I often get into political debates in which one of the participants is ignorant of the basic facts. Worse yet, that ignorant person is usually me. Oh, and it's usually the other person too. We think we're entitled to our opinions, but we probably aren't.

Imagine an objective standard for deciding who is entitled to have an opinion on a topic. All we need is some sort of wiki (user created website) where the basic facts on any debate can be assembled in the form of an ever-evolving multiple choice test. When you find yourself in a debate with someone who hasn't yet passed the test on that topic with a score of 100%, you declare yourself the winner by virtue of being better informed, assuming you scored 100%.

If both of you have taken the test and scored less than 100%, you declare yourselves "not entitled to your opinions" and walk away. If each of you scored 100% then you are, by my definition, entitled to your opinion.

I suppose the website would need to send out emails to anyone who took the test whenever a new question was added or altered, just to keep everyone current. That means you would need to register when you took the test.

For example, let's say the topic is How to Reduce the National Debt. One question might look like this:

1.       Which of the following ways to reduce the U.S. national debt is impossible
          (as opposed to politically difficult,  painful, or highly unlikely):

a.       Increase taxes
b.      Cut spending
c.       Grow the economy
d.      Inflation

The answer is here, at least according to one expert.

Another question might be something along these lines:

2.       Supply Side economics holds that cutting taxes will stimulate enough extra growth in the economy to increase tax revenues by more than the amount you cut, thus reducing the deficit. According to 90% of economists polled (per some hypothetical survey), in the case of the current U.S. national debt, this approach has the following potential:

a.       Likely to succeed
b.      50-50 chance
c.       Unlikely to succeed
d.      Zero chance of succeeding

You can imagine a few dozen more questions on this topic that a person would need to understand before being entitled to his opinion. And if this dream ever comes true, I'd like to see opinion polls limited to only the people who scored 100% on the basic facts.

The second thing I'd like to see is the television media labeling pundits in real time. That sort of interview might go like this:

Media: How would you balance the budget?

Politician: I would cut spending.

Media: What part of the budget would you cut to balance the budget?

Politician: I would cut the pork.

Media: If you think that's enough, you're either a liar or an idiot. Can you clarify which one you are?

Politician: I am insulted by that question!

Media: If you understood the question that rules out "idiot."

That fantasy can't happen, obviously, because no one would agree to go on a show where the questions are tough and the outcome is humiliation. But I can dream.

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Dec 29, 2010
This article is as awesome as it is a test to ignorance. =) -a
Dec 23, 2010
Unfortunately, you failed your own test in writing up the description....the link suggests 90% of the debt is invulnerable to inflation, which suggests that 10% of it is possible to REDUCE, giving NO right answers.

Oh, and hopefully whoever spammed with clothing ads is actually a competitor of the sites mentioned, because those are on their track to being the most hated sites on the internet right now -- otherwise what little faith I have in human intelligence is very shaken.
-15 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 21, 2010
WHoops! And that the higher revenue is likely to be enough to cover the interest on the debt that will be issued in the short run. What's more, supply side economics will lead to higher growth - check the 3.2% Clinton growth rate in the first administration after tax hikes, but the 4.3% second term growth rate after the July 1997 tax cuts.

So, yeah, snarky but clearly Scott Adams doesn't know enough about the topic to discuss it.
Dec 21, 2010
Supply side economics actually makes the claim that lower tax rates will bring in more money than are PROJECTED BY STATIC ANALYSIS.
Dec 16, 2010
There's a serious flaw in your argument. You can prevent people from expressing an opinion but you can't prevent people from having an opinion (unless you consider brain surgery as an option).
Dec 16, 2010
ohh..intersting to read this

Dec 15, 2010
Hey Scott - if I order a $35 Coach handbag from the ad on your site, will it arrive before Christmas?
Dec 15, 2010
Dear Webgrunt,

I did not produce a solution in my post. I explained the means. The solution if you ask me and would also satisfy you follows:

What you suggest is true. Immediate withdrawal of Federal government from the economy would indeed be a very big recession. So, why not do it stepwise? I would plead ignorance of the exact mechanism of doing this but naively I would start with Agriculture subsidies to the well established owners (I have a soft spot for start-up businesses, you see). I may be wrong but you get the drift. In a "If I were the king..." scenario I would appoint some real economists with actual publications in peer review journals to debate upon where to start and how to finish. This would slow the economy momentarily without the economic collapse you believe, will take place.

