Saturday, June 4, 2011

What Mattered This Week?

Gotta be the economic news -- a weak jobs report, and a variety of other indicators that the recovery may once again be stalling. Of course, it matters in all sorts of ways: immediately, to the people involved, and then also for policy (perhaps) and then for the 2012 elections. I'll go ahead and link to Nate Silver's discussion of economic effects on elections, and to Seth Masket's quick comment about it.

I hope you don't mind a bit of a digression [OK, it turned out to be a long and perhaps rambling digression; if you're just interested in the week, skip this paragraph]...generally, I agree with Silver that it is very important to stress the limitations of models, and anything about presidential elections is always working with limited data, but I'd also say that generally political scientists are well aware of those limitations and are pretty careful about claims they make. There's a process here, and it's worth noting it every once in a while. Usually, published research is very careful to include necessary caveats; then when it gets turned loose in public, outside of the academic discussion, the findings get highlighted and the cautions often start fading into the background. That's a natural and not necessarily a bad development; no one would read this blog or Seth or The Monkey Cage or Brendan Nyhan or Rule 22 (just to mention a few) if we dumped all the caveats into every post. For that matter, we probably would have to restrict ourselves to fewer topics if we only wrote about things that we knew well enough to carefully discuss all the nuance in the original research. For example, I've read several original research articles on forecasting elections, but it's been a while; I've also read some textbook-type summaries of the forecasting literature, and even contributed, quite a few years ago, to the editing of one of those; in other words, I'm reasonable familiar with the literature. But it's certainly not one that I contribute to, or need to think about for my own research. To really remember all the proper qualifications, I'd have to review the original articles, and if I had to do that every time I referred to a finding, well, no one is going to do that. So I try to be careful in my language, and I think most political scientists who blog do the same, but that's about it, and, for what it's worth, I think that's the right approach. Getting back to Silver -- and as I've said before, I'm definitely a Nate Silver fan, and not only because his PECOTA was generally very good to me -- on the one hand, then, I think it's healthy to have someone such as Silver point out the limitations of what winds up getting referred to as "Political Science Says." On the other hand, though, I'd urge Silver and others who want to really understand the literature to dive in pretty thoroughly. There's no reason to believe that political scientists have an exclusive monopoly on insights -- but there is reason to believe that published research is aware of the relevant literature, and that helps avoid re-inventing the wheel. Or, even worse, re-inventing a wrong path that turned out for non-obvious reasons not to lead to the invention of the wheel.

OK, back to the matter at hand. I didn't really get the sense that much happened on the debt limit negotiations this week, just spin and symbolic stuff, although the increasing threats about the government's credit rating is probably worth mentioning. I did notice this was a brutal week for coalition deaths in Afghanistan.

I suppose I should mention that some stuff happened that might affect future mayoral elections in New York.

But I'm still behind in my newspaper reading. What do you think mattered this week?


  1. The house votes on Libya. Not that they accomplished anything very substantive. The number of Democrats that voted with Kucinich was surprising, however, considering how often he's been a party of one or close to it. He got support not just from the Barbara Lees of the party but also some of the Barney Franks. (Michelle Bachmann as well, go figure).

    I'm undecided as to whether this was a good thing, though I'd be happy if Afghanistan funding gets voted down.

  2. I'd go with the brutal jobs report. A week ago, it was a lead pipe cinch that any deal over the debt ceiling was going to be budget cuts and (probably) modest tax increases.

    Then the jobs report hit. To paraphrase Monty Python's Piranha Bros. sketch: "Even the Washington Press Corps began to sit up and take notice."

    Now I'm not saying it will lead to a 3-1-1 budget reducing-tax raising-stimulus spending Grand Bargain, but it should at least raise the issue up to the level where GOP intransigence on not doing anything on jobs will be noticed for campaigning purposes.

  3. Anything but Weiner's weiner.

  4. I think the jobs report and what's happening in Europe especially with Greece. Why are Americans so myopic in regards the economy here in America? Isn't this a world wide problem that nobody is 'getting out alive" from?


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?