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State of the Debate
George Pyle
George Pyle has been a newspaper writer in Kansas, Utah, Upstate New York, and now Utah again, for more than 30 years - most of it as an editorial writer and columnist. Now on his second tour of duty on The Salt Lake Tribune Editorial Board, he has also done a stretch as a talk radio host, published a book on the ongoing flaws of U.S.agricultural policy and, in 1998, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing. His most active bookmarks are Andrew Sullivan, Christopher Hitchens and Tina Brown. And he still thinks the Internet can be used for intelligent conversation and uplifting ideas.

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This weekend's column: Numbers that don't add up ...

Above: Some good news about Social Security.

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Numbers that don't add up - George Pyle, The Salt Lake Tribune

"If it can’t be expressed in figures, it is not science; it is opinion." — Robert Heinlein

Dan Liljenquist really had me going there for awhile.

The former Utah state senator, untiring but very long-shot challenger to Orrin Hatch’s lifetime appointment to the U.S. Senate, is like some other conservatives who have made a very positive impression on this unshaven old liberal. Like Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz and former Sen. Bob Bennett, when these guys stick to the numbers, they make a lot of sense.

Once they wander into the thickets of less empirical territory — unfounded faith in markets, fanciful adherence to supply-side economics, extreme taxophobia — they lose their way. It is, as the creator of "The Notebooks of Lazarus Long" noted, the difference between science and opinion. Or fact and fantasy. ...

... Where the wheels come off is when the numbers can take you no farther, either because you have to make value judgments or because some value judgments have been built in. For Liljenquist, Chaffetz and other Republicans, the brick wall is their dogmatic rejection of progressive tax rates that would better fund Social Security, for a long time into the future, and without the need to delay retirement past average life expectancy.

There are many other places where cold, hard numbers don’t support the Republican line. Stimulus works. Austerity doesn’t. Tax cuts and off-the-books wars are what turned Clinton’s surplus into Bush’s deficits. Obama’s wan stimulus has fueled neither inflation nor interest rates, but has reversed, slowly, employment trends.

Lower tax rates on the rich do not stimulate hiring. They stimulate hoarding. Unregulated banks do really stupid things, and threaten to take the rest of the world economy down with them.

It’s really sad when some of the most devoted policy crunchers out there avert their eyes when the real numbers don’t support the dogmas of the 1 percent.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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