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IMHO, Nate Silver really, really, really, really—did I say, “really?”—needs to stick to his knitting. The guy hits it out of the park, time after time, when it comes to political statistical analysis. But, when it comes to economics — and based upon his post over at his five thirty-eight blog at the NY Times on Wednesday afternoon, “What Is Driving Growth in Government Spending?  — it would appear that this graduate of the University of Chicago and the London School of Economics is morphing into somewhat of a right-winger, at least when it comes to fiscal issues.

In that column, Silver fully embraces the writing and analysis of arch-conservative Christopher Chantrill. Arguably, Nate’s at the height of his career (to date) coming off of the 2012 election cycle, as far as his political prognostications are concerned. However, his most recent piece is, perhaps, his greatest example of fail.

Maybe it’s because Silver’s name lends so much credibility to Chantrill’s highly-partisan statistical claims? Maybe it’s because Nate continually uses the term, “entitlements,” when discussing what he refers to as government “insurance programs?” (You know…the “stuff” we taxpayers pay for, upfront.) I really don’t know.

But, what I do know is that folks like John Boehner must have big grins on their faces after reading the corporatist tripe that Mr. Silver’s just spewed published.

Here’s a taste of "Nate’s analysis…"

…if we can’t slow the rate of growth in health care expenditures, we’ll either have to raise taxes, cut other government spending or continue to run huge deficits. Or we could hope to grow our way out of the problem, but health care expenditures may be impeding private-sector growth as well.

And soon, we may cross an important symbolic threshold: when the overall majority of government expenditures are spent on, essentially, insurance programs…

Contrary to Chantrill’s propaganda, defense spending has not remained static in relation to GDP over the years. In fact, it’s grown significantly out of proportion to the rest of our government’s budget over time since 9/11 (see the Stiglitz and links, below). Part of the problem, statistically speaking, as far as this matter is concerned is that much of what we spend on “defense” is buried in the budgets of other spending categories (think: Homeland Security, State Department, and so forth).

Krugman tends to support a small portion of Silver’s posturing on defense spending costs; but the Nobel Prize-winner doesn’t blame our nation's budget nightmares on “social insurance” issues. I’ll refer to part of a reader’s comment in Silver’s post, as far as finding part of a solution to solving rising health care costs are concerned:

… In the end, it's going to come down to either forcing the health care industry to take a haircut or throwing people into the streets to sicken and die.
Here is the closest Silver comes to quantifying skyrocketing health care costs…
…Specifically, overall government spending on entitlement programs increased at a 4.8 annual rate in the 40 years between 1972 and 2011, net of inflation. Health care spending increased at 5.7 percent per year (and federal government spending on health care increased at a 6.7 percent pace). In contrast, the gross domestic product grew at a rate of 2.7 percent over this period, with tax revenues increasing at about the same rate as the G.D.P…
And, further diminishing the adverse impact of skyrocketing health care costs due to the sheer greed of the Big Pharma sector, Silver glosses over it in a one-liner copout, noting that it’s “…an immensely complicated problem…”
…The growth in health care expenditures, for better or worse, is not just a government problem: private spending on health care is increasing at broadly the same rates and is eating up a larger and larger share of economic activity. It’s an immensely complicated problem…
Mr. Silver should try reading a little more Stiglitz. It’ll do him some good. If he did that, he’d learn that our nation spends wantonly on seemingly-endless wars — many outlays for which that are NOT even included in line-item defense budgets – and, like health care, those escalating costs have been a major contributing factor to our nation’s budget woes over the past decade.

And, here’s, essentially blowing Silver’s parroting of Chantrill’s conservative claims out of the water, especially as far as Chantrill’s failure to acknowledge: a.) the adverse effect of recessions commencing in 2001 and late 2007, b.) the true cost of our government’s Wall Street bailout[s] (which even Fact-Check glosses over), and c.) defense spending increases are concerned…

What has produced these huge budget gaps? Tax cuts and wars have been big factors, as have recessions and expanded spending for health care in both Republican and Democratic administrations. For example:

•    Income-tax receipts are down sharply since the Bush tax cuts. In fiscal 2000, the year before the cuts began to take effect, receipts from the federal income tax on individuals amounted to 10.2 percent of GDP. That figure was down to 6.2 percent of GDP last year.

•    Spending for the military and for homeland security has risen substantially since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Spending for national defense rose from 3.0 percent of GDP that year to 4.8 percent last year.

•    Non-military spending also has continued to rise. President George W. Bush pushed through an expensive prescription drug benefit for seniors in 2003, the largest expansion of Medicare in its history. In the financial crisis of 2008, Bush also pushed for and signed for a massive banking bailout. In early 2009, President Barack Obama pushed for and signed an expensive stimulus measure, and after a long fight in Congress he signed another expensive plan, the health care law, in March of last year, aimed at expanding coverage for millions who lack health insurance.

•    Two economic recessions have had their effect. The recession of 2001 began in March and lasted until November. And the worst downturn since the Great Depression began in December 2007 and continued until June 2009. In both cases unemployment remained high for long after business activity began to recover, holding back both wages and the taxes that jobless workers would have paid on them.

Then, of course, there are the massive, but quite stealthy, “entitlements” that taxpayers have been providing to the 1%, since Reagan was first elected, in 1980. And, this trend has only escalated since our economy crashed and burned in 2008, with those Wall Street Masters of the Universe that are still, to this day, at its helm. Last I checked, we taxpayers were pissing away a good $200 billion per year  in needless tithes subsidies to the über wealthy—and that’s a really conservative estimate.

Mr. Silver, in his parroting of the rightwing economic memes of Mr. Chantrill, somehow overlooks these salient facts, attributing our nation’s budget deficits primarily to “government insurance programs.”

Yes, Nate’s correct when he notes that dramatically escalating health care costs are a major--perhaps even the greatest--contributor to our country’s economic woes. But when he blatantly ignores the combined realities of a corporatocratic government run by an out-of-control military-industrial complex, big pharma, and a financial sector gone wild, he begins to sound a lot more like an intransigent tea-partier than the prescient decipherer of statistics that has brought him to the level of prominence and public esteem that he enjoys, nowadays.

I could continue on here, but I won’t bother.  Wednesday, Mr. Silver went completely off the charts, and in the totally wrong direction.

You really need to read his post to get a sense of the tone of it; and, while you’re at it, click on the link to Chantrill’s website to gain some insight into the source of the statistics upon which Silver bases most of yesterday’s column.

What I will state in closing is that—going forward--I am going to make a promise to myself to be a lot more careful about assuming that folks that claimed they maintained some semblance of being Democrats in the past are still that, today.

And, when I read something that doesn’t pass the smell test, I will continue to check its sources before assuming it maintains some sane level of accuracy. I may only hope that others reading Nate’s column, yesterday, will do the same.

Originally posted to on Thu Jan 17, 2013 at 10:57 AM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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