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April 24, 2013


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...When people push past the limits of ordinary humanity in any direction, good or evil, if it’s not a matter of the love or hate of one human being for another, odds are that what drives them onward is either a theist faith or a civil one.

This is among the core reasons why I’ve launched into an exploration of the religious dimensions of peak oil, and why I’ve begun that with a study of the most distinctive feature of the religious landscape of our time: the way that belief in the invincibility and beneficence of progress has come to serve an essentially religious role in the modern world, permeating the collective conversations of our time....

The Archdruid: The God With Three Heads

I particularly enjoyed this exchange:

Commenter Grebulocities:

...Now that I've lost faith in progress, I feel almost nihilistic, for lack of a better word, and this feeling has lasted for over a year now with no end in sight. If Progress is dead and we have killed It, how do you build alternate, better-founded belief systems to fulfill the emotional needs that the religion of progress was fulfilling for its believers?

I think this sort of problem is what keeps many believers in progress from questioning their beliefs, and the fear of falling into a quasi-nihilistic void may be motivating some of the more colorful attacks you have gotten in the past few weeks.

Greer (my emphasis):

Grebulocities, good... The experience of nothingness, to use a once-popular term for what you're feeling, is important to confront on its own terms, but it's not an endpoint; as we proceed, I'll be talking about what can be found on the other side of it.


"Battle not with monsters lest ye become a monster; and if you gaze into the abyss the abyss gazes into you."

Friedrich Nietzsche

Side note: one new reply in the Magical Thinking thread.

Open-thread topics:

(1) Even crazy, unstable countries like Pakistan have managed to replace gasoline powered auto fleets with cars running on natural gas (2.7 million). That isn't a fraction of Pakistan's auto fleet, that IS Pakistan's auto fleet. They got rid of their gas stations. It's less than half as expensive for drivers and a lot cleaner. Sure, the government has screwed it up with their rationing system, which many Pakistanis suspect involves kickbacks to government officials from oil companies eager to return the country to gasoline, but it's still amazing to me that they've converted their auto fleet this way.

(2) How is it that police in Boston went from claiming that they engaged in an hourlong gun battle with the surviving bomber while he was hiding in someone's boat, to admitting that he was unarmed? It's impossible to credit this kind of "mistake". Any info?

I don't think it takes any faith (a central tenet of religion) to believe in the ability of technological progress to overcome the major problems of our time: just an observer's familiarity with the history of medicine and engineering from the Age of Enlightenment onward. In the news today I saw a story about a victim of the Boston bombing who plans to use the new, high-tech sports prosthetics to continue running, to do other activities, and to continue to wear high heels, after having a foot amputated. Not long ago she'd be hobbling around on a stump for life. That's progress.

What takes quasi-religious faith is the doomster view that, despite a scientific and technological base that is broader and more advanced than ever before, and despite centuries of progress, the view that "progress is dead" is somehow rational. They never get around to explaining this conclusion because it is in fact a premise and no proof exists for it.

Civilization has been developing for thousands of years. The longer it develops, the faster additional development occurs. This isn't a theory, it's an observation.

Civilization, in the view of doomers, would be the problem itself. That is, its zeal for resource extraction, for imperial hegemonies, and human beings mericlessly alienated from their own nature not only imperil the planet but the very basis of civilization itself. It's a snake eating its own tail.

Now, I'm quite sympathetic to this viewpoint. Growing up in Phoenix has made me singularly tetchy about cornucopian blowhards promising too much and delivering something else: not a city so much but a techno-whiz extravaganza. Phoenix cannot be sustained this way, and it would hardly be a tragedy if it simply turned to dust.

My problem with the doomers is that while their critique is necessarily harsh, it's also an aspect of their own faith. That is, there's nothing we can do, therefore stock up on survival gear. No one with essential humility knows how the future will unfold, of course, but if you're certain about the evil of civilization, there's really no reason to do anything constructive. Indeed, you can't because if you live in civilization you're just another aspect of the basic problem. Kacynski knew this.

High-minded nihilism is as much a religion as "progress". The childlike faith that the good people will survive and create a "world by hand" is as stunningly solipsistic as any evangelical firebrand promising to reunite you with your grandparents after the End Times. Now, wishful thinking based on a rational critique is probably of a higher order than a fairy tale based on ancient writings. But the idea that we should all surrender to an inevitability no matter how cogent is rather creepy.

We live in a damaged world that created us, damaged creatures, to ponder its paradox. We have little power except to join minds and hearts for a project of survival we can barely fathom. Somehow, someway, we have to find another kind of faith in the minute amount of reason that is our lot. We have to aspire for a step forward when there's idiocy and denial screaming in our ears. Still, I can't imagine not doing this. The odds are long but the alternatives are either hopeless or insane.

Emil, your paeans to progress and technology have a religious ring to them. :)

Can't argue with soleri's straw-doomster, either. I'm definitely against surrendering to inevitability.

JMG comments:

What I'd suggest... is that the end of progress requires the loss of the easy faith that moral improvement (however defined) will happen by itself, but it doesn't mean the end of moral improvement. It simply means that if betterment is going to happen, we -- meaning you, me, and other individuals who care about it, not simply a generic "we" -- have to make it happen.

....meaning you, me, and other individuals who care about it, not simply a generic "we" -- have to make it happen.

You and me and other individuals are, more or less, "we". The advantage of conscious political action over a boutique blog is that there's the possibility we might rise to the occasion short of some mass Aquarian epiphany.

I know I beat this drum a lot here (and I know it's not popular) but we're probably not going to evolve out of our human predicament in time to solve its worst tendencies. Sitting on your hands until purity is manifest gives the regressives that much more comfort. They're not bound by our fantasies but they are determined to win by any means possible even if it means mass starvation and environmental catastrophe. Do you think they care? A group of neo-feudalists laugh at our conceits of goodness precisely because they understand that power is always dispositive. The faith we need is not in any idea per se. It's that our actions can matter.

...The advantage of conscious political action over a boutique blog is that there's the possibility we might rise to the occasion short of some mass Aquarian epiphany.

...Sitting on your hands until purity is manifest...

I'm as much a fan of stinging sarcasm as the next guy, and I agree with the overall point you make with this rhetoric, soleri, but I do not think that Greer is, nor certainly am I, arguing for passively waiting for epiphanic "purity." As is made quite clear in the article, a belief in the inevitability of moral progress is an error - as you rightly point out. We argue precisely against such passivity.

I get the sense that there is a conflation between non-cooperation and inactivity being assumed here, and that's a bit unfair.

More to the point, a persistent tattoo of my own is that action before consciousness serves only to perpetuate a system. Solving "problems" in a system in a piecemeal, fragmented fashion will always evoke new problems - also known as "unintended consequences." Besides the inherent troubles these bring, they are also the fertile ground that boosters of the status quo - the "regressives" - happily exploit, the least not being those of the simple see-the-kind-of-trouble-you-people-are-making variety.

This is not to argue, again, for non-action while lying-in-wait for the Aquarian age. It is only to point out that what you characterize as "boutique blogging" is intended as agressive and pro-active consciousness-raising. I simply implore that we understand the nature of the problem as we move forward. Being fully capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time, I do not see the same tension between action and contemplation that seems to inform your objections (it is quite like another old argument that persists here - to brutally critique the actions of Obama while, yes, yes, pulling the lever for him due to the regressive nature of our two-party electoral conundrum.)

"It's our actions that matter." Absolutely, this. However, action without understanding the "big picture," to put it crudely, is counterproductive. Be assured that I am not "straw-manning" you as advocating action-without-understanding, of course, and I'd like to stress here, again, that I completely agree with you if the choices were actually between practical action and Utopian faith, but I object to the framing.

(I would apologize for this apparently philosophical, or abstract, response but, to the contrary this stands before me, persistent and tangibly concrete.)

....a persistent tattoo of my own is that action before consciousness serves only to perpetuate a system. Solving "problems" in a system in a piecemeal, fragmented fashion will always evoke new problems - also known as "unintended consequences."

