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Saturday, April 20, 2024

The Left Nut: Fact and Crap

You may have heard it said that there are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. This holds true insofar as people can frame statistics to corroborate their points: I could argue against abortion by telling you that 99 percent of all abortions are not in response to pregnancies caused by sexual assault, or I could argue in favor of it by telling you that 13,000 women per year are forced to have abortions due to rape.

When we see statistics, we must instantly become skeptics. Without a frame of reference, statistics mean nothing. For instance, conservatives often point out how Obama raised the national debt by $4.73 trillion in his first term. Bush, comparatively, only raised the debt by $4.9 trillion in twice the amount of time.

In absolute terms, $4.73 trillion is a hell of a lot of money. Yet this figure deceives us, as it gives no indication of how much these presidents raised the debt compared to the debt inherited from the previous administrations. By this measure, Obama increased the debt by 44.5 percent in his first term. This figure, while accurate, means absolutely nothing without context.

So it’s no coincidence when Bush supporters conveniently neglect to point out that he raised the debt by 86 percent or that Reagan, the prodigal son of the so-called “fiscal conservatives,” raised it by 190 percent. Reagan only differs from the proverbial prodigal son in that he never had to beg forgiveness from his party after recklessly spending his money; they fully supported him the entire way.

Yet neither of these measures matter as much as the change in deficit, which measures how much the president actually increases or decreases spending during a term. You may know that Clinton was the first president to erase the deficit since the 1960s; this means that government income exceeded government spending, thereby cutting into the national debt.

What many fail to realize, though, is that not all the other presidents since then have increased spending. As long as a deficit exists, the debt will increase. Lowering the deficit simply causes it to increase at a lower rate. Few mention that Obama, despite running a deficit, has significantly lowered the amount of government spending since he’s taken office.

The same cannot be said for any Republican since Nixon. The combination of decreased revenue from tax cuts and increased spending on military programs beginning in the 1980s skyrocketed the deficit, thereby burying us in a load of debt.

As you just saw, we can whittle down federal spending statistics to something relevant. Not all statistics are so pertinent, though; some are outright bullshit no matter which angle we view them from.

To use a famous example, let’s look at Romney’s claim that 47 percent of Americans pay no federal income tax. He argued that, because these people pay no income tax, they would vote Democrat no matter what.

While the 47 percent figure was technically correct, the assertion that all 47 percent would vote for Obama was grossly misleading. Contrary to what Romney implied, 61 percent of these people work full-time jobs and pay a payroll tax, which the government collects directly from their paychecks.

Another 22 percent are citizens over the age of 65, most of whom worked their entire lives until retirement, and who now collect the Social Security they paid into for so many years. On top of that, they fit into the demographic most likely to vote Republican. Romney must have forgotten that.

The remaining 17 percent consists of a few different groups: students in the process of earning a degree so that they may one day pay income taxes; disabled people incapable of working a normal job who must live off government subsistence; soldiers in foreign wars exempt from paying taxes while on active duty; and finally, making up a miniscule percentage of the population, the long-term unemployed who Romney might have you believe are taking all of your hard-earned dollars.

While statistics can deceive us, they can also reflect important truths about our country. Statistical evidence still holds much more weight than anecdotal evidence, as we see through the myth of the “welfare queen” who hypothetically uses government assistance to buy drugs, tattoos and an iPhone without actively seeking a job, compared to the fact that over 75 percent of welfare recipients are children.

Instead of instantly accepting statistics as truths or lies, we must thoroughly scrutinize them. Statistics themselves do not lie, per se; we’re just fools for believing them.

If you think that 9 out of 10 statistics that ZACH MOORE uses are crap, go ahead and correct him at zcmoore@ucdavis.edu.


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