The New York Times Quantitative Propaganda

Neil IrwinIn general, I’ve liked Neil Irwin’s work over the years. So I didn’t think much when I saw last week that he had written an article entitled, Why Americans Don’t Want to Soak the Rich. I think I may have given up on trying to understand what Americans do and don’t want to do. It changes from day to day and is incoherent regardless. But the word “soak” stopped me anyway. That’s a pejorative. I want to tax the rich a whole lot more, but I wouldn’t call it “soaking the rich.” So I figured the article didn’t have much to offer in terms of actual insight. What I most definitely did not think was that the article would be downright deceptive.

But when I saw that Jim Naureckas at FAIR had questioned the article, I took notice, Why Don’t Americans Want to “Soak the Rich”? It’s a Trick Question. What he means by that is that polling going back decades indicates a constant and high level of support for taxing the rich more. What was going on?

It turns out that Irwin’s article is not about polling data, but about two studies, which actually don’t shed much light at all about why Americans think any which way. The studies are vaguely interesting, but generally not so much so that they would be discussed in The New York Times. At first, I thought it was just a question of a bad headline for an article that didn’t back it up. But that isn’t true. Neil Irwin was indeed trying to make the case that Americans are less inclined to support taxing the rich. Check out this slippery move:

Over that same period, though, Americans’ views on whether the government should work to redistribute income — to tax the rich, for example, and funnel the proceeds to the poor and working class — have, depending on which survey answers you look at, either been little changed, or shifted toward greater skepticism about redistribution.

In other words, Americans’ desire to soak the rich has diminished even as the rich have more wealth available that could, theoretically, be soaked.

I’ll get to the first paragraph in a moment. But note how he shifts from the data being inconsistent to “Americans’ desire to soak the rich has diminished”! This article was not written as an opinion piece. It was part of The Upshot blog — The Times’ answer to Wonk Blog and (now) Vox. What I think we see here is something I talk about a lot: an upper-middle (or upper) class journalist who is so isolated that he doesn’t see his own economic conservatism as anything but “objective.”

Jim NaureckasAs for the first paragraph, Naureckas goes into some detail to show that indeed, there has been no drop in the desire of Americans to tax the rich. There was a little blip in 2010-2011 when “less than 60 percent said they thought the rich were not paying enough federal taxes.” Maybe Irwin is looking at surveys that ended in 2011. But those two years were the only years since 1992 in which support dipped below 60%. Check out the whole article because it has a lot of interesting data that totally refutes Irwin’s careless claim.

This makes me angry. This is the supposed liberal “newspaper of record.” And this article works as propaganda for the rich. It says to people, “Americans don’t want to tax the rich; you’re an American; right?!” Of course it works on a subconscious level where people simply pick up the idea that Americans don’t want to tax the rich. It is a way of narrowing the field of debate so that the idea of a 50% — much less a 70% or 91% — top marginal tax rate is just unthinkable. This is truly shameful.

Marco Rubio’s Unbelievable Tax Cut

Jonathan ChaitMarco Rubio’s presidential campaign is running into an unusual problem without precedent in the post-Reagan era: his tax cut is too big. The trouble is not so much that his tax cut is substantively too big — within the context of a Republican primary, a “too-large tax cut” does not even make linguistic sense; it would be like saying “Reagan is un-good.” Rubio’s slightly different problem is that his tax cut is so gargantuan that nobody in the party actually believes it…

The supply-siders are afraid that Rubio’s plan to cut taxes for the middle class would cost too much, forcing him to “fix” his plan by curtailing his promises to rich people…

Rubio’s plan is so wildly grandiose and unrealistic that even so math-challenged a figure as Steve Moore realizes it won’t add up. One of the things you learn growing up is that winning a bet for a dollar is worth more than winning a bet for a million dollars, because no kid ever pays up a million-dollar bet. Rubio’s plan is so crazy and unrealistic it might as well be no plan at all.

—Jonathan Chait
Has Marco Rubio Finally Created a Tax Cut So Huge Republicans Don’t Like It?