This is simply life. All solutions are, at best, partial because change is constant. Worse, there are often major differences of opinion that prevent any kind of solution at all (see: The United States of America from circa 2013). Does that mean we just tread water until we transcend the murkiness of human cognition?

The cold civil war we're enduring could go on for decades during which we will not address climate change nor income inequality nor infrastructure needs nor real health-care reform. As it is, the Party of No is fully dedicated to rearguard actions to stymie any kind of reform that does not merely enrich the rich. Our current inability to win this war has an intended consequence: the neo-feudalists win by default.

There will always be people, much smarter than ordinary mortals, who claim to see around corners and know exactly what needs to be done at any given time. Noam Chomsky isn't president, however, not because he's too smart because our political system doesn't elevate gadflies to positions of power. Ralph Nader couldn't be elected congressman from the East Bay. The values of our power elite reflect status and wealth, not brains and ideas.

Petro, we're both lefties in a country that is zonked out of its mind by the very thought of us. Your solution here seems to suggest cultivating a kind of communal solace from our powerlessness. My idea is this: we do whatever we can to advance our cause in the only theater that matters: public life. If it means voting for Obama, so be it. It can also mean screaming at Obama when he strays to the right. But we don't have the time to play at being superior to him or to party politics. Political power is the only leverage, however minute, we can exercise in this nation. Notice the "we". It means there is no substitute for group action. Either we participate as consciously and fully as we can or navel-gaze on the Internet.

Now, to the barricades.

Certainly not enough difference between us to prevent me from standing with you at the barricades. :)

First, let me comment on what you said about Gov. Perry and the Texas "low tax-low regs"... now that the dust has settled, (sorry, no pun or insensitivity meant), turns out that every Presidential Administration since 1985, Regan, GH Bush, Clinton, GW Bush, and presently, Obama...their Administrations should get the blame/fault, for OSHA has NOT inspected that plant since 1985!!

OK...on to Phoenix..

We will hit a new LOW shortly, for Andrew Thomas, the disgraced former AG, disbarred Attorney has announced that he is going to run for Governor!!
My God.. This man make Evan Mecham look like a Prince!! Arizona will be the laughing stock of the US, should this idiot get the GOP Nomination. Hell, I'd have to vote for Pluto!!

I still like Phoenix and Arizona...we are always blessed with some real "idiots"!

"Civilization, in the view of doomers, would be the problem itself."

Doomers remind me of end-times religious zealots standing on the street corner with "The end is near!" written on their signs.

True, doomers (of the kind we're discussing) are secular, but they share several characteristics.

Religious end-time zealots point to perenial problems of warfare and militarism, natural disasters, wickedness and perversion, not only as if these things were new, but as if they were signs of a coming apocalypse.

Secular doomster end-timers point to resource extraction, imperial hegemonies, and an increasing evolution away from "natural" (i.e., beastly) lifestyles, not only as if these things were new, but as if they were signs of a coming apocalypse.

Both are highly puritanical. Pleasure for its own sake is viewed as suspicious if not sinful; in one case, dancing, rock and roll music, and premarital sex; in the other, "wasteful" single-family homes in suburbia, lawns, private cars, and other libertine practices. The collapse of civilization is punishment for man's sins, whether because of the wrath of God or because of the wrath of Nature.

Secular doomsters' arguments follow a standard template:

(1) If everything stays the same as it is now, and we extrapolate current trends into the future, we're doomed.

(2) Things can't possibly change in radical ways that are difficult to foresee, despite the unbending historical rule that this is precisely what happens, over and over and over again.

They habitually overstate threats, and habitually underestimate the flexibility of nature, the changeability of personal and cultural habits, and the ingenuity of a research and development sector motivated not only by love of knowledge but also by the prospect of windfall profits for solving big problems.

Civilization has been around, and developing, for thousands of years. The odds of its continuing are excellent, compared to the odds that the doomsters are right.

A reply to Soleri and Petro re doomsters will be forthcoming, pending Mr. Talton's intervention.

