talking up one’s own reputation for irrationality is often a good (and perfectly rational) negotiating strategy.

  44. TTT

    it would put Obama in the position of engaging in risky high-profile Constitution-dodging manoeuvre

    Funny you should mention that.

    If the gov’t does go into default, it won’t stop paying ALL debts. Just some of them. We’ll have to pay for some federal salaries, and something of the military, etc. Other programs will get triaged away.

    Except the only possible agent to choose which programs get paid and which don’t would be the executive branch–the President–and he very clearly does not have the Constitutional authority to do that. He has to obey every law passed by Congress–including the laws that established the Dept. of Education, the NEA, and every other program that he’d have to choose to allow to disintegrate in the event of default.

    Obama isn’t stupid enough to go down to impeachment like that, so I *hope* he invokes the 14th. What I grimly suspect is he will give the GOP everything they want and let them keep their insane country-ruining class warfare tax cuts too. But that’s why they call it “hope.”

  45. Sean McCorkle

    One such error is the persistent and pervasive use of Argument from Authority.

    Myself, I’ve noticed a lot of Fallacies of Hasty Generalization coming from the denier/skeptic side, and also Fallacies of Incomplete Evidence.

  46. The Intersection

    Joe S. in 41:

    I’m well aware that Geithner is a political actor. But he’s not the only person quoted in that article.

    See my update on David Brook’s July 4 column. Should Brooks stop writing about politics too?

    –Jon Winsor


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