What’s in a Word Like Debt, Deficit, Tax?

29 07 2011

”Time and time again,” Smoot shouted, ”the universe has turned out to be really simple.”

Perlmutter nodded eagerly. ”It’s like, why are we able to understand the universe at our level?”

”Right. Exactly. It’s a universe for beginners! ‘The Universe for Dummies’!”

But as Smoot and Perlmutter know, it is also inarguably a universe for Nobelists, and one that in the past decade has become exponentially more complicated.

So it turns out that JJ’s thinking is relatively Einsteinian! We can prove it with a simple equation in which words rather than numbers add up to be both right and wrong, which one supposes would make Shakespeare Einsteinian, too (did I say simple?) derived from this Business Week cover story:

E=squishy=JJ

We Thinking Parents study education words — words like accountability and discipline, heck, the word “school” itself! — and how such words are not merely too small and worn out to help us succeed, but too largely wrong about the realities they purport to address even to measure the enormity of our failure.

Here’s the meaning behind this week’s economic news: it’s not just education. Number words too small for the biggest and squishiest meanings threaten the very future we like to think education ensures, too:

The language we use is part of the problem.
. . . The authors write that accountants and economists have something to learn from Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, about how measured quantities depend on one’s frame of reference.

Terms such as “deficit” and “tax,” they write, “represent numbers in search of concepts that provide the illusion of meaning where none exists.”

The national debt itself is one such Einsteinian (that is, squishy) concept.

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8 responses

29 07 2011
JJ

Remember this?

The sketch works, of course, only because both Palin and Cleese had access to a thesaurus. The humor comes from the play on words. Well, a thesaurus is working overtime in Washington D.C. right now, though its use is making nobody laugh. . . [at least not] any of you who, like me, are growing increasingly outraged by our mainstream media’s inability to “tell it as it is.”

Two obfuscations stand out as particularly galling and worthy of immediate challenge. . .The political theatre being played out there is not one driven by equal volumes of inflexibility on the extreme wings of both political parties.

. . .If the general American public is left with the view that this debt ceiling crisis — and any adverse economic fall-out affecting their living standards and job security — was and is a product of Washington politics-as-usual, then the Right will already have won, no matter the detail of any compromise that is struck.

For if Washington doesn’t work, why bother to vote? Why bother to challenge the libertarian view that our problem is rooted in an excess of political interference rather than in an excess of economic privilege. If the political parrot is dead, why shop at all?

No. That view must not be allowed to prevail. We are in crisis now because of the idiocy and intransigence of the Republican Right, and because of political infighting between factions within the Republican leadership. We need to say that over and over again. Then in 2012 it might still be possible to campaign successfully for the election of a better set of birds, and go flying again.

29 07 2011
JJ

Referring to President Obama’s call for a debt limit increase, Boehner said: “The sad truth is that the president wanted a blank check six months ago, and he wants a blank check today. That is just not going to happen.”

The Washington Post’s Adam Serwer tells it like it is: “This is a straight-up lie. Not the everyday, casual fudging that politicians do, but a straight up lie.”

The “blank check” talking point is literally untrue, of course, but it is also a deceptive, dishonest metaphor. Here’s why:

30 07 2011
bpbproadrunner

Doesn’t strike you as odd, that the prevailing Libertarian view, is one that allows a very vocal minority of religious voters {note double entendre} to win with a minority?

And that this mentality allows the plutocracy to hammer on without challenge, nor any voter block strong enough to make the effort even if they wanted to.

Funny how that works.

30 07 2011
bpbproadrunner

The blank check but also the “entitlements.” Linguistically in this culture entitlement is frivolous, something that one demands at the height of hubris and self importance, and not as it is, which is to say, a contractual agreement between tax payers and the government concerning programs we pay into as a social safety net.

Lots of debate framing going on and for some reason the Dems on the hill seem to really suck at it, and our intellectually lazy press seem to disinterested in this notion to try, or to ignorant to realize it for what it is.

Poor George Lakoff, must chew through the legs of his coffee table daily out of pure frustration.

30 07 2011
bpbproadrunner

What is up with me tonight. TOO! not to, dang it!

30 07 2011
JJ

Beep, regardless of homonym spellings, I think you’re on a roll:

also the “entitlements.” . . . a contractual agreement between tax payers and the government concerning programs we pay into as a social safety net.

Exactly.

31 07 2011
Nance Confer

http://middleclasspoliticaleconomist.blogspot.com/2011/07/its-gotten-to-where-i-cant-turn-on-tv.html

I forget where I came across this blog. It’s new and not chatty at all. But what a breath of fresh air after trying to slog through the dreck you are talking about above. Actual words with actual meaning as opposed to political speak that means whatever the dead parrot says it does.

2 08 2011
Kenneth Thomas

Nance, thanks for the kind words. It’s always nice to see comments like this when you’re just starting out with a blog.

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