18 June 2007


In an recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Steven Landsburg talks about "progress".

After arguing that real incomes have been growing for the past one-hundred years and that it will continue on into the future, he writes:

Against a backdrop like that, the temporary ups and downs of the business cycle seem fantastically minor. In the 1930s, we had a Great Depression, when income levels fell back to where they had been 20 years earlier. For a few years, people had to live the way their parents had always lived, and they found it almost intolerable.

Can you spot the sleazy argument here, the cherry-picking of data? He reduces the Great Depression to income levels falling back to levels seen 20 years earlier. And people found having to live like their parents 'almost intolerable'!

Gone are the bankruptcies, the lost houses, the lost farms, the unemployment, the food lines, the riots, and the suffering of real people faced with a world that was collapsing around them. Landsburg abstracts the blood out of this sorrowful period in US history by reducing it to a few statistics. For him, it was a moment when incomes levels fell back... that is, pay cheques weren't as big... The point is, there were no pay cheques for many people. There were no jobs. Income "fell back" to zero. Sure, average all of them together and you get his antiseptic paramoralism. But statistics only live on a page of paper. They don't have houses and children to feed.

You can almost hear him, "Sure, it may have been rough for a few years, but when it got better, everyone benefited! They were better off than they had been before!"

Maybe, the ones who didn't die fighting in the Second World War.

Are there people who actually believe this trash?

We've got more comments on this article on the Signs site. Feel free to add your own.

No comments: