The Heritage Foundation embarrasses itself with numbers… again.

problems measuring austerity

The Heritage Foundation doesn’t know what “austerity” means or how to measure it, and just can’t seem to understand how numbers actually work. This is causing some trouble for a party that doesn’t want to be seen as the “party of stupid”.

We’ve written before about how the Heritage Foundation regularly makes predictions that are wildly inaccurate, and normally we are perfectly content to blame liberally-biased “facts” rather than the good conservatives at the Heritage Foundation.  However, in light of recent evidence that Young Republicans don’t want to be part of “a stupid party”, we think it’s time to put our foot down and ask the important question: Heritage Foundation, what the hell is wrong with you?

The most recent topic is that of austerity.  Liberals have been claiming that the conservative notion that “austerity will fix everything” is debunked by the problems in Europe.  “Europe has austerity,” these evil liberals will say, “And their economic situation has gotten worse. That proves you are wrong, Q.E.D, neener-neener.”

The most recent fad going around the internet has been for conservatives to respond by saying, “What Europe has done isn’t really austerity, because they increased taxes instead of cutting spending.  Increasing taxes is what is causing their problems. Real, true, manly austerity is based on cutting spending.”

OK, so they don’t usually use the word “manly”, but you get the idea.

It is important to realize where this idea comes from: The Heritage Foundation.  They have been peddling this idea for a long time now, and have most recently summarized it nicely in the congressional testimony by Salim Furth (PDF).  Instead of “manly”, Dr. Furth uses the term “classic austerity”, presumably because he is aware that the word “austerity” by itself refers to

Definition of austerity

So by adding the word “classic”, he can fudge this a little bit and claim that tax increases are the “wrong” kind of austerity, because they are not “classic”. Or whatever.

The problem is, no matter how you define “austerity”, the Heritage Foundation claim that Europe hasn’t been implementing austerity is wrong.  Dr. Furth claims that European countries have not been decreasing their deficits, but then presents a table showing that their deficits as a percentage of GDP in each year (left side table, above).  In other words, countries that cut their deficits would still show an increase if their GDP dropped by a larger amount.  When the change in the deficit was measured as a percentage of a constant GDP (right side graph, above), the United States, Britain, France, and Spain–all showing increasing deficit in the Heritage Foundation table–can all be seen to have actually decreased their deficits.

But what is even worse is this: even if you allow the Heritage Foundation their notion of “classic” austerity, most of the countries in Europe were still implementing austerity.  According to the OECD, when you compare what percentage of the budget cuts were due to spending cuts versus tax increases in each country, the majority of the countries closed their spending gaps mostly with spending cuts:

EOCD Austerity chart

So it comes down to this: Heritage Foundation, you need to get your act together.  In the past we have been more than happy to defend you on the  grounds that numbers and statistics have a liberal bias.  However, it’s 2013 now…. if you can’t manage to simply get the numbers right in your arguments, you will never shake that reputation of being the “party of stupid”.


For more discussion: Yes, Europe really is in the throes of austerity (WonkBlog)

graphs data sources: OECD
graphs found viaThe Washington Post

related article: Liberal facts conspire to embarrass the Heritage Foundation

3 Replies to “The Heritage Foundation embarrasses itself with numbers… again.”

  1. You should look at the Heritage Foundation study of ACA premiums claiming big raises. My understanding is they did not account for deductibles, out of pocket expenses, or tax subsidies. This study was quoted by congressmen recently ACA hearings. I heard a Raleigh radio station pawn this study as a factual news story.

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