If only we could apply dynamic scoring to the rest of life

February 19th, 2017 at 9:51 am

“Dynamic scoring” is one of those phrases that sounds way more innocent than it is. It’s the process of guesstimating what impact your budget proposals will have on economic growth, and in turn, revenues flowing into the Treasury.

For example, if your budget includes big tax cuts, as Trump’s will, that’s obvious a revenue loser, which is exactly what the “static” scores show. But with dynamic scoring, you can claim to make back some share of that loss due to the growth effects spun off by your awesome, pro-growth tax-cut plan.

You see the problem. Economic models are dumb, or at least compliant, beasts who will give you whatever answer you want. Put such models in the hands of the purveyors of alternative facts, and the outcome is predictable, as the WSJ reported on Friday and budget nerd extraordinaire Stan Collender takes apart here. Depending on your willingness to torture the model, that “some share of the loss” you can allegedly get back approaches 100%.

This is a serious problem, and I’m not sure what the rest of us can do about it. In normal times, the scoring of the Trump budget by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which would surely show it to cause deep pools of red ink, would pose at least somewhat of a constraint. But expect team Trump to be closer to the heavenly figure below (h/t: R Kogan, who has this cartoon on his office wall).

Source: New Yorker

In the meanwhile, consider how great it would be if we could use dynamic scoring in the rest of our lives:

Diets: This salted caramel milkshake with extra whip cream has a static calorie score of 800. But when I factor in the efforts expended in 1) taking the paper off the straw 2) drawing the thick shake through the straw (which really is exhausting) and 3) stirring in the extra whip cream, the net caloric intake is -60.

Dating apps: “Statically scored, I probably don’t seem that appealing. But once you dynamically account for certain attributes, you’ll want to swipe right. I mean, who else up here is going to regale you with in-the-weeds facts on budget processes? If you’re looking for a pro-growth guy, that’s me!”

Sports outcomes: The static box score had us losing the basketball game 100-40, but once you dynamically model the counterfactual that their 7-foot center played for our team instead of theirs, that score flips and we win.

Elections: Yes, Trump won the electoral college, but he lost the popular vote, and if we dynamically score the possible damage to our fiscal accounts by putting him in charge, especially given the extent to which he will abuse dynamic scoring, he loses. Yes, that logic uses dynamic scoring against dynamic scoring, but what are you gonna do about it?!

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4 comments in reply to "If only we could apply dynamic scoring to the rest of life"

  1. mike t says:

    The greatest irony is that even when fairly applied dynamic scoring is based on imperfect econometric modeling of the results. Yet it is embraced by the same people that reject scientific models that show the climate is warming. That reject studies on the effects of pollution. That reject studies showing a link between feeding antibiotics to animals and the rise of unstoppable infections. In short truth is not something in the real world but a result you like. Sound familiar?

    Which all goes to to show Trump is not the rise of some new phenomenon but rather the culmination of beliefs that are in bedded in the Republican outlook.


  2. Fred Donaldson says:

    My high school dating history could certainly have benefited from “dynamic scoring”, rather than the reality of never scoring at all.


  3. dwb says:

    I would agree with you on diets, except that it ignores reality. If I burn 700 calories on my mountain bike then drive through Chick-fil-a on the way home and pick up a milkshake, I am going backwards. Exercise causes hunger hormones to surge. And even if you do not eat back the calories you burn, exercise builds muscle -which also causes weight gain.

    There actually is something economists can do about dynamic scoring: Insist on more rigorous standards of proof. I doubt this will happen, it’s not in anyone’s interest. Insisting on more rigorous proof will damage pet ideas on both the left and the right, because proof is not ideological. Unfortunately, economics is more similar to religion these days, and individual economists have too much invested in their own personal sect.


    • Pinkybum says:

      ” Insist on more rigorous standards of proof.”

      The problem with tax cuts being “pro-growth” is there is not even evidence of correlation let alone causation, e.g. Brownback, Kansas 2010-2016, Bush, 2001/3-2011/3.


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