I almost feel bad in including in my own blog post the same line with which the blog owner began his previous post. I almost feel worse over the fact that it’s the same line echoed in the video I am reviewing. But just because I feel bad about it, it doesn’t mean I’m not going to do it. And that is because it is appropriate when reviewing the latest screed by the unapologetic liberal, Bill Maher, during his latest edition of Real Time with Bill Maher. In it, Maher uses the California economy to suggest that conservatives use the Golden State as a “Laboratory of Democracy”, and that to repeat their same failed trickle-down economic policies with the expectation of different results is the “definition of insanity.” It’s obvious that Maher well knows that if you want the same results you have to do the same things, and that is why he uses the same tired tactics he always uses to achieve the predictable and desired results–laughter from an ignorant audience and giggles from a brainless panel.
Maher uses the analogy of a laboratory throughout the piece, inserting words and concepts like “variables”, “results”, and “[lab] rats”. The problem is that Maher is misusing them all, and ignoring what they really mean in a laboratory setting to reach his ultimate conclusion.
As we all know, the term “variable” means things without a fixed pattern and that are subject to change. He applies the term to California Republicans, stating the state “removed the variables” that the party brought. So if a variable is something without a fixed pattern, then wouldn’t a group that brings the predictability of doing “the same thing” actually be the opposite of a variable? If the GOP and the outcome of its policies were indeed so predictable, they they would not be a variable.
Another variable Maher ignores is intrastate geography and the population that lives within it. A by-county look at California’s unemployment figures–which Maher claims are fantastic–shows a significant increase in unemployment as one moves inland. In some cases, the rate is nearly 20%. The coast and specific industry sectors are skewing the numbers of a very large state. So the idea that California is doing great is certainly not one that is shared by all.
Another variable Maher ignores is the influence of Silicon Valley on the California economy. Maher conveniently ignores that variable, because it would force him to acknowledge things like the 2000 burst of the dot-com bubble and the “significant contraction” of the Silicon Valley economy that immediately followed. This is no small variable, as some are already noticing signs of a repeat.
Maher also alleges that cap and trade has not ruined the California economy, as opponents of the policy had predicted. What he fails to point out is that cap and trade auctions in California have fallen significantly below expectations and the reduction in the revenue they would have generated is hurting long-term projects that rely on that revenue, such as the controversial high-speed rail project. Gee, could it be that cap and trade (a clearly unpredictable variable) isn’t hurting the California economy because there isn’t much of it going on?
Along these same lines, Maher claims the price of electricity in the state is low in comparison to other places. This is utter nonsense. In fact, data shows that in 2015, electricity rates in California were approximately 50% higher than the national average. And the only changes expected are rate increases–not decreases. Electricity rates that are subject to change and that effect a state’s economy sure sound like a variable to me.
Another huge variable that Maher ignores is the one that completely destroys his thesis–that taxing the rich has not driven them away from California and the policy has led to the state’s continuing economic growth. Maher rightly points out that the rich have and will remain in California because the state offers a climate that other states cannot compete with, and their retention has had a positive effect on the state’s economy. However, this makes the California climate a variable. And, as Maher himself acknowledges, it’s one that other states do not enjoy. So if the value of a variable is different in one lab experiment than it is in another lab experiment, then those experiments are not the same and should not be viewed as such.
The biggest variable that Maher ignores is the very tax system he is defending as a success. The California tax system is somewhat complicated and unlike those in most other states (can you say “variable”?). Even Governor Brown acknowledges that the system is showing signs of strain and an economic downturn may well be on the horizon as a result. He is encouraging the legislature to refrain from new spending projects that will further strain a system that analysts claim produces an economy that is in a constant state of “boom or bust“.
Ultimately, Maher’s laboratory analogy fails because he ignores the terms inherent in such an analogy. His thesis and conclusions rely on a correlation vs causation fallacy, against which any real lab scientist would guard. Furthermore, the existence of key variables–many of which he either ignores or mislabels–only proves that the idea that states should be used as “laboratories of democracy” is one that should not be used when discussing the policies of the United States as a whole. Economics is not a hard science that can be viewed in the confines of a single-state lab experiment and then applied to a nation as variably diverse as ours. That Maher, and his band of useful idiots, thinks it can is, to coin a phrase, “the definition of insanity”.