Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Saturday, March 6th, 2010.

Blinded by Data

Financial Crisis

Noted in passing: The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial titled The “Lost Wages of Youth” that claimed the recent increase in the minimum wage had caused a rise in unemployment in teenagers. It’s behind a subscription wall, but you can read their data at New Republic, courtesy of Jonathan Chait. WSJ even published a line graph showing increases in teen unemployment superimposed over a timeline of minimum wage increases, 2007-present.

Now, anyone who has not been in a coma during that time period might have noticed that unemployment is up all over, and not just among minimum-wage earners. So Chait and Brendan Nyhan published another chart that shows teen unemployment has actually gone up less than unemployment as a whole during this same time period.

In other words, although data show a rise in unemployment among teens, there is no reason to assume that minimum wage increases were a cause, never mind the cause, unless you also assume that the rise in minimum wage also caused the nation’s financial meltdown. As Brendan Nyhan put it, “a preliminary examination shows no obvious statistical evidence of a relationship between the minimum wage and the teen or black teen unemployment rates once we account for the upward trend in joblessness.”

Of course. One has to ask, how stupid do you have to be to not have seen the big, honking flaw in WSJ’s presentation? As stupid as this guy.

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Still Deranged and Confused

Wingnuts Being Wingnuts

Yesterday I wrote about the futility of pegging extremists as purely “Right” or “Left.” I postulate that, just as an absolute moderate is neither Left nor Right, the closer one gets to absolute extremism the more the ideologies of “Left” and “Right” tend to blur.

So, it shouldn’t be surprising that the political beliefs of people like John Patrick Bedell (Pentagon shooter) and Joseph Stack (flew plane into IRS building) don’t neatly align with any one partisan group.

I also think that sometimes extremism becomes its own point; people who are psychologically hellbent on being extremists are not necessarily all that discriminating about the cause to which their extremism is committed. Whatever loose nuts and bolts are rattling around in an extremist’s psyche no doubt push him/her in one direction or another. But if the Great Cause were to suddenly disappear overnight, an extremist will have latched on to another Great Cause by suppertime.

However, that doesn’t mean external stimuli don’t play a part in pushing a person predisposed to extremism into becoming more extreme, to the point of becoming dangerous. There’s a progression from apathetic to interested to opinionated to obsessively opinionated to hair-on-fire enraged/paranoid to self-and-other destruction. Inflammatory rhetoric is something like a positive feedback loop that makes the extremism “progress” from one stage to the next.

And, while they refuse to admit it, right-wing rhetoric in the U.S. tends to be much more violent and much more oriented toward eliminating the opposition than left-wing rhetoric tends to be. And while the most extreme left-wing rhetoric generally is limited to off-the-beaten-track websites and fliers handed out at the occasional mass protest, the inflammatory right-wing rhetoric gets spewed out by national radio and television networks.

That said, I think the meme — justified or not — that John Patrick Bedell was mostly a Right-wing extremist seems to be the meme that has taken hold in mass media narratives. This has infuriated the rightie blogosphere, which is sputtering that the guy is a registered Democrat, for pete’s sake, so he must be a leftie. But if it’s true he is a devotee of Ludwig von Mises, then he’s staunchly pro-capitalist, which more or less puts him on the Right, per our current partisan configurations.

I mean, last week the Freepers decided that Joe Stack was a leftie because he appeared to be (although I’m not sure it’s clear) anti-capitalist. So by that standard, someone who is pro-capitalist must be a rightie. But no; the Freep are not claiming Bedell, either. Go figure.

But the pattern we keep running into is that somebody is inflamed enough by rhetoric to kill or attempt to kill somebody else in the name of the Cause, and afterward the leaders of the Cause issue statements saying it is so unfortunate that this happened, but they are not to blame because they don’t condone violence. They think websites with “wanted” posters on them don’t count.

Partisan violence is rare in the U.S., compared to some other places (i.e., Afghanistan; Somalia). But it also seems to come more from the Right than the Left. According to a story in the New York Times,

Between 1990 and 2009, there were about 120 attacks in the United States by far-right extremists that led to deaths, according to a study funded by the Department of Homeland Security and the University of Maryland’s National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism. The number of incidents has hovered around three per year since 2002, down from an average of eight annually from 1990 to 2001 and a peak of 16 in 1999, according to the U.S. Extremist Crime Data Base.

About 45 percent of incidents were motivated by white supremacist, neo-Nazi, anti-immigrant or other racist ideologies, and 15 percent by extreme anti-government views, the top two categories, according to researchers Joshua D. Freilich of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at the City University of New York and Steven M. Chermak of Michigan State University.

I guess we have to admit to “eco-terrorism” as left-wing violence, but U.S. eco-extremists are more into destruction of property than homicide. I can think of some anti-military “protests” that resulted in minor property damage. Both sorts of “demonstrations” are stupid and counter-productive, IMO.

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