Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Intellectually Dishonest Statements Masquerading as Facts

The buffoonery and misdirection on display in a recent Washington Post column by Matt Miller is like nothing we’ve ever seen before. 
We’re firm believers that everyone has the right to their own opinion, but that doesn’t give them the right to deliberately mislead their readers with a ludicrous interpretation of facts.
This column is especially ripe given that the entire premise of the piece is to talk “honestly about redistribution.”
We recently attempted to put the entire Payroll Tax issue in its proper perspective, and Miller’s piece does the exact opposite by trying to claim that the poor are subsidizing Social Security and Medicare for the wealthy.  This is quite possibly the most asinine comment we’ve ever read in a major newspaper.
We take billions from struggling young families earning $35,000 who can barely make ends meet, let alone save for college or retirement, and use the money to pay for Social Security and Medicare benefits for seniors who earn more than $100,000.”
It is possible that a single dollar bill originally collected from the payroll taxes of someone making $35,000 was then sent out in Social Security benefits to a senior who earns more than $100,000.  Therefore, we can’t say that Miller’s “fact” is 100% incorrect, but we can say with certainty that it’s 100% misleading and intellectually bankrupt. 

We could use Miller’s logic to make the exact opposite argument and say that we take billions in payroll taxes from those who earn more than $100,000 and use that money to pay for Social Security and Medicare benefits for seniors never earned more than $35,000.  Both statements are factually correct if you look at a single, fungible dollar bill.  However, the path of a single dollar bill does not prove anything about the total re-distributive effects of Social Security and Medicare.  This leads nicely to his next sentence:
“We do this even though those seniors are getting back far more than they ever paid into the system.”
Again, this is another factual, yet incomplete and inappropriately reasoned statement.  It is true that those seniors who earn more than $100,000 will get back far more than they ever paid into the system, but it’s also true that seniors who earn less than $35,000 will get back far more than they ever paid into the system.  In fact, the senior earning less than $35,000 will have paid much less for the same benefits, especially when Medicare is factored in.  Social Security and Medicare - i.e. the two programs supposedly funded by the Payroll Tax - are progressive programs.  We covered this in detail in our previous column so let’s move on to Miller’s next intellectually challenged statement: 
“We take billions from high-income blue states like New York and California, and ship them via federal benefits and subsidies for farming and oil to poor red states like Alabama and Oklahoma. We do this even though the recipient states mostly vote Republican and moan endlessly about getting Uncle Sam off their backs.”
This is laughable on many levels. 
First, we agree with the premise that subsidies are bad, but to suggest that only “red” states receive subsidies is farcical. In fact, two of the top six oil producing states are “blue” states won by Obama in 2008, including California at #3 which has more electoral college votes (55) than the other four “red” states combined (47).  Additionally, three of the top four states receiving farm subsidies were “blue” states (Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota account for over 20% of total farm subsidies).  Solyndra and its green-subsidized brethren are almost exclusively located in California.  Amtrak, subsidized by hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars over the last 40 years, primarily services the NE corridor which is as “blue” as “blue” can get.  We could go on, but we’ve made our point. 
Lastly, even if we believe the fantasy that only “red” states received subsidies, the “benefits” of the subsidy reach everyone, not just those in the “red” states.  The effect of subsidies – particularly farming and oil subsidies - is to ensure increased competition with foreign producers, thereby increasing supply and lowering prices for consumers, not to line the pockets of the producers.  Therefore, the high-population “blue” states, which, as far as we can tell, still eat food and drive cars, will benefit from these subsidies just as much as the low-population “red” states – perhaps even more. 
The secondary points in the column start to resemble intelligent thought, as Miller cites the problems with the mortgage-interest deduction (albeit with a ridiculous example involving Bill Gates) and the differences in Medicare costs by location that go above and beyond the cost-of-business differences of each location. 
We have no problem with major media outlets publishing partisan columns on the opinion pages, but it’s incumbent upon those media outlets, both left and right leaning, to ensure those opinions are based on a complete set of relevant facts, not on incomplete and intellectually dishonest statements masquerading as facts.


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