Congressional counterfactuals

John Sides links to this quote from Barney Frank:

Not for the first time, as a — a — an elected official, I envy economists. Economists have available to them, in an analytical approach, the counterfactual. Economists can explain that a given decision was the best one that could be made, because they can show what would have happened in the counterfactual situation. They can contrast what happened to what would have happened.

No one has ever gotten reelected where the bumper sticker said, “It would have been worse without me.” You probably can get tenure with that. But you can’t win office.

I have two thoughts on this. First, I think Frank is a bit too confident in economists’ ability to “show what would have happened in the counterfactual situation.” Maybe “estimate” or “guess” or “hypothesize” would be a bit stronger than “show.” Recall this notorious graph, which shows the unintentional counterfactual of some economic predictions:


Second, I don’t know how Frank can say that about “no one has ever gotten reelected . . .” In Frank’s district in Massachusetts, it would take a lot–a lot–for a Democrat to not get reelected.

2 thoughts on “Congressional counterfactuals

  1. I think it is a joke. Every time some economic receipt goes wrong, they say it would be worse. It is easy for economists.

    We see this kind of behaviour all the time, don't we?

    So, I think he was being ironic.

  2. Isn't the Democrats' main strategy often built on the idea that it would have been, and will be, worse without them?

    Was anyone *positively excited* about John Kerry, for example? The actual excitement about Obama seems more the exception, to me.

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