Politics and Evidence

By the time anyone reads this post, it may be too late. It may already be too late.

Republicans and Democrats in Washington, D.C. are engaged in a high-stakes game of Made You Blink and everyone is about to lose. What bothers me most, and the reason I’m using this forum to vent, is that extreme elements in the Republican party have staked out a position that is based on ideology, not evidence.

The ideology states that restoring tax rates even to their modest levels of the Clinton years will slow economic growth.

There’s no doubt that it’s possible to tax people so heavily that they don’t want to work anymore and GDP declines. Even Communist governments have learned that lesson. But nobody is talking about 70% marginal rates. Obama is only proposing that the Bush-era tax cuts — which Bush himself said would expire in 2010 and which Obama has already extended once — would expire on schedule. In fact, he’s only proposing that the tax cuts for the 2% of Americans with incomes over $250,000 per year will expire. The rest of us would have permanent, Bush-level tax cuts. I call that pretty reasonable.

Still, extremist Republicans have an ideology that’s dead-set against any tax increases at all. Is there evidence to back up their assertion that higher taxes on those who can most afford to pay them will choke the economy?

This graph shows the top marginal income-tax rate in blue, and the percentage change in GDP in red, since the end of the Great Depression. Do you see a correlation? Neither do I. (Click on the image to see the full article.)

Top Marginal Tax Rate vs GDP Growth

I can also say that I lived through the Reagan years as a tax-paying adult. What I recall was that some sectors of the economy did indeed do well, namely the sectors based on feeding the selfishness of the rich. (Gucci shoes were hot sellers.) But I suppose that’s just anecdotal evidence and does not deserve a place in a serious article about economics. Wait! This is my blog and I can say anything I want!

So, yeah, here’s one more thing I want to say. I can’t help noticing the high correlation between people who care more about ideology than evidence in the tax wars, and people who don’t particularly care about evidence in the science wars.

A 2008 Gallup Poll found that 60% of Republicans believe “God created humans as is within the last 10,000 years.” That over 50% higher than the percentage of Democrats who believed that. (I do confess to being surprised that the Democrat percentage (