It may not be the biggest political story of the week just passed; but it is certainly the biggest of the yet very young 2024 campaign season. As today’s title indicates, I’m wondering if I’m overestimating the electorate.
I do not believe politicians of either party are being honest when they say that the American voters are smart. (You hear this every election and 2024’s will be no exception.) I will admit that personally I set a rather high bar for smart but I’m questioning basic competence.
The latest catalyst for this thinking is Paul Krugman’s New York Times opinion piece of last week entitled, Bidenomics and the Guys in the Bar. (If you haven’t already read it, it is worth looking up and reading.) In it he relates how data can misunderstood which of course opens the door to deception. The scary part is how weak many Americans are in selecting credible information sources (incredibly, millions still watch Fox News!), understanding basic math and understanding data.
In his piece Dr. Krugman starts with a somewhat funny story about ten guys in a bar, nine of whom make really big money. The relative pauper (and in his story it is only relative) goes to the bathroom and the income in the barroom rises dramatically until he zips up and returns.
This explains why so many believe that the economy is terrible despite the truth. I have long blamed Biden’s communications team. Perhaps I am underestimating how challenged (I’m trying to be polite) the receivers of the message (a/k/a, the electorate) are.
This presents a particular challenge to the Biden campaign’s team. Voters, many of whom you are trying to win over, don’t like to be told they are wrong.
Income is one of the areas of distortion. During the pandemic incomes actually shot up because the people at the bottom were the most likely to completely lose their jobs and we didn’t “average” them in. Now that they have returned to work (which leaves them much better off) they are a downward force on the average.
I caught a snippet of some idiot on a right wing TV network talking about a $90 thanksgiving turkey as an illustration of how bad of a job Biden was doing on the economy. (In the interest of brevity, I’ll dispense with many of the peripheral issues to this.) The reality is that turkey prices were down 5.6% in 2023 when compared to 2022.
Gasoline prices are down 30% from their peak in 2022. Last week I filled up (in metro Raleigh, NC) at $2.609 a gallon.
Too many wannabe economists don’t seem to understand leading and trailing indicators yet they freely express their (to me worthless and often harmful) opinions via various media. During the worst of the pandemic, and coming out of it, we were in a transitional economy not that unlike the post-World War II era. That will make for a lot of distortions and lagging indicators that should largely be ignored when evaluating performance and especially when trying to predict the future.
Plus, there is simply a lot of bad information out there. I get several emails a day from some people portraying themselves as financial gurus. Last week Wednesday I got one that told me that World War III was imminent and that the American dollar’s collapse would follow it, therefore I should get all my money (and I don’t have much) out of the currency. Of course, I didn’t read beyond the title and first line or so of the email. I shared the content with a book club friend of mine (a retired engineer and very smart man) that evening and we had a good chuckle.
I fear I may have overestimed the ability of a large portion of the American electorate to separate the “wheat from the chaff” and that scares me!
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