Ben Carson: Clueless or Dishonest?

Ben Carson may be a very smart man — as one of the top neurosurgeons in the world, he has to be — but the more he talks and writes about political issues in the run up to his inevitable run for president, the more one has to wonder if he’s completely clueless about basic economics or if he’s just lying. From his latest column, responding to the State of the Union speech:

In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama was very upbeat and inspiring, particularly if a listener had no prior knowledge of his many speeches that were quite similar but bore no fruit. It almost appeared that he was living in an alternate universe that bore no resemblance to present-day America and the current global stage.

He boasted that the economy was doing very well and that unemployment had been cut in half since he took office. Perhaps someone should educate him about the labor force participation rate, which is at its lowest ebb in the last 36 years and reflects the number of people who are actually working versus the number of people who are eligible to work. The unemployment rate can easily be manipulated in whichever direction one desires by including and excluding certain groups of people.

That last sentence has no relationship at all with the previous ones. It’s true that the labor force participation rate is lower than it has been in decades, as baby boomers have begun retiring and some simply gave up looking for work during the recent recession, but that has nothing to do with manipulating the unemployment rate. It’s still measured the same way it has always been measured. This has become a Republican talking point lately. Rick Perry said the same thing a couple weeks ago, pointing to the labor force participation rate and saying that the unemployment rate “has been massaged, it’s been doctored.” PolitiFact rated that a Pants on Fire lie. It’s no less of a lie when Ben Carson repeats it.

He also boasted about the record-high stock market numbers. He failed to indicate that savings accounts and certain types of bonds, which used to be the mechanism whereby average Americans could enhance their net worth over a long period of time, were no longer appealing and that the stock market was one of the few places where gains could be made. While the stock market has always been particularly relevant to the wealthier members of society, the influx of these smaller investors is further driving the income gap.

This is a truly bizarre claim. It’s true that, with many years of very low interest rates, money has shifted away from traditional savings accounts and bonds to the stock market. The reason is obvious: You can earn more money by investing in stocks than in CDs or bonds with very low rates of return. But if, as he says, the “average American” has been doing this, thus earning more of a return on their money during a roaring stock market, how in the world does he think that is “further driving the income gap”? Wouldn’t the income gap be worse if the average American was earning less of a return on their investments in CDs, savings accounts and bonds?

Seriously, does he understand even the most basic economic ideas? Did he think through that last claim for even a second? If he actually believes it, he’s completely clueless. If he doesn’t, he’s just lying to score political points.

POPULAR AT PATHEOS Nonreligious
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • D. C. Sessions

    Do I have to choose?

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Look, you have to understand that whatever Obama does is wrong.

  • tbp1

    “Or?”

  • marcus

    “Ben Carson: Clueless or Dishonest?” Yes.

    “Seriously, does he understand even the most basic economic ideas?” Why bother?

    “Did he think through that last claim for even a second?” Nope.

    “If he actually believes it, he’s completely clueless.” Probably

    “If he doesn’t, he’s just lying to score political points.” Definitely

  • roggg

    I think neither. Deluded is (IMO) the correct answer. Very smart people can convince themselves of just about anything if it fits the narrative they favor.

  • jaybee

    It is all the fashion to invoke the Dunning-Kreuger effect, but is there a reverse of that? Forrest Gump knew he wasn’t a very smart man, but some people who are in fact very smart in general and in some particular discipline mistakenly believe it makes them smart about everything.

    Maybe it is just called ego.

  • dmcclean

    It almost appeared that he was living in an alternate universe that bore no resemblance to present-day America and the current global stage.

    It’s heartbreaking to watch them get so very close to making a breakthrough only to feel a shudder down their spine at the last second and turn away.

  • shallit

    You probably have to be extremely focused to be a top surgeon. You probably spend nearly all your time doing surgery, instructing others how to do it, and reading about the latest advances in surgical technique. This means there is little time to do much else, and probably learning the basics of American history, politics, and economics is not the highest priority. So when a surgeon speaks about anything other than surgery, it’s likely to be from a position of ignorance. Or Egnorance.

  • raven

    Unemployment claims drop to near 15-year low

    The number of Americans filing unemployment claims tumbled last week to its lowest level since April 2000. Tightening labor market »

    Speaking of unemployment, this was the headline this morning. Since everything is Obama’s fault, thanks Obama.

    It’s true that labor force participation is lower than it was. Part of that is because the Boombers are retiring.

    But whatever it is, the economy is still getting better. Recovering from the Bush Catastrophe. Corporate profits and the stock markets are settting records and that is good for most inasmuch as people rely on IRA’s and 401(K) plans more than pensions these days. Thanks Obama.

  • dingojack

    jaybee — “…but some people who are in fact very smart in general and in some particular discipline mistakenly believe it makes them smart about everything.”

    That is, as far as I understand it, the definition of the D-K effect.

    dmcclean — ‘A shiver, looking for a spine to run up” – Former Australian PM, P.J. Keating speaking of his opposition leader, Dr John Hewson — comes to mind.

    Not Brain Science, Mitchell & Webb.

    Dingo

  • Michael Heath

    I took a lot of economics in college though I didn’t major in it. One of the most surprising perspectives I learned is that economics is not intuitive – sorry Sarah Palin. In fact sound economic policy can often seem counter-intuitive.

    Another finding was how ignorant most business leaders are regarding economics. My observation while in collect was that econ is not popular with business majors; nor is stats and quantitative business methods – the three business-related topics most apt to develop critical thinking skills.

    Business leaders frequently conflate sound business practices as equivalent to sound economic policy. Mitt Romney’s a perfect example of an arrogant ignoramus when it comes to economics. I learned these people existed back in the late-1980s when I was taking under- and graduate level econ courses where my instructors required their students to read the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal. The opinion section of the WSJ is an ocean of ignorance, stupidity, and dishonesty, though an occasional trophy fish is published.

    I read the WSJ prior to starting college. Prior to taking any college econ I wrongly presumed, like I think most Americans do, that their opinion section is instead full of economically literate writers making compelling arguments. So from this perspective when I encounter an economic-related argument, I presume the Dunning-Krueger will be in effect. Except for those whose arguments that cite credible experts.

    So Ben Carson? His supposed intelligence has nothing to do with it. We should expect that he’s an idiot regarding economics simply because he’s not an economist and he’s a conservative Christian. That’s a sure-fire formula from my perspective. I presume the same even for politically conservative secular CEOs. So what chance does a doctor have to get econ right? I doubt the outlier population that contradicts my perspective amounts to many people. I don’t encounter them.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Carson’s bullshit is pretty much the same as the bullshit that’s been coming from his party since 1980. And it’s just another symptom of a much deeper problem, which is that both Republicans and libertarians are applying rigid religious thinking to economics, regardless of facts on the ground. These people have taken most of Saint Ronald’s talking points (“government is not the solution, government is the problem,” “tax cuts cause growth, taxes kill growth,” “regulation is always bad,” etc.) and made them into inviolable, incontrovertible beliefs that no one bothers to fact-check under any circumstances.

    And no, it’s not just the most laughable extremists doing this — it’s the so-called moderates too, and in fact the “moderates” were doing it first. The only difference between Republican “moderates” and extremists today, is how plausible they sound relative to each other while robotically spouting the same long-disproven bullshit over and over.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    So what chance does a doctor have to get econ right?

    Probably not much less chance than some actual economists have of getting econ right. About half of the most egregious horseshit I’ve heard about economics has come from economists. That’s probably because large chunks of this otherwise-useful profession have allowed themselves to be bought out by extreme right-wing ideologues and converted into propaganda arms, just like the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, etc. So a lot of the people who get into economics, do so as evangelistic propagandists, not as actual students doing honest observation of the real world.

  • D. C. Sessions

    Business leaders frequently conflate sound business practices as equivalent to sound economic policy.

    I disagree. They’re both zero-sum games where the best you can hope for is to maximize your team’s score, which is mathematically identical to minimizing the other team’s score. And it’s much easier to trash the other team than to improve your own.

  • Trebuchet

    Mehmet Oz is also a top surgeon. They’re both proof that being highly educated and skilled is no preventive of being a fool.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Raging Bee “…which is that both Republicans and libertarians are applying rigid religious thinking to economics, regardless of facts on the ground.”

    Sure, but once you condense the “facts on the ground” to “when I say or repeat these things, people give me kudos and money”…

  • raven

    Yeah, Supply Side Economics has failed just about every time it was tried. It is empirically wrong.

    Bush set the USA up for failure with his tax cuts. They lead to spirally deficits and the Great Recession. They are no longer in effect, having expired and the economy and USA is recovering.

    Brownback tried it in Kansas and wrecked the state. Huge deficits and more people are leaving Kansas than moving there.

    Paul Krugman gave the explanation. They know it doesn’t work. They just don’t care. Tax cuts favor the rich and if they wreck the state or country, it is not their problem.

    The GOP in congress is still going on about tax cuts and Supply Side Economics like it is some magic spell. It wouldn’t surprise me if they repeat Bush’s mistakes again when they can.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    … the more one has to wonder if he’s completely clueless about basic economics

    He’s a Republican. QED.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Perhaps someone should educate him about the labor force participation rate, which is at its lowest ebb in the last 36 years and reflects the number of people who are actually working versus the number of people who are eligible to work.

    Perhaps someone should educate Ben Carson about the effect Republican austerity efforts of the last several years are likely to have had on the employment situation.

  • raven

    I thought I’d see how the Kansas Disaster was doing.

    Officials: Kansas Faces $279M Budget Gap By July

    www. huffingtonpost .com/…/kansas-budget-gap_n_…

    Nov 12, 2014 – Sam Brownback and legislators to consider spending cuts. … cash reserves, the state still would have to close a 4.3 percent budget gap by July. … first revenue projections for the fiscal years beginning in July 2015 and July 2016. … the tax cuts championed by Brownback were wrecking the state’s finances.

    Governor says Kansas will continue moving to no income …

    www. kctv5.com/…/brownback-expected-to-outline-plan-for-closing-…

    Jan 15, 2015 – Updated: Jan 15, 2015 6:30 PM PST … Sam Brownback promised Thursday night that Kansas will keep moving to eliminate … repeatedly argued that the income tax cuts were reckless and have wrecked the state’s finances. ….

    Doing well. They have a 279 million USD budget problem and Brownback is going to double down. Eliminate the income tax. Obviously followed shortly by eliminating state government services because, they don’t have the tax revenue.

    Oh well, glad I don’t live there.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Raging Bee #13: That’s probably because large chunks of this otherwise-useful profession have allowed themselves to be bought out by extreme right-wing ideologues and converted into propaganda arms, just like the Cato Institute, Heritage Foundation, etc.

    Check out this recent exchange between Mankiw and Piketty

  • colnago80

    Re raven @ #20

    Yeah, but Brownback got himself reelected in 2014. What does that tell you about the mentality of the citizens of that state.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Thanks, Reginald, that snippet says a lot about the people who have made themselves such disgusting shit-stains on my mother’s profession.

  • rationalinks

    Raven @20, I do live in Kansas and I can tell you right now I’m honestly very very worried. I’m not just worried about myself, but for my kids. Brownstain and his ilk have put this state on a collision course with disaster and they are either too blink, too stupid, or too idealistic to see it. It’s almost like Brownstain is some Bond villain hell bent on destroying this state….and we are letting him! How a guy can bankrupt a state and then get reelected is beyond me. He should be in prison, not running the state.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    colnago: Brownback got “reelected” due to concerted voter-purges. Everyone expected him to lose, including most of his own supporters, because they all knew from day one how the people really felt about their policies.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    colnago80, to be fair, his opponent both went to a nudie bar fifeteen years ago and was a Democrat.

  • raven

    How a guy can bankrupt a state and then get reelected is beyond me.

    Beyond me too.

    California 7. How much of the General Fund Budget is spent on Education? (Or, on some other major program areas?)

    While it has changed over time and changes somewhat from year-to-year, about 52 to 55 percent of the State General Fund Budget is spent on K–12 and Higher Education.

    Over half the state budget in California is education. As well as roughly half my property tax. It’s OK with me. I don’t want to live in an illiterate society and some taxpayers paid for my education anyway.

    I’m guessing that Brownback et al. will take the money out of education. The nice thing about learning deprived kids is that the results won’t show up for a few decades.

    This really doesn’t save the taxpayers money in the long run. If the schools get too bad, parents send their kids to private schools. They aren’t cheap ca. $10,000 per year. Two kids and you are out a cool $20,000 per year. (From Google and average US family size of 2.) Ouch.

  • D. C. Sessions

    Bush set the USA up for failure with his tax cuts. They lead to spirally deficits and the Great Recession. They are no longer in effect, having expired and the economy and USA is recovering.

    raven, I hate to break the news but those tax cuts were made permanent in 2012.

  • raven

    Brownback might not be as dumb as he seems.

    Supply Side Economics is a Trojan Horse. Reagan tried it and failed.

    1. Cut taxes while claiming this won’t reduce revenue because…of magic.

    2. When deficits balloon, cut services.

    3. Problem solved. Of course you will eventually end up with poor schools, poor social services, poor safety net, and poor roads and infrastructure.

    4. While this favors the ultra-rich, why should they care? They will just spend more time in the Bahamas or Palm Springs.

  • raven

    @28

    Budget Deal Makes Permanent 82 Percent of President …

    http://www.cbpp.org/cms/?fa=view...

    Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

    by CC Huang – ‎Cited by 5 – ‎Related articles

    Jan 3, 2013 – all of the income, capital gains, and dividends tax cuts first enacted under President Bush;; the estate tax at the levels that it was at in 2012; and …

    OK. I knew they were temporary but didn’t realize most of them had been made permanent. Explains why we have been running deficits for the entire Obama years.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    raven “OK. I knew they were temporary but didn’t realize most of them had been made permanent. Explains why we have been running deficits for the entire Obama years.”

    I know! Typical, right? Big Government can’t even get Trickle Down right!

    But your all new Republican House and Senate will work hard to fix Obama’s mistakes, by cutting programs for the lazy (Unemployment Insurance) and The Poors (Welfare, Food Stamps), repealing Obamacare and what’s left of Dodd-Frank, forcing through Keystone XL and drilling in ANWR, and also by banning abortions after 20 weeks for some reason.

  • sc_770d159609e0f8deaa72849e3731a29d

    Ben Carson may be a very smart man — as one of the top neurosurgeons in the world, he has to be

    Does he? The skills required as a neurosurgeon are skills of observation and dexterity. The analytical skills which led people to suggest that operating on particular parts of the brain would have particular effects and which make up smartness as most of us would understand it are very different qualities. He may have them, but his surgical skills are not strong evidence that he does.

  • https://www.facebook.com/bnhknox BryanandHannh Knox

    It seems to me the person who wrote this blog is, clueless or dishonest.

    I believe he is genuinely concerned for this country.

    If your the ones thinking there is nothing wrong with where this country is headed you my friend are the delusional one.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    I’m with BryanandHannh Knox! Ben Carson is genuinely concerned with where this country is heading!

    Consider your counterargument refuted, Ed Brayton!

  • raven

    I believe he is genuinely concerned for this country.

    We aren’t real big fans of “belief”. We don’t like to believe. We like to find out and then, we know. Knowledge is far better than belief.

    If your the ones thinking there is nothing wrong with where this country is headed you my friend are the delusional one.

    1. No one said that!!! Your feeble attempt to build a strawperson was a complete failure.

    2. That is a main subject of FTB’s and Ed Brayton’s blog. You however, are part of the problem, not part of the solution. So is Ben Carson.

    We tried running the USA with a fundie xian idiot in George Bush and he wrecked the USA and killed two of my friends.