• Get ready for some awesome SCARE CHARTS!!!

    I made this chart last night on the weather in Indianapolis through Sunday. That’s “historical”. Based on the trend of the last two days, I’ve shown our “current path”:

    Scary! We’re all going to burn to a crisp in a couple of months.

    Think about this when you go read Rep. Ryan’s op-ed in the WSJ today, especially when you look at the nice chart he made for it.

    There’s going to be a lot of talk about budgets and policy this week, and this year. Let’s try and keep it grounded in reality.


    • So if I’m reading this graph correctly… cutting food stamps will solve global warming?


    • Don’t forget the XKCD take on this issue: http://xkcd.com/605/

    • Har har.

      You know, Paul Ryan didn’t just make this data up. Here’s the relevant CBO report:


      See page 81.

      Sometimes people make bad projections, like your temperature chart. Other times, the data really is that ugly. It would behoove you to know which is which before yucking it up over the antics of those stoopid Republicans. Personally, I don’t find the fiscal state of our entitlement programs to be all that funny anyway.

      • Yeah, that’s the alternative fiscal scenario where the CBO assumes Congress will punt on the Bush tax cuts, the doc fix, etc. In other words, that’s what happens if Congress (Rep. Ryan is a part of it) fails in every way to contain costs. That’s not the “Obama budget”…

        “Current law”, which is what I’d assume would be represented by “Current path” on Rep. Ryan’s chart, looks nothing like what he graphed.

        It might “behoove you to know which is which”.

        • The entire reason for including an “alternative fiscal scenario” is because nobody believes that “current law” is an accurate representation of future law (except for you, apparently). You are perhaps the only person gullible enough to believe that Congress will NOT fail, and will actually come up with a bipartisan plan to contain costs.

          And ohbytheway, Rep. Ryan is one of the few members of Congress actually risking his career to do just that: contain costs. Clearly, he must be mocked and ridiculed for this effrontery.

          You guys do an admirable job of offering principled defenses of liberal policy, which is why I keep coming back to your blog. But every so often the mask slips. A post like this reveals that all the talk about evidence and academic rigor is just a smoke screen for partisan hackery. Paul Ryan, and his plan, will never get a fair shake from you. And that’s good to know.

          • That’s a rather broad brush. I think you have a specific concern with one post. What about the thousands of others? For example, I believe we have been quite fair to all Medicare reform concepts and most especially premium support, including versions Ryan endorsed.

            • Austin,

              Generally, I agree. Unfortunately, all it takes is one post like this to call all of that work into question. I’ll be back to your site, but I’ll read your posts differently from Aaron’s from now on.


          • Oh, please. You have got to be kidding me.

            I said nothing negative about his plan, at all. I have an issue with the chart, which I think it ridiculous. I asked for a discussion more grounded in reality.

            But – actually – I think that the “Current path” has a much, much more likely chance of becoming reality than Rep. Ryan’s plan, if you must know. All that has to happen for the “Current path” to happen is for congress to achieve gridlock and do nothing. It’s what is ALREADY law.

            So, again, please think about what you’re saying. I – not you – think Congress will fail to pass something. That’s how you get the “Current path”. The only way to get the alternative fiscal scenario is for the House to work with the Senate and get the President to sign a new law. I don’t see that happening.

            I also think that extrapolating the last few years into an eighty year straight on run with no change (or admission that it’s impossible to think that far ahead) is a scare chart. No matter who makes it.

            • Aaron,

              Now you are confusing the issue (or you are simply confused). The issue is not “current law” vs. Ryan’s plan, the issue is current law vs. the alternative fiscal scenario. I agree that current law is “much, much more likely” to occur than Ryan’s plan, but that’s irrelevant. The alternative fiscal scenario is much, much more likely to occur than current law, which is what necessitates Ryan’s plan.

              Don’t take my word for it. According to the CBO, the alternative fiscal scenario “incorporates several changes to current law that are widely expected to occur or that would modify some provisions of law that might be difficult to sustain for a long period.”

              We do indeed need a conversation grounded in reality. The reality is that our current trajectory resembles that of the chart that you mocked. If you disagree, you are decidedly in the minority, and you’ve got the CBO and the Social Security & Medicare trustees on the other side.

              One thing I will agree on: extrapolating the the last few years into an eighty year straight line makes no sense, because those levels of debt at the top of the chart cannot be supported. We will either experience a complete overhaul of all entitlements or massive inflation before we ever get there. The line on the chart should terminate in a mushroom cloud at about 200% of GDP, but that’s probably not any less of a scare.

          • pipster,

            That is absolutely ridiculous. If you truly believe that Congress will fail to pass a single bill that has any budgetary impact, then you’d already be on the “current law” path.

            Rep. Ryan is using a graph that assumes an “alternative fiscal scenario” where Congress just doesn’t make any decisions, but actually actively works to put off decisions that are scheduled to be made (such as extending, yet again, the Bush tax cuts). If you read Obama’s budget, that is not at all what he is proposing.