Now I have explained the "solution", in briefest, naivest possible means I have a genuine question to ask of you: Why do you decide to oppose me, if you do at all? How long a man must remain trapped in a mere for the fear that if he moves too quickly he would sink? If he doesn't move at all he's going to sink anyway.

I will write this, which is extending my earlier post and also perhaps overlapping it. Read it if you will:

What we must realize:

All the major economic empires are based on slave labor. By slave labor I wish to indicate the exploitation of the Third World and China's self-exploitation. Any economy that uses men in this manner, simply pushes the responsibilities from their population to another. This leads to moral decay as benefits so obtained are disproportionate to efforts of the individuals (undeserved surplus) and lead to consumer fetishism. The only way we can come out of it is through mildly regulated free-market implemented throughout the world. The world needs to become flat or capitalism (which will survive none the less) will accumulate some more human misery.

Here I am specifically targeting the idea of welfare state: Unreliable but factual History shows that it leads to the following:

1) Reduction in the work force by age related issues combined with low birth rate

2)Overall tendency for becoming "entitled" to non-essential human rights (I consider basic food and shelter with basic education (high school) as essential).

3) Self-loathing and nihilism.

I can't explain why I say this here... it’s an article in itself. But if one thinks hard enough these are good reasons to loathe modern welfare.

What we need in effect is austerity measures... It is a necessity to understand that a self-sustainable utopia where everyone rides magical Keynesian unicorns is a myth. People WILL have to work and work hard. A future where everyone is an Artist or Philosopher and the magical economy feeds everyone is NOT a reality... (Even in communism BTW).... and there is NO alternative to mental and physical labor.

The current goal of all govt.s today is to postpone the dreaded measures as much as possible.. This is because all these governments are Populists and KNOW that unpopular measures will not get them elected. And even if these measures are put into effect they will be repulsed by the opposition to appear as benign. Hence in US for example, it does not matter if you are liberal or democrat, everyone is happy to give out bailout, make wars for oil and increase the welfare...

It is our responsibility to stop this madness and elect crazy sounding people who are actually making sense about welfare... Please use your brains against your hearts and elect the right people... Otherwise global freedom is at stake!

P.S. I support capitalism... However problems it has caused to humans its still preferable to communism... which is hell on earth.
Dec 15, 2010
I fail to realize how people miss this extremely important point:
America is based on the principle of minimum interference of government in private life. There happens to be reason for that basis. Government IS us and SHOULD be us. If it seems to move further and further from us (e.g. Industrial/corporate complex) then it’s time to cut it down to size.
Why won't we do it? Let's face the truth. We are complacent and ignorant of the ideology that should be behind a "good" government. We see it as a body that is alien and STILL believe that it exists to regulate how we spend.
It doesn't.
Taxes are a necessary EVIL to support the law-enforcement, national defense and life-saving utilities (Fire dept., water supply etc). We, as Individuals, should be the sole determinators of any spending beyond that. Welfare that supports people with crippling disorders or unemployment pay in times of national crises is in line with Humanity but to interfere with the pay of the unemployed to solely gain their votes is WRONG. WRONG. AND WRONG. This leads to reduction in drive to work and increases the feeling of being entitled to utilities that are inessential to survival. Government does NOT exist to help us out of problems. It exists to protect us from threats originating from outside the national borders, natural calamities or crime.
The smaller role it will play in regulating economies the lesser would big corporations would be interested in forming coalitions with them.
Also, since we are talking of taxation and recessions and deficits, it is almost agreed upon by all the economists in the world that deficit spending is bad, if it happens through and beyond an economic cycle. It is only happening in the US for the following reason:
The more you spend towards "welfare" or "social security" the more you convince people to vote for you again, because most of the money obtained through taxes (especially income tax) comes mostly from only 25% percent of the nation. The rest feel lesser brunt of the tax. Hence, they are happy to vote for those who spend. Populism in action! Vox populi, vox dei. Thus the two-party system is meaningless in this respect, because no matter who you vote for, they are going to spend on welfare.
There are legitimate reasons to why I abhor this: I hate bailouts. Believe it or not, bailout is government spending from tax receipts that come from everyone but go to only a few individuals. This in effect KILLS start up business in long term. Why? Because, it allows cartels and artificial monopolies that have become too fat to live to survive a bit longer. Anyone who reads Dilbert knows why they are dying. They are infected by the cancer of cronyism and nepotism along with incompetence. These fat institutions then eat up smaller, burgeoning institutions, thus in essence murdering the spirit of growth.
Recessions are a natural outcome of capitalistic economies. These are the times when the above mentioned fatties die and young blood pours into the veins of the market. Keynesian policies are thus extremely harmful to the process of revitalization as they sustain cancer that is killing us.

