You can’t argue with someone who assumes things that haven’t happened yet as necessary truths.
The highlight of the debate for me: “So there’s no economist that can say Mitt Romney’s tax plan adds $5 trillion if I say I will not add to the deficit with my tax plan.”
This is, at first, an absurd claim. “No expert can say I’m wrong because I’m making the rules.”
But it’s also correct. No one can say that there are any consequences to a plan that hasn’t been employed yet except those that are necessary consequences of law or logic. However, there’s no tight system over which to assert law or logic. Just a few bullet points. That’s why platforms are never very detailed. Too much detail and you admit the possibility of asserting something that violates a hard rule of logic or a natural/economic/human law.
So, really, no economist can say Mitt Romney’s tax plan adds $5 trillion to the deficit. There’s not enough resolution.
This isn’t a Romney criticism. He just let slip the big debate/campaign secret: you can’t win or lose, much less be right or wrong. It’s nothing but a word game on top of a mess of details that will make all the seemingly impossible big points work out in the end.
Later, Romney emphasizes this point: “Now, you cite a study. There are six other studies that looked at the study you describe and say it’s completely wrong. I saw a study that came out today that said you’re going to raise taxes by $3,000 to $4,000 on middle-income families.”
What does he mean by this? All these studies say different things because they fix premises differently. They have to choose the details because the candidates don’t offer any: how many loopholes closed, how many extra Americans paying taxes, the cost of this vague promise, etc.
FactCheck.org tweeted, “Romney says he will pay for $5 trillion tax cut without raising deficit or raising taxes on middle class. Experts say that’s not possible.” But Romney could just respond, “My experts say that it is possible, but they are taking X,Y, and Z into account. They are using a different model.” Would he be wrong? How can we assess the fit of a model that isn’t fully detailed? To what laws/logic can we appeal in a world of hand-waving?
So what’s the lesson? Facts depend on an entire system–let’s call it the world–over which they can be said to have logical consistency. A fact by itself is just a number. And Romney made great arguments against the isolated facts, these debate numbers, these canards. This didn’t stop the candidates from throwing out numbers like they were looking for new primes. This didn’t stop the candidates from debating. But what’s the point? Big bird.
My friend Nathan adds, “Romney’s predicating this whole argument on something he can’t know … that ‘the pie’ will be bigger.” This is a particularly difficult argument for fact-checkers to attack, in part because he can’t be wrong. The only attack has to prove why the opposite can be known. You can use projections and more models to argue why that isn’t likely, but there’s always the chance that America invents a fusion power plant and finds an oil ocean under one of the states we don’t care about.
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