            You can’t take a graph that is using data that isn’t what Obama is proposing, and then use it to scare everyone to go against Obama’s plan. That’s exactly what you are saying and it makes you just as much of a crank as Rep. Ryan is.

            • Brian,

              Well, when push came to shove, Obama signed an extension of the tax cuts. Most people (on both sides of the aisle) acknowledge that the Obama “budget” is a campaign document, nothing more, nothing less. If a bill extending the tax cuts again landed on his desk, I’d wager that he would sign it. And the CBO agrees with me.

              And for all of the Republican talk about budget cuts, they eagerly vote for doc fix bills whenever they come up, along with tons of other spending. It’s not just a problem with the Democrats. We all want low taxes and lots of benefits, and any politican who deviates from this model is usually voted out of office.

              That’s why the alternative fiscal scenario is more likely than the current law scenario. Stop listening to what they say, and start paying attention to what they do.

            • “And ohbytheway, Rep. Ryan is one of the few members of Congress actually risking his career to do just that: contain costs.”

              Not really. This is a political document. It is very, very short on specifics. If you look at page three, IIRC, of the CBO report accompanying Ryan’s budget, they were instructed to assume that Ryan’s numbers resulted in certain revenue or spending numbers. He is short on revenue (see Tax Policy Center or Tax Vox) and he does not list any tax expenditures he would cut. He assumes that Congress will never increase the premium support, while claiming that the IPAB will not work because Congress will raise spending anyway. As Don Taylor noted, he never has gotten the PCA scored by the CBO.

              Really, Ryan is just another politician, with one caveat. He is willing to talk about Medicare. (His whining about Mediscare is pretty annoying after Death Panels, but maybe that is just me.)


            • You get no argument from me on Obama’s budget being a political tool. Then again, when was the last time a budget wasn’t a political tool? I’m young, mid twenties, and I can’t think of a single time where I’ve seen a truly honest budget that wasn’t used as some sort of a wedge to drive home a certain narrative or idea.

              However, you have to treat Ryan’s budget the same way. If you think Obama’s is a political document how can you justify not treating Ryan’s the same way? Given some of the factual liberties he took, I find it to be an obvious political ploy. The same fundamental economic errors that plagued the first “Path” plagues version 2.0 (for instance, GDP growth estimations).

              On the point of the Bush tax cuts, I think Obama would veto an extension. This is definitely an area I will be paying attention to in the debates and will likely be a deciding factor when I vote.

              However, you still have no answered my question. We are not talking so much about reality as we are Obama vs. Ryan. You say that Ryan’s document is somehow serious while Obama’s is “bad”. Then to defend Ryan’s plan you shift talk into what you think Congress will actually do. No – stick to the plans, which one is less honest? I see absolutely no way where you can claim Ryan’s is more grounded in reality.

      • Pipster


        Government should spend counter cyclically to promote stability and growth in our economy. Projecting future deficit growth based on the current high cost of digging out of the great recession is demogoguery. Ryan’s budget is merely about accelerating wealth transfer to the richest among us.

        Great metaphorical chart Aaron!

    • I really have to object to this very misleading graph. You completely neglected to add a curve for the projected cooling and comfortable temperatures trend projected to be the result of the GOP “Pray for Cooler Weather” plan! This omission is inexcusable, and reveals your shameless political pandering and undisguised partisan bias.

    • That chart just reflects the CBO numbers correct? Alternative fiscal scenario numbers presented to make a point about future spending and deficits here:


      • AB,

        Well done. When it fits Aaron’s narrative, it can be used without any disclaimer. When it fits Rep. Ryan’s narrative, it’s a “scare chart.”

      • For the last time. I completely understand what the Alternative Fiscal Scenario is.I understand that it represents what happens if we act to keep taxes low, act to keep the SGR from kicking in, refuse to contain spending, and refuse to address health care.

        However, that isn’t what Rep. Ryan is using. Look at his chart! He’s calling it the Obama budget. Is that how the CBO scored the President’s budget? No? Then he’s not drawing on their report:


        If he is actively using the AFS, then he needs to say so, and own that this is what the Republican Congress plans to do. Because if they just say “no”, none of the AFS will come to be.

    • The graph is ridiculous. Aaron is spot on with his analogy. In fact, I should go back and make a graph of debt vs gdp during the 1930s and early 1940s and extrapolate it to 2010.

      Debt isn’t the real issue. People and businesses go into debt which far exceeds their yearly income all the time, and no one will question that the debt is entirely justifible. Think about it about the process of a person buying a house or a firm making a major expansion plan.

      The truly scary issue isn’t debt or a whacked projection of the debt. The scary issue is that politicians and people can’t discuss what is good debt and what is bad debt, because they truly have no concept of what either is.