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Pop Quiz: A Tale of Two NJ Governors

A Pattern of Magical Thinking

Let’s take a quick pop quiz:

What NJ Governor, given a national spotlight as a rising national star with national political aspirations, said this: (and don’t cheat by hitting the link before you answer!)

Make no mistake about it, we are in a battle for jobs with Pennsylvania, the Carolina’s and the Sun Belt every single day. One of the main reasons we’ve been losing that battle is state government. We must cut through the needless overregulation that drives business out of New Jersey and discourages new firms  from locating here.

(answer: It wasn’t Chris Christie!)

This kind of ideological rhetoric has become a form of magical thinking in the Republican party, and among many corporate Democrats.

It is a belief that is formed and invoked without the need for evidence, actually lacks evidence to support it, and is contradicted by reality – those characteristics form a good working definition of magical thinking.

It would be funny if it weren’t so dangerous and damaging.

Because since Ms. Whitman uttered those words, such magical thinking has become the foundation and basis of our economic and environmental policies.

Here’s just one of many examples I could offer:

Implementing current Governor Chris Christie’s rhetoric and various Executive Orders on “common sense regulation” and “job killing red tape”, Christie deploys the same magical thinking as the core premise of his energy policy in the Energy Master Plan (e.g. it’s not just overregulation, but high energy costs are now the bogeyman that is chasing jobs out of NJ and discouraging private investment).

Check out this string of a constellation of magical thinking to see how Christie uses precisely this magical thinking to attack so called excessive solar subsidies, falsely claim that they are driving high energy costs, which in turn are driving out jobs:

Third, the solar requirements raise  retail electricity prices for non-participants, possibly reducing business economic activity due to indirect and induced economic impacts. Higher retail electricity prices may cause industrial and commercial entities to relocate, while reducing the likelihood of new manufacturing capability being formed in New Jersey.” (EMP @ page 94-95)

Just sratch the surface of virtually any Christie environmental policy and you will find the same magical thinking and the same false premises driving it.

After almost 20 years of this nonsense and abject failure as a basis for public policy, how is it possible that it can still be politically viable and drive policy?

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  1. Tony O’Donnell
    October 13th, 2011 at 14:52 | #1

    There is no question that you are correct about your premise that the approach over the past two decades has been almost entirely devoid of sound scientific reasoning to support it…

    If I might, I’d like to offer a possible answer to the question you pose at the end of your article (After almost 20 years of this nonsense and abject failure as a basis for public policy, how is it possible that it can still be politically viable and drive policy?).

    I recently read the results of a study that examined methods of reasoning and their relationship to a belief in God. Did you happen to see this article? The study asked a bunch of questions on belief in God alongside questions such as this one: “A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”

    It turns out that of there is a strong correlation between those who reflexively answer 10 cents and a belief in God. (The correct answer, by the way, is 5 cents. Bat ($1.05) + ball ($0.05) = $1.10)

    The researchers posit that a quick answer of 10 cents relies almost exclusively on intuitive reasoning. It just seems, given the way that the question is worded, that it is a no-brainer and doesn’t require a really intensive look at the math involved.

    I think that exactly the same type of phenomena is at play in regards to the ideology that drives public policy lately. The arguments advanced seem, on their face, to make intuitive sense to most people. In fact, they seem so logical that many people will not even entertain a more rigorous look at the actual facts behind them. If they went through this exercise (as you and others who care about they ways things work in reality instead of in fantasy land do), they would see that the “common sense reasoning” behind these policies is in fact a lot of bunk. But…..but….many people are either too lazy to do such work, or don’t trust such approaches (“pointy-headed Ivy leaguers are not to be trusted!”), or will potentially be benefiting from the approaches being pushed and thus have an economic skin in the game.

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