If you actually went through this long rant, I would like to thank you for listening/reading.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 15, 2010
Is allowing all this spam in the comments another one of Scott's experiments? Trying to see how much will be tolerated before everyone just gives up perhaps? If you need help Scott, pick some trusted users to be moderators and let them move the spam to a kill file.
+12 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 15, 2010
"The problem is, nobody can agree what the basic facts are. Supply Side economics. Global warming. Evolution. The moon landing. There's nothing that you can get 100% agreement on."

Yep, this is another problem the USA has created for itself - a society where everybody is expected to have an opinion and where everybody's opinion has to be listened to.

The truth isn't decided by facts any more, it's decided by whether or not the person with the opinion has good hair. This has always been true to some extent but these days nobody dares to tell the stupid people to STFU.
-13 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 14, 2010
1. Which of the following ways to reduce the U.S. national debt is impossible
(as opposed to politically difficult, painful, or highly unlikely):

Oops, I am afraid to say the answer is actually:

b) cut spending.

Cutting spending only helps to reduce the rate at which the national debt is increasing. Even if you cut new spending by 100% (impossible obviously), this would not reduce your EXISTING national debt. This applies equally to paying off your credit card debt. You can stop using the card and this is a great start, but you will have to do something else to pay off the balance!
Dec 14, 2010
Here is an interesting tidbit about government debt that I've uncovered related to the Federal Reserve bank. Some one please correct me if my understanding of this is incorrect. First of all, the federal reserve bank is NOT part of the government. It is a private entity/corporation owned by individuals, (many of which are not americans). When the federal reserve decides to "lend" the government money congress authorizes the government to take on this additional debt. Congress then authorizes the treasury to print this money that is being borrowed from the fed. So the federal reserve lends our government money that is created out of nothing. That's probably why no one is ever really serious about repaying this imaginary debt. However, the government does pay the federal reserve interest on this imaginary debt. What an ingenious scam these rascals have created for themselves. Thus, these imaginary dollars have just devalued the money you have in your pocket. Why? because your dollars have to compete with these new dollars that have just been introduced to the system. And for the most part, its the wealthy elite who have first dibs on these new dollars. ie. the military industrial complex, and other international corporations. And this is just the tip of the iceberg of how international banking interests have been raping the public for generations.
Dec 14, 2010
Cutting government spending has a down side. Many jobs and businesses rely on those funds.
Elimination of spending would mean companies and individuals would have to find alternative sources of revenue. Or there would be more unemployed.

One of the problems that impact citizens most directly is the costs of health care. It impacts many levels of government program spending. It is unfortunate that health care is a for profit business. It would be nice if the major HMO's were non-profit organizations. Health care should be for the people not for the profits!

There doesn't seem to be any real way to get one's arms around the fiscal situation. At every level of goverment, local, state and federal, we are over committed to activities and grossly underfunded. If a city like San Diego, where I live, is having financial difficulties, how can we expect much larger governmental bodies to exercise any kind of fiscal restraint. It is easy to make campaign pledges and promises, the real difficulty making any changes in the system.

We are overcommitted and under funded. We are blessed with so many financial 'experts' that just about any position can be proved valid. Consequently nothing changes, except the levels of red ink.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 14, 2010
risser hits it on the head -- and not only can nobody agree on the facts, who can we really trust to present them objectively? (And, remember, human knowledge has changed through the ages, and likely will continue to do so)

As far as the Social Security -- people paid in, their money got squandered, and now younger people like me are expected to pay in to a system we don't necessarily want, to cover the money that other people squandered, knowing full well we're going to get screwed in the long run. There is no "fair" answer, because fixing the wrong done to one group of people is going to commit an equal or greater wrong against another group.
Dec 14, 2010
increasing taxes enough to make any kind of headway in reducing the federal deficit would piss off so many people that revolution would be sure to follow...and let's remember that in 2010, a whole lot more people in this country have guns than they did in April 1775.

"because no one would agree to go on a show where the questions are tough and the outcome is humiliation." because you never saw a politician on "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire" (celebrity edition) or "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?"...both of which i'm pretty sure qualify under this category.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 14, 2010
The system would be great, specially if it is applied to people that makes the decisions. But maybe it should have lower level questions that guarantees that the debaters understand how things work as a system (in this case the economic system) and are able to see the implications (positive and negative) of applying one solution or another. The kind of questions that you put would block people that thinks outside the box and will let many subjects outside discussion.

Let me put an example. I agree that cutting taxes will never produce in the short term growth enough to replace the lost revenues of the cut, but I can argue two exceptions:

1. I live in a country where taxes are perceived as unfair and too big for the services we receive. Almost every small company sells goods outside the system to reduce their taxes over earnings but also obliterating the taxes on consumption so the goberment gets hit twice. A lower tax on earnings would make the risk bigger than the savings for the small companies which would then sell all it's goods inside the tax system. The taxes over earnings could be lower but it would be compensated by the tax on consumption. (There are studies about this).

2. The stament that a tax cut won't help the economy grow to a level enough to replace the goberment income is true but it didn't tell the other part of the story, how much can you tax without severly slowing the growth of the economy, and at what point in the future the curves are going to cross (One line refering of cuting taxes now and the other of stay as you are). In a nutshell to which level your tax level is affecting your growth?
Dec 14, 2010
webgrunt: "Supply side economics works fine as long as you're well above the center of the Laffer curve. If you're near the center or below, cutting taxes simply results in reduced revenue."

This assumes that the Laffer curve doesn't have local maxima. It's not at all clear that that is true.

(Side-note, Scott, please please please find a more automated way to remove the spam. There are patterns in them that shouldn't be too hard to recognize. They seem to be taking over.)
+9 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 14, 2010
Anyone like simple math? #2 is one of those rare finds in economics where the math is pretty straightforward.

Imagine a country where the only tax is a X% income tax. The government decides to collect 1$ less in taxes to stimulate the economy (this is stimulus so the loss in revenue is added to the debt and dealt with in the future). In order for that 1$ of tax cuts to stimulate the economy so much that it increases government revenue it would have to increase economic activity by 100/X. So if you are taxing the economy at 50% you would need every $1 in tax cuts to create 2 dollars of economic activity. When the government taxes those $2 at 50% it gets its 1$ back. As the tax rate drops to 33% each $1 of tax cuts now has to create $3 of economic activity to increase revenues.

So how much economic activity do tax cuts create? This differs by income group and type of tax. For income taxes fiscal multipliers (how many dollars of economic activity are created from $1 of stimulus) are normally estimated to be around 1 for lower income groups and 0.2 for the highest income groups. There is some uncertainty about these measures but they are probably ballpark close.

So when 90% of economists think there is zero chance that cutting taxes will create enough economic activity to increase revenues; they are saying that fiscal multipliers of 5 (taxes/GDP is around 19%) is impossible. The next 9% probably think it is very unlikely. The last 1%...
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Dec 14, 2010
I love you "cutting pork," point, it is hilarious. Anyone who wants to shrink the government needs to say if they are attacking the military, social security, or medicare, there is no where else to cut that matters.
And since Medicare and Social Security have dedicated tax revenues, if you attack government spending, you are either attacking the military, or saying we should cut the benefits people paid directly for, to shift money to something other than what the law said the money should be for...
Of course the government stole a lot of money from social security and medicare to pay military costs during the 80's and "aughts," so I guess cutting social security to make more social security taxes available for the military is "cutting the government..."
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