I took a quick look around for stats giving the percentage of Phoenix residents with incomes below 150 percent of the poverty level in 2011, but the data I found is either older or uses the standard federal poverty level or both.

Arizona has a larger than average percentage of the population over 25 years old who lack high-school diplomas, which can be expected to increase poverty or near-poverty income rates. It also has a larger than average number of Hispanic residents, which also correlates with higher poverty and near-poverty rates. (Likely, the two trends are related, since the city attracted large numbers of low-skill immigrants to retail, hospitality, groundskeeping, and construction (manual labor) jobs prior to the recession.)


P.S. It's important to use up to date (or at least, comparably recent) data since poverty and near-poverty levels also correlate with unemployment percentages, and Phoenix's unemployment rate has improved considerably over the last several years.

Also, I cheated a bit in switching from Phoenix to Arizona in reviewing educational attainment stats above. Obviously, Arizona has a rural population whose backgrounds are different on average than those of the residents of metro Phoenix.

According to one source, from 2005-2009 27.1% of Arizona residents age 25 and older had a high school degree; for Phoenix the figure is 36.8%.

Forgot the graduation data link:


Sorry: the Junar data is labeled "high-school graduation rates" but it looks like it is actually data on the percentage of non-English speaking households.

It looks like 76.6% of Phoenix residents 25 and older have a high-school diploma.


The national average is 85.4%.


Note that the BizJournals ranking list by state shows that Arizona's rate for high school graduates 25 and older is 85.2% which places it at about the national average. By contrast, metro Phoenix has far more residents without high school diplomas (only 76.6% have them). This probably correlates with the higher percentage of Hispanic immigrant residents in central cities like Phoenix (where the jobs are) as opposed to smaller towns elsewhere in the state.

Despite the misleading header, the Junar data actually shows "Language other than English spoken at home, percent age 5+, 2007-2011", not high-school graduation rates. So, Phoenix's higher rate (36.8%) compared to Arizona's (27.1%) again correlates with a higher concentration of low education immigrants. This would tend to increase poverty in Phoenix versus the state at large; but Phoenix also has lower unemployment rates than the state at large and this has the opposite effect.

I have enjoyed reading this exchange of ideas in comments here on Rogue’s open forum.
Petro poses the idea that religion, of sorts, can change our approach to the oil dilemma (my interpretation Petro). Emil, concludes that technology is the solution. And soleri said that, “High-minded nihilism is as much a religion as "progress".” Interesting I thought.
This afternoon I watched an episode of Vice titled the European Meltdown and the ‘New Far Right’ . You can see it here: http://hbo.vice.com/episode-four/ep-4-seg-2
This segment reminds me very much of the 2009 Climate Change Conference and our distraction over hockey sticks to Russell Pearce’s immigration hoopla and so on. So, if religion means focus, then I think we could use some.

“I think that the most usefully creative people in the United States, from the very beginning, are the people who have said “no”. And when willing men have begun to say “no” again, the people march.” Gore Vidal

Soleri: "The faith we need is not in any idea per se. It's that our actions can matter."

Good point. Still, "the need for action" is itself an idea. So is "The Lord will fight for you: you need only to be still". Two lives led on these precepts will be quite different.

The United States, the Soviet Union, and Nazi Germany all began as ideas spread by a handful of obscure individuals in essays distributed in small circulation newspapers, tracts, books, and speeches in meetings and on street corners. Ideas change the world. They bootstrap, spread, motivate, and create the leverage necessary for mass movements to organize.

So, ideas matter. The form these governments took, and their actions, differed so widely because the ideas they were based on and organized around differed widely. So, the specific form of ideas matters.

The policy prescriptions, legislation, activism, and protest forms approved by fascism, royalism, republicanism, liberal democracy, social democracy, democratic socialism, Marxism-Leninism, anarcho-syndicalism, and bongo-beating hippies camping on the sidewalks in front of Neiman Marcus, differ radically. The underlying dynamic, however, is the same in each case: not uncoordinated random impulses, like an epileptic seizure, but the ideas that, however vaguely or specifically, define groups.

