As Abe Lincoln Once Said…

"Don't believe everything you read on the Internet"

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Pierre Lemieux examimes one of Pun Salad's favorite topics: The Logic of Apocryphal Quotes.

A document I saw on the web last week illustrates a thousand others like it. It pretends to celebrate the life and thought of Thomas Jefferson, and ends the litanies with several quotes from him. Except for one of these I knew and some that could be genuine, the rest were suspicious. I tested two, chosen more or less at random. One was a paraphrase, the other one was fake.

The underlying problem of this sort of enterprise seems to lie in an invalid syllogism: Statement P is true; Jefferson only made true statements; therefore, Jefferson could have made statement P. Granting the premises, the conclusion is valid but useless. The corollary “he said it” is clearly invalid.

This approach can be seen as a simple case of circular reasoning. Consider the claim “Statement P is true, therefore Jefferson could (or must) have said it.” But how does the speaker know that statement P is true? I suspect he would say that it is “because Jefferson said it.” In short, the quote comes from Jefferson because it is true, and it is true because it comes from Jefferson.

Later in the article, Lemieux cites the Cicero's oft-quoted, but totally anachronistic, opposition to government deficits, bureacratic high-handedness, foreign aid, and welfare dependence:

The budget should be balanced, the treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. The mobs should be forced to work and not depend on government for subsistence.

Also bogus, as noted in the above link: our Amazon Product du Jour's quote. (In fairness, Amazon has a lot of products featuring the saying that don't attribute it to Cicero. Or, for that matter, Lincoln, Jefferson, or Jeff Bezos.

I worry that a more accurate aphorism might be:

A room full of your old books will eventually be an unwanted burden for your heirs.

Reference: Russ Roberts' EconTalk episode: The Kids Don't Want It.

Also of note:

  • If you're having second thoughts about politics, congratulations. Because a lot of people aren't even having first thoughts. Kevin Corcoran examines Political Noncognitivism.

    In metaethics, noncognitivism is a metaethical theory that differs from realism, antirealism, and subjectivism. Moral realists believe that moral statements assert propositions, and these propositions can be objectively true or false – that is, true or false independent of the attitudes of any subject. Moral subjectivists believe moral statements assert propositions that are subjectively true or false – that is, the truth or falsity of the statement depends on the attitudes of a subject. Moral antirealists believe ethical statements assert propositions, but those propositions are always objectively false, because there are no moral facts or moral properties. Noncognitivists argue that moral statements are neither true nor false, because moral statements don’t have any propositional content. Noncognitivism generally comes in two flavors – expressivism, and prescriptivism. The former says that what seem like propositional statements about morality really just express attitudes. To the expressivist, when someone says “It’s wrong to murder” what they are really saying is “Boo for murder!”, which does not assert a proposition, and is neither true nor false. Prescriptivists says that what seem like moral propositions are actually just commands, so when you say “it’s wrong to murder” what you’re actually saying is “Don’t murder!”, which is also neither true nor false and does not assert a proposition.

    That said, let’s start with something readers of this blog likely already know – the general public is wildly misinformed about issues of basic economics. And as Bryan Caplan has pointed out, the errors the public makes in their economic beliefs are not random, but systemic – they tend to lean in a very anti-market direction. A recent paper examining the phenomenon of “lay economic reasoning” points out one striking example of the gap between what is commonly believed and reality – “The general public believed the average profit margin made by American corporations to be 46.7%, while the actual average that year was just 3%.” That is, a typical member of the public believes that profit margins for corporations are over fifteen times higher than they actually are. This is not a small error.

    Back in 2016, one of my Facebook friends from high school advocated bringing in "a million immigrants a year", as if this would be a massive expansion from the status quo. Unaware that (at that time) the US was already bringing in about a million immigrants per year.

  • Speaking of immigration… A WSJ news article says there's good news and … unexpected news: Immigration Wave Delivers Economic Windfall. But There’s a Catch..

    The influx of millions of unauthorized migrants in recent years has sparked a political firestorm that has paralyzed Congress and consumed election campaigns. But it also has a benefit: a bigger, faster-growing economy.

    The precise scale of that economic boost was laid out in the Congressional Budget Office’s latest long-term budget and economic outlook, released Feb. 7. It estimates the labor force will be larger by 1.7 million potential workers in 2024 and 5.2 million more—about 3%—in 2033 than the nonpartisan agency expected one year ago. Gross domestic product—the value of all goods and services produced in a year—should be 2.1% larger.

    Because those extra workers will be paying taxes and generating economic activity that also yields tax revenue, the federal deficit should be smaller at 6.4% of GDP in 2033, rather than 7.3% as projected last year.

    So what's the catch?

    But a bigger economy doesn’t necessarily equate to a better economy. The latest group of migrants differs from previous cohorts in ways that could put modest downward pressure on wages and productivity in the short term.

    Part of the "catch" is merely statistical: if you throw in a bunch of (relatively) low skill (hence low-earning) workers into your sample space, average earnings are going to drop, by definition.

    But there's also a non-statistical component: increasing the supply of low skill workers, assuming demand is constant, probably implies a drop in overall wages too.

    And this will mean the gripers about "inequality" will have … more to gripe about.

  • And speaking of inequality… Alex Brill of AEI looks at The Next Tax Fight: SALT.

    The SALT deduction offsets a portion of a taxpayer’s state and local taxes with a reduction in federal taxes. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) of 2017 contained a provision that imposed a $10,000 cap on this deduction; previously there had been no limit. With the cap in place and the top rate of 37 percent, the maximum benefit available to a taxpayer (single or married filing jointly) is $3,700. By broadening the tax base, this cap raised hundreds of billions of dollars of revenue over the budget window to offset the cost of other TCJA provisions, including the reduction in statutory tax rates.

    Now, H.R. 7160, the “SALT Marriage Penalty Elimination Act,” would raise the cap to $20,000 for married tax filers for the tax year 2023 if the taxpayers’ adjusted gross income is less than $500,000. In other words, this is another temporary and retroactive tax cut. What’s so bad about a tax cut for these nice taxpayers? Well, it’s both costly and bad economics. 

    According to my calculations using AEI’s open-source Tax-Calculator, this bill would cost $12.5 billion, of which 87.9 percent would go to 7.3 million married taxpayers with incomes above $176,100 and 9.9 percent would go to 1.7 million married taxpayers with incomes from $113,600 to $176,100. If extended permanently, the provision would reduce revenues by more than $150 billion relative to current policy over the next 10 years.

    Brill notes that even current law (according to the CBO) "s is effectively a federal subsidy to state and local governments; that means the federal government essentially pays a share of people’s state and local taxes." He suggests:

    I have an even better idea: rename the bill “SALT Marriage Penalty Elimination Act” and set the cap at $0 for singles and twice that for couples.

    A little math joke there.

  • When you've lost NBC News… They report President Dotard is making stuff up: Biden attacked Hur for asking him when Beau died. That didn't happen, sources say.

    President Joe Biden lashed out at Robert Hur last week over one particular line in the special counsel's report on his handling of classified documents: that Biden "did not remember, even within several years, when his son Beau died."

    “How in the hell dare he raise that?” Biden told reporters in an impromptu White House press conference. “Frankly, when I was asked the question, I thought to myself, it wasn’t any of their damn business.”

    But Hur never asked that question, according to two people familiar with Hur’s five-hour interview with the president over two days last October. It was the president, not Hur or his team, who first introduced Beau Biden’s death, they said.

    Well, releasing the Kraken transcript would clear that up, wouldn't it? The Hill reports:

    But it’s not entirely clear the White House wants the transcript out.

    That apparent reluctance kinda speaks for itself.