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Senator Schumer thinks Dynamic Scoring is a Faerie Tale

November 11, 2012

In the current political climate, both sides are against math. Recall Nate Silver is Probably a Witch — and today on Meet the Press, Sen. Schumer (D-NY) said that dynamic scoring is a Rumpelstiltskin faerie tale – (See WSJ: “Schumer Decries ‘Rumpelstiltskin Tax Fairy Tale’” by Corey Boles).

There was a lot of talk this year about North Carolina state legislature and banning regression math for sea level predictions. And now Senator Schumer is against a form of behavioral economics? Shouldn’t they challenge the assumptions of the model and not the modeling technique itself?

Is there a connection of this kind of political use of fairy tale character and the word zombie? — I think so… Why Rumpelstilzchen? A dwarf that could turn straw into gold?

in German means literally “little rattle stilt”. (A stilt is a post or pole which provides support for a structure.) A rumpelstilt or rumpelstilz was the name of a type of goblin, also called a pophart or poppart that makes noises by rattling posts and rapping on planks. The meaning is similar to rumpelgeist (“rattle ghost”) or poltergeist, a mischievous spirit that clatters and moves household objects. (Other related concepts are mummarts or boggarts and hobs that are mischievous household spirits that disguise themselves.) The ending -chen is a German diminutive and designates something as “little” or “dear”, depending on context.

In the story, the imp does the girl’s magical work for her (turning straw to gold) in exchange for payments (a necklace, a ring, a firstborn). The girl uses the imp’s work to get married to the king but when he comes back to collect her first born she renegotiates to guess the creature’s true name. Then she uses spies to get information and:

When the imp comes to the queen on the third day and she, after first feigning ignorance, then reveals his true name, Rumpelstiltskin loses his temper and his bargain. In the 1812 edition of the Brothers Grimm tales, Rumpelstiltskin then “ran away angrily, and never came back”. The ending was revised in a final 1857 edition to a more gruesome ending wherein Rumpelstiltskin “in his rage drove his right foot so far into the ground that it sank in up to his waist; then in a passion he seized the left foot with both hands and tore himself in two.” Other versions have Rumpelstiltskin driving his right foot so far into the ground that he creates a chasm and falls into it, never to be seen again.

Note that this same episode of “Meet the Press” today featured Doris Kearn Goodwin and a promo clip for the movie “Lincoln”. This only emphasizes that the U.S. Congress as with the fairy tale, is perhaps the “right foot” stuck in the mud and we are ripping ourselves in two, falling into a fiscal chasm? But wait who are in we in the Rumpelstilskin story? Are we the creature or the girl? Is China the King? Maybe we are the baby? Honestly, Sen. Schumer, I am a bit lost in this metaphor…

Also about that “Lincoln” clip – Lincoln refers to Euclid as a premise for self-evident equality – but what about non-euclidean geometry??? If A=A, why are there two of them? What if selecting A changes the effect of A so that A becomes B? What if that happens on such a mass scale that the economic or sea-level forecasting is based on poor assumptions?

Is there a way to know if Nate Silver is a witch before the actual election? How will we know if he’s going to be this accurate next time? If he is accurate for the rest of his life, he could still be wrong the next time. But if he is really never wrong, then what would be the point of elections? If elections are to matter, to the victor go the fairy tales.


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