As Soleri points out, this shouldn't mean insularity. On the contrary, it is precisely the intolerance and narrow interests of identity politics which isolates and marginalizes them. A popular front is much more effective, and is possible if all parties agree to advance certain basic, common interests and repress sectarian impulses while acting together.

Of course, if the world is a dream, or something like a dream, the real dynamic is something quite different. There can be no psychology of dream figures. However, ideas are still important to the dreamer, and he can still influence the world through their magic.

Note: my recovered message was restored in the position it originally would have taken. I mention this simply because a number of following comments appeared before it was recovered, and many readers have the habit of skipping to the bottom of comments and backtracking to the last comment read rather than reviewing the entire comment list from the start.

As long as we're in an open thread, here's something about Phoenix development trends and expectations:

"Large manufacturers who have set up shop in the West Valley told civic and business leaders Thursday that residential and economic growth is on a fast-moving trajectory."

"...In the next 10 years, about 68 percent of the Valley’s future economic activity will occur on the west side, said Barry Broome of the Greater Phoenix Economic Council."

"...future roads and schools also will be needed to support the 1 million new residents projected to move into the West Valley in the next decade, said Nate Nathan, president of Nathan & Associates."


Speaking of Noam Chomsky, years ago I read and admired a number of his books.

However, his star lost a lot of its brightness, in my eyes, after reading an early book of his, co-authored with Edward Hermann, called After The Cataclysm. It was an apologia for the Khmer Rouge, in the sense that it downplayed and minimized their murderous actions.

I also took the time to visit a university library to look up many of the original sources he quoted from in framing his arguments and characterizations of others' arguments, and found that in a significant number of cases he mislead the reader in his use of pulled quotes and paraphrases.

The book was published in 1979 and perhaps saw final draft form in 1978 and it was early days on a subject that has since been exhaustively explored. However, decades after the publication, Chomsky and Hermann were still publishing magazine articles in which they refused to admit error and, basically, embarked on a stubborn and jesuitical campaign to justify their earlier writing.

A letter to Doug MacEachern of the Arizona Republic:

Dear Mr. MacEachern,

It was with interest that I read your recent op-ed, "Obama agenda crushing jobs", in which you quoted Max Baucus. His background is indeed as you cited. The quotes you cited are accurate. However, you're stretching things in claiming that Max Baucus' fears of the approaching introduction of the Affordable Care Act are "basically that it is strangling job creation". Here's a six minute video from C-SPAN. Nowhere does he express fears that the ACA is strangling job creation. What he says is that the Obama administration has, to date, inadequately prepared small businesses, and the general citizenry, and that time is running out to accomplish this:


Incidentally, here's a well-written, fairly short overview of the major decisions facing employers in response to the ACA as well as explanations of terms like "affordability rules" and "penalties" used by Baucus. Take particular note of this: "The ACA play-or-pay penalties are lower than the cost of providing health benefits, and low-wage workers could use the ACA’s new premium tax credits to buy insurance in the individual market. Some people believe that many employers will stop offering coverage and pay the penalties."


Also note that most modern legislation IS long. The Arizona Republic recently stated that the Senate's immigration reform legislation is nearly 1,000 pages long. The tax code itself is vastly longer than the 2,000 pages of the ACA. There are countless pieces of legislation, each of hundreds or thousands of pages, that potentially affect small businesses. None of this has stopped small business from operating or hiring, prior to the recession. Businesses hire accountants, lawyers, and other experts with specialized knowledge to understand the consequences of matters outside the area of business operations familiar to business owners, and to advise them. Nowhere does Baucus say that the accountant he spoke with doesn't understand the ACA's employer rules and penalties.

Slow hiring since the recession has been the result of low consumer demand. Low consumer demand has resulted from the fact that households lost a great deal of wealth in the form of home equity and stock market holdings (while the stock market itself has recovered, many middle-class investors sold their positions when the market was down to avoid further losses, and have not recovered their lost wealth). Houses are no longer cash cows and an inflating real estate market no longer supports cash-out refinancing, home loan lines of credit, second mortgages, and so forth. Credit cards are more difficult to come by and involve high rates for all except the most credit worthy. Unemployment is still fairly high, including many unable to find full time work; and many individual have left the workforce (e.g., retired, returned to school, etc.). All of this means less domestic consumer demand for goods and services. Employers hire additional employees when they are needed to handle demand for their products, not out of patriotism or a hazy devotion to expansion unconnected to their bottom line.


