The End of Facebook

At least it’s the end of Facebook for me. I’m not so full of myself to think that if I stop posting, Facebook will collapse. In fact, it’s not totally the end of Facebook for me. I still have friends I want to keep in touch with, and I use it as a means to promote our local Toastmasters club, Arthur Storer Toastmasters. So I’m not going to disappear entirely.

I guess that makes the title wrong in every sense of the word. It is merely sensationalist. My bad.

What I am going to stop doing is conducting lengthy political debates there. As I indicated in my first post here, Facebook is not a great forum for debates. At its best, there are some detailed discussions, with links to appropriate articles and videos. These take a long time to scroll through, and just don’t look right amidst all the one-line comments and shout outs.

At its worst, political debates on Facebook quickly become diatribes, bickering like I remember from second grade, or efforts to explain my position when people misinterpret what I say or spin it in a totally different direction. This seems to be a favorite tactic of a lot of debaters. When Facebook discussions raise multiple points, or when one person tries to respond to multiple disparate comments, any sense of order quickly dissolves.

With a blog, I can avoid a lot of that. It’s much easier to read a blog post on WordPress than it is on Facebook, where it is squeezed between ads on either side of the page. I can take my time and fully explain myself, so there is less time discussing what people think I said and more time debating what I actually said.

As I indicated when I started this, Facebook is more the equivalent of the man standing on the corner and ranting (Speaker’s Corner in London, for those familiar with it). People walk by, listen for a few seconds, maybe get into a shouting match.

What I hope to do here is invite these people to sit down and have a discussion. Hence the virtual bar analogy.

So, if I think I can correct a point with a one-sentence reply and one link, I will continue to do that. If my point needs to be made in a longer form, I will write a blog here and link to it on Facebook.

I hope you will take the time to follow me over to here and engage in debates. Enjoy the distraction-free environment, and take the time to make your case.

I look forward to hearing from you.

President Obama and the Deficit, or, “Did they print that graph upside down?”

Recently, I saw a Facebook post from The Federalist Papers website, congratulating President Obama for creating the largest deficit of any president in history:

http://www.thefederalistpapers.org/us/obama-adds-more-to-deficit-than-all-presidents-before-him

Of course, I thought there might be some misreading of the deficit numbers, so I first did a Google search on “obama deficit.” This is a screen shot of some of the graphs displayed:

Deficit Graphs

Various analyses of the deficit under Obama. Google search “obama deficit.”

I’m not sure how much you can make out from the tiny charts, but some show the deficit drastically increasing, and others show it decreasing. It really does seem as if some of the charts were reproduced upside down. I honed in on one of the sites, a personal favorite, PolitiFact. Here is an article I found:

http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2014/sep/05/barack-obama/obama-says-he-has-cut-national-deficit-half/

There are two drastically different statements: (1) Obama added more to the deficit than all previous presidents combined, and (2) Obama cut the deficit in half.

My initial guess is that both are true. It could be that people are citing different sources of data, or that people are using different definitions of deficit, or both could actually be true (Obama added more to the deficit than any other president, but it was much higher at the start of his term, so he did in fact cut it in half).

I could speculate wildly, but instead, let me start by listing the facts in the two articles I referenced:

The Federalist Papers
PolitiFact Wisconsin
Historical Tables from http://www.whitehouse.gov (https://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/Historicals/)
Office of Management and Budget chart (https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2013/10/30/deficit-more-cut-half-2009)
At the end of 2008, the accumulated total of all US Deficits for all administrations since 1789 was $5.3 Trillion. For the six years 2009 through 2014, the Obama Administration has racked up an impressive $6.3 Trillion in deficits which are now more than all of the accumulated deficits before he took office.
[The chart] compares the yearly deficits under Obama, expressed — as they often are — as a share of the nation’s entire economy, which is measured by the Gross Domestic Product. At the start of Obama’s term, the chart showed, the figure was 9.2 percent. The latest figure was 4.1 percent.
The GW Bush Administration racked up $2.0 Trillion in deficits in the 8 years it held the realm (2001 – 2008). The highest annual deficit the Bush administration amassed over its eight years was a $459 Billion deficit in 2008, a record at that time. This is far less than each of the Obama years. The Obama administration holds the record for the top six annual budget deficits all accumulated in its first six years, with more than $1 Trillion deficits in each of its first four years alone.
The White House and CBO figures each show that in 2009 the deficit reached $1.4 trillion… By the end of fiscal year 2013, the deficit figure had fallen to $679.5 billion in dollars unadjusted for inflation. That’s a 52 percent drop.

There are several things I observed in the data. The Federalist Papers uses actual figures, takes deficits from several years, and totals them. This gives the amount added to the national debt, which is different from looking at deficits from year to year. The PolitiFact page looks at actual figures, but also looks at deficit compared to the GDP. This is a necessary calculation if we want to honestly compare the deficits under modern Presidents with those under Washington, Adams, and other early Presidents.

My guess appears to be correct. The deficit was high at the beginning of Obama’s first term, it grew in absolute numbers (but not relative ones) during his first term, then fell to this day. Let’s also remember much of that spending was to pull the country out of a recession; had we not spent the money then, the GDP would have fallen, and the relative numbers would look much worse.

Of course, what everyone (including me) is doing here is spinning. We are taking the same set of data and looking at it in different ways. What needs to be done is to determine what are the important areas to improve and what are the important ones to get under control. That is the work of economists, preferably ones without an agenda.

If I hear a presidential candidate proclaim, “I can balance the budget standing on my head,” I will assume it is because the graphs look better that way.

Facebook discussions don’t go into enough depth. “Like” if you agree!

I scan Facebook a lot less than I used to. It may be because I can’t look at it at work, and it may be because once I do, I get sucked into a lot of the discussions. What I had been posting on Facebook were usually responses to current events comments and memes. Some of the posts were long, and the responses were long, either because someone was going into more depth, someone was presenting a lot of facts, or someone was simply ranting.

When I responded to a post, I wanted to go into depth and get beyond the sound bite that only addressed the topic superficially. Unfortunately, I don’t think Facebook is the ideal platform for protracted discussions. So, I thought about starting a blog. I thought about it a while ago, but never got my round tuit. The blog day has finally arrived.

When discussions and dialogue are concerned, Facebook is more like Speaker’s Corner in London; people stand up and shout at a mostly apathetic crowd, and occasionally someone gets in a shouting match with the speaker. I hope this blog has more of the feel of “Hey, let me buy you a beer and we’ll talk about this in the bar.” We can make the conversation more in depth and have solid discussions without distractions from other Facebook items and from its simplistic editor.

For now, the blog will be somewhat irregular, until I get in a rhythm, and until I learn more about WordPress and all the clever things I can do with it. I hope my Facebook friends will follow me here and will contribute to the discussions. Let me know what you think. Thanks for indulging me!