Ben Carson: Clueless or Dishonest?

Ben Carson: Clueless or Dishonest? January 29, 2015

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.


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