Emil Pulsifer

Tried to post a copy of a letter to Doug MacEachern rebutting his claims that Obamacare is stifling job creation. It should appear when Mr. Talton rescues it, but when it does note that it may appear "in situ" prior to this comment.

Some of us know Nate Nathan as a longtime peddler of ideas and real estate. The "million person delusions" may have gotten some ink years ago but not now. We are smarter than that. Drive out I10 now and you'll see a downscale collection of ticky-tack and it ain't gonna get better . . . something about trying to put earrings on a pig!

West side real estate development is slum creation at its finest. Unknowing newcomers to the valley will buy in.

Andrew Thomas versus Sarah Palin for Arizona governor. Now that would take Arizona 's political reputation to a new level of madness.

will Hal and David make the ending of the novel CITY a reality?
typing with left index

Dear Mr. MacEachern,

Thank you for the clarification and the WSJ editorial link. Let's deal with the latter first. The WSJ guest editorial by Vanguard CEO Bill McNabb quantifies "policy uncertainty" over the last two years. Specifically: "...Our economists at Vanguard isolated changes in the U.S. economy that we determined were specifically due to increases in policy uncertainty, such as the debt-ceiling debacle in August 2011, the congressional supercommittee failure in November 2011, and the fiscal-cliff crisis at the end of 2012. This gave us a picture of what the economy might look like if the shocks from policy uncertainty had not occurred."

This seems reasonable, at least superficially, though note that Vanguard is an investment firm and may assume a stronger relationship than is warranted between financial sector growth (which is indeed sensitive to things like the debt-ceiling debate) and actual economic activity such as hiring.

The important thing to note is that Obama's healthcare legislation is mentioned nowhere in the editorial. That legislation was passed in its final form in 2010. The ink has been dry for three years. How much uncertainty can there be about the major provisions? One of the reasons the law is so long (like other major modern legislation) is that legislators have gotten into the habit of attempting to define into law the exceptions (and the exceptions to exceptions) that in the past would have been left to the Executive branch via rules issued in the Code of Federal Regulations. There was considerable controversy over the bill and one way of eliminating that was crossing the i's and dotting the t's in the legislation itself. Why else do you suppose laws could take 1,000 or 2,000 pages except congressional micromanagement?

I'll admit that the administration has done a poor job of marketing the legislation after the fact, particularly to small employers, some of whom may not have full time legal and accounting staffs with the kind of specialized skills needed to master the information. But ignorance isn't the same thing as uncertainty, and anyone who can afford to own a business ought to be able to afford to pay professional consultants the big hourly bucks, when necessary, to have them interpret, summarize, and explain legal jargon.

As for your clarification, you wrote that Baucus' comments "mean to me that they are finding themselves incapable of performing fundamental small-business planning activities (such as) expansion or hiring". That's a large inference that doesn't seem to have much support either in Baucus' own remarks as given or in the Wall Street Journal editorial. However, your op-ed was interesting and I do want to be fair, so let's look around for other evidence.

A number of conservative commentators cited the March 6, 2013 Beige Book report by the Federal Reserve:

"Many District contacts commented on the expired payroll tax holiday and the Affordable Care Act as having restrained sales growth."


There are several things worth noting here. First, this came from the section on consumer spending, not the section on employment: this is about sales growth, not hiring.

Second, these contacts are businessmen, not economists. What basis would they have for attributing "restrained sales growth" over a monthlong reporting period to the American Care Act? The ACA doesn't even take effect until 2014. Exactly how would it be restraining consumer purchases and what evidence of this would present itself at the cash register?