Selfish Old People and Obamacare

Narcissistic PeopleI really like Brian Beutler’s writing and analysis. But I don’t remember him ever filling me with awe as he did on Monday, Obamacare Is More Popular Than It Seems — If You Discount These People’s Opinions. He is not pulling punches. Put simply, he argued that we shouldn’t listen to old people when it comes to Obamacare because it has nothing to do with them. “Presumably we’d have no problem ignoring old people if they objected to child tax credits financed by working-age people. We should ignore them in this instance, too.” The polling that shows that people don’t care for Obamacare is tilted negative because old people are so against it, even though they are neither beneficiaries nor tax payers (except the very wealthy ones) for it.

As an example of this, he quoted the following from a detailed Bloomberg poll:

Stone, 83, says she “certainly hopes” the law gets repealed. She blames limits on medical testing in the act for her need to take cholesterol medication for three months this year after her cardiologist wasn’t willing to repeat a seemingly inaccurate but very high reading. “The doctors are very dissatisfied, and many of them are not able to give their patients the attention that they feel that they need because they can’t have too many appointments, too many tests,” said Stone, a retired elementary school principal from Alexander City, Alabama.

This goes along with a lot of literature that indicates that people mostly haven’t a clue about what Obamacare actually is. And that’s especially true of conservatives. Let’s just think about this for a moment. She’s on Medicare, so Obamacare has nothing to do with any limits on her coverage. I question her complaints anyway, but as much as they are indicative of real problems, they are problems with Medicare. Right now, only 36% of senior citizens have a favorable view of Obamacare. But the last time Gallup asked (last January), only 37% were satisfied with Social Security and Medicare. So maybe it is just the case that only about a third of senior citizens are happy about anything at all.

But look at Ms Stone in the quote above. I’m sure she would be appalled at the suggestion that Medicare be repealed. But she is more than willing to take healthcare away from millions of people, for the sole reason that she thinks it would improve the care that she gets under Medicare. It is a truly villainous attitude to have. And narcissistic. Beutler is right, but I will put it more bluntly: we shouldn’t listen to people like this because they are amazingly ignorant and selfish.

There is one substantive bit in the article that we really need to think about: the people who are for full repeal of Obamacare are the same as those who favor “repeal and replace.” So roughly 35% of the people want to repeal and roughly the same amount want to “repeal and replace.” As Beutler put it: “tacking ‘replace’ on to ‘repeal’ doesn’t widen the appeal of the conservative position at all.” I think this shows that Americans are a bit more savvy than they often appear. They understand that when Republicans talk about “repeal and replace,” that they aren’t serious. So what we actually get is roughly 65% of the people wanting to keep Obamacare pretty much the way it is. This is not something you will see reported on Fox News:

Obamacare Options

My image of elderly people is the nice folks at the Unitary church who hold candlelight vigils for world peach. But that is apparently the wrong image. The more typical image is Ms Stone who is of the “Off my lawn you kids” variety. This is not to say that I would take anything away from them. I feel very much that we must respect our elders. And I’ve been tested for subconscious bias and been found to be — contrary to most of this nation — biased somewhat toward the elderly. But Beutler is right: we shouldn’t listen to them on this issue. As it is, most of them probably think Obamacare is bad because Fox News and Mitt Romney told them that Obamacare was stealing from Medicare. The question we need to ask is why people like the thoroughly confused Ms Stone vote so reliably while we youngsters don’t. We can ignore their incoherent arguments, but we can’t ignore their votes.

Morning Music: Terry Callier

What Color Is Love - Terry CallierTerry Callier was an amazing guy, because he crossed all kinds of musical barriers. Primarily, he combined jazz and folk. If you can’t quite imagine that, remember that the blues is basically a kind of folk music. In fact, it was the folk scene of the late 1950s and early 1960s was responsible for finding old blues greats and turning them into stars in their old age. Callier would later go on to do some really interesting music with the UK hip-hop band Urban Species. So we was a lot more any English description could ever express.

Here he is performing probably his best known tune, “You Goin’ Miss Your Candyman,” from his great album What Color Is Love. He’s got a totally kick-ass band. But I don’t know who they are. It doesn’t matter. Just enjoy: