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       The latest data dump by the Debt Commission is more metaphorically biological than actually numerical.  It is a conglomeration of the most amateurish examples of graphs deliberately – should we assume that X coordinates and denominators are changed arbitrarily by some computer program? - being designed to obfuscate and deceive rather than illuminate and inform.    [For Dallas Morning News subscribers check out pg. 5A of the 12-3-2010 issue)

           The first distortion is changing the units in the X coordinate to show an exaggerated change in the future.  Why?  Because the present trend is a continued reduction in the national debt between now and 2014 where it levels off for the next six years at less than 5% of GDP.  If the graph stopped there, everyone would say, "Where’s the problem?"  But by changing the scale and adding the projected numbers for  the second decade and a half from today – something only a fool or deceiver would attempt  given the fluidity of the world economy - a dramatic (and totally deceptive) impression is created.  
      In other words, the Debt Commission is asking us all to get hyper about a situation where the national debt will stabilize at less than 5% of GDP for the next decade and then might or might not – can we assume that future changes in the nation’s tax policies and the economy as a whole will not be forthcoming? – be significantly changed for the next decade.   That’s in the graph entitled "Driving down the deficit and debt."  
      The graph entitled "How it could affect taxes paid" actually contains two distortions.  One arbitrarily changes the denominator in the X coordinate from dollars to percentage points.  With the percentage units being smaller than the dollar units, an impression is created that the percentage is smaller.  It may be but there is no way to know from the information we are given.
     The other deception carries through several graphs and is how income earners are aggregated.  It seems that all tax filers are ranked by income and then that population is divided into five equal groups.  The resulting graph shows 80% of the population making less than $122,000 a year and leave $61/hr consultants lumped into that top 20% with $500,000/hr hedge fund managers.   In so doing it ignores the real dollar values of tax rate changes.   In this example, a reduction of the tax rate from 35% to 28% saves that consultant $8,540 while it saves the hedge fund manager $70,000, person benefiting as much as 8,197 other people combined. Setting aside the moral implications; Is there an economic justification for this?
     These are three [there may even be more] gross examples of deceptive graphing, which raise the question: "If the Debt Commission has a legitimate case to make for their proposals, why do they engage in such sophomoric attempts to deceive the public?"  And unexamined is why a commission tasked with lowering the national debt would include in its proposals taking a meat ax to income tax revenues?  How does cutting taxes lower the national debt unless the Reagan economic myth that lowering taxes creates more revenue is still in vogue?  
    So, where do I find myself?   This proposal indicates that the national debt crisis is a case of manufactured hysteria designed to continue the attack on the middle class and enrichment of the top 2% of the country.   This is a tempest in a teapot...a continuation of the war on the middle class and the continued propaganda designed to convince the public that the reason we have low employment is because the middle class has too much money to spend.    We are spending seven cents of our budget dollar to service our national debt, the world is willing to loan us money at 0.27% interest for a year... and the sky is falling?    Somebody needs to get a grip!

Originally posted to Steve Love on Fri Dec 03, 2010 at 11:10 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (5+ / 0-)

    ...toward a better tomorrow.

    by Steve Love on Fri Dec 03, 2010 at 11:10:42 AM PST

  •  How To Lie With Statistics (0+ / 0-)

    The book is nearly as old as I am (published 1954), but still resonates.

    In a 2004 review, I found a tidbit about your first listed distortion:

    The very final example of the book concerns trends. If you know how something is changing over some short time period, you can make the situation seem much more extreme by projecting the trend into the future and coming up with some headline-grabbing prediction. An increase of, say, a percent in the rate of some disease over the last ten years can be converted into an epidemic of biblical proportions if you just predict that the trend continues unchanged for long enough. Of course, there may be no particular reason to believe that the trend will continue, but in the meantime, you have got your headline and the media have their scare story (see Editorial trends in this issue of Plus for a current example).

    grok the "edku" -- edscan's "revelation", 21 January 2009

    by N in Seattle on Fri Dec 03, 2010 at 12:19:54 PM PST

  •  Having graphics (0+ / 0-)

    of their graphics would have been useful.

    As for the rest, no big surprise.

    My life is an open book, and I want a rewrite!

    by trumpeter on Fri Dec 03, 2010 at 01:00:57 PM PST

    •  I know. I was hoping that maybe someone would (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      N in Seattle

      go to the Dallas paper and pull up the article but that is a reach.  I am content if the readers are reminded of some of the methods that graphs are used to lie and distort.  

      ...toward a better tomorrow.

      by Steve Love on Fri Dec 03, 2010 at 10:14:18 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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