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“Alternative Facts” and US Economic Policy

WASHINGTON, DC – US President Donald Trump has an obvious problem with data that he doesn’t like, as he showed on his first full day in office, by attacking the media for reporting accurately the size of the crowd that attended his inauguration. It should be no less obvious that this same reliance on “alternative facts” poses a severe threat in the realm of economic policymaking.

The number of people who attended the inauguration – far less than Trump wanted to believe – could easily be inferred from the available evidence (including photographs of the National Mall and the number of subway riders). But the discussion has now broadened to the more serious question of whether millions of people voted illegally, as Trump has insisted since the election. He has implicitly conceded that he lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes, but maintained, despite all evidence to the contrary, that massive voter fraud occurred.

Trump is calling for a full investigation, and Democrats should welcome any opportunity to have experts weigh the evidence carefully. But the real danger must be fully appreciated: Trump is not alone in his self-serving disregard for reality. Other prominent Republicans, including in the House of Representatives, have been living in their own world for some time.

The most obvious example is climate change. An overwhelming majority of scientists agree that the climate is changing – and that human activity, including carbon dioxide emissions, plays a role. In any scientific or other investigation, there is always some margin of error or room for reasonable disagreement. But the Republican strategy has long been to claim that the climate is not changing or that any change has nothing to do with people and their cars, factories, and power plants.