For that matter, what basis would they have for blaming restrained sales growth on the end of the payroll tax holiday? In the business section of Tuesday's Arizona Republic, an article titled "Consumers not afraid to spend" and subtitled "Lower pay and higher Social Security tax daunt few" observes: "On Friday, the government said consumers spent 3.2 percent more on an annual basis in the January-March quarter than in the previous quarter -- the biggest jump in two years." The same article notes that "spending weakened toward the end of the January-March quarter" but also notes that economists say that was probably temporary.


So, perhaps these "contacts" read or listened to conservative news commentary blaming a temporary blip in consumer spending growth on the payroll tax increase and Obamacare. This is a case of the tail wagging the dog: op-eds influence business contacts of the Fed, which duly reports their opinions in the Beige Book.

Much more troublesome is the following Beige Book quote, which does come from the employment section:

"Employers in several Districts cited the unknown effects of the Affordable Care Act as reasons for planned layoffs and reluctance to hire more staff."

Well, this would be a slam dunk for you, if it weren't for the fact that there are 12 Federal Reserve System districts. How many is "several"? A close reading of the report suggests just two: Richmond, and Dallas. These are the only two districts in the March report where the American Care Act is cited as a hiring concern. Two out of twelve districts does not suggest a national problem; furthermore, even within these two districts the extent of the problem is unclear.

For example, in the Dallas district, we find: "Reports from staffing firms were mixed. One contact noted sharp declines in demand for services across the board, while another reported stellar demand that broke direct-hiring records." Highly ambiguous. There is also this: "Some contacts noted concern that client companies are hiring the absolute minimum to get by due to uncertainty about the Affordable Care Act." How many contacts are "some"? What percentage of survey contacts do they represent? How many client companies are we talking about, and what percentage of local jobs do they represent? None of this is quantified in the Beige Report.

The Richmond district is less ambiguous: "Employers across the District continued to cite the Affordable Care Act and its unknown impacts as reasons for planned layoffs and reluctance to hire more staff." So, congratulations: there's some evidence for you. Still, one can't help but wonder why reporting from the Richmond district is so markedly different from most everywhere else in the country.

Another piece of evidence that might support your position is an April 4, 2013 Harris poll of 1,332 "small business" executives (defined as fewer than 500 employees and less than $25 million in annual revenue). According to Harris, as a result of the ACA 32% of small businesses will reduce hiring and 31% will cut back hours to reduce the number of full time employees. (The poll doesn't say to what extent these two groups overlap one another, but it's safe to say that about a third of the executives reporting say they plan to do one or the other.)


One big problem: despite the fact that Harris has a pretty good reputation among pollsters, this is an online, opt-in survey commissioned by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, not a probability sample. Mitt Romney cited the March 2012 version of this very poll in claiming that the ACA was a "job killer":


Despite the impressive looking "margin of sampling error" of 2.5 percentage points claimed at the top of the Harris release, even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce admitted, in a "methodology" footnote, that "This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated".


The FactCheck link offers an additional caveat: "Those kinds of surveys can be useful for marketing research purposes", said Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center and the most recent past president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research. "But from the point of view of public policy decisions, they tend not to be given much credence. The bottom line is that surveys that have self-selected samples don’t have any known relation to the target group (in this case small-business owners)," Keeter said. "As a result, it is difficult, if not impossible, to know what kind of weight to give this."

Back to the drawing board.

Finally, even if some employers do plan to cut back on hiring and/or hours (not because of "uncertainty" but because of a belief, correct or not, that the ACA will add to their expenses), others, such as the economy-leading healthcare sector, to say nothing of the insurance field, will be adding jobs and/or extending hours because of it. Unless the gains and losses are weighed against one another, the net effect of the ACA on U.S. hiring and job income is unclear. The FactCheck link quotes John Sheils, Senior Vice President of The Lewin Group (a healthcare policy research and management consulting firm) as saying that he expected "a small net job loss". Of course, this is only one opinion about a complex issue; but even if correct, is that too much to pay for the numerous healthcare benefits accruing from the ACA?

In my opinion, the real tragedy of the ACA is that the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the states to opt out of the Medicaid expansion portion. As a result the poor and near poor will face a "coverage gap" that was not envisioned by the original legislation.


E. Pulsifer

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