Action by Anecdote

April 2, 2018

Action by Anecdote

anecdote action

Our Fearless Leader tweets … still! For a few days last week we enjoyed quietude, or what passes for calmness in Epochus Trumpus. (Dramatic? For sure, but we’re 437 days into the Trump Administration, and if you’re not feeling like it’s been an Age you’re not paying attention!)


The Twitter blasts returned on Easter morning, with sound and fury signifying nothing. The subject? Immigration. DACA. Dumb immigration laws. Blah, Blah, blah! The prompt? Huge Immigrant Swarm Prompts Trump Tweets on DACA.*

OMG, a huge swarm. Traveling through Mexico as a caravan. How many people? 1000. Wait. What? More than 1000 people? OK. Whatever will we do about the swarm of more than 1000 people?

Here are statistics from the federal government concerning border apprehensions. Roughly 40,000 every month for the past five years. How many cross successfully? Hard to know, but the number who overstay their visas far exceeds the number who cross illegally. Still, our man focuses on 1000—oops, more than 1000—traipsing through Mexico who, presumably, DJT thinks will waltz across the border unnoticed, so they can bring drugs and crime and rape women … except for those who, he assumes, are good people.

More than 1000 people. With 11,000,000 people estimated to be here illegally, 1000 represents a share of 11,000,000 which my Excel spreadsheet express as 9.09091E-05. A really, really, really small number … and one I cannot translate into English.

Does any of this pass any test for good policy? Uh, no! Just “an anecdote here, an anecdote there, Uncle Donald had a … !”

Metals and Minerals

Shifting, there’s steel, aluminum, and coal. Tariffs and a trade war to reinvigorate our domestic steel and aluminum industries. Deregulating dirty coal to bring jobs back to West Virginia.

On steel and aluminum, a March 7 report mentioned tariffs being responsible for 800 steel and aluminum jobs. Golly gee: 800 new jobs!

With coal, WV coal jobs increased by 1249 in 2017. The 1249 jobs represented an 11% increase which means—wait, wait, I can get to a number which means something—about 12,200 people work in coal mines in West Virginia.

So we’re making trade and environmental policy based on a few thousand jobs. How many? Let’s round up and say 25,000 … and to really make a point, let’s quintuple that number, and make it 125,000. Way high, but whatever. Percentage of the total employed work force of 155,000,000? Eighty-one one-hundredths of one percent (.081%), or less than one new job for each 1.55 million working people. Sensible … not!** (Time for another round of anecdote here, anecdote there?)

The Bigger Picture

Part of the problem here is demagoguery. We elected a talented but not very bright man with lots and lots of self-confidence and absolutely no curiosity. Reasoning skills? Nope. Depth? Nah. Nuance? “Sounds sort of Frenchy; I’ll pass.”

This man, Mr. Trump, follows and leads a crop of anti-democratic strong men across the world. Dangerous they are. They advantage themselves by using media—social, and otherwise—to provide simple answers for those who struggle. And the answers?

The Other—someone not like you or me—did this. Only I can fix it.

More, though, rests on us. Americans can forget, easily, that we live among 300+ million people. No one should expect us to understand the interconnectivity of our economy and our society. Collectively, though, we ought to get the fact that we have a complex economy and society, and that decisions which affect hundreds should concern us when we are a few hundred million.

I understand how we ended up here. But we can’t let this happen again, ever. Ronald Reagan, a master of policy by anecdote, looks like a Policy Master today, and we’re living in a world far more complicated than the world circa 1981. We need to elect people who care about policy and getting it right, and we need to let them do their jobs. No more shiny penny sellers, inflating themselves at our expense. Gotta. Do. Better.

*Here’s some fact-checking on the claims.

**Of course, there are the many economic dislocations in industries dependent on the raw materials about which he’s ga-ga. Skipped, mostly, to focus on absurdity of policies designed for almost immeasurable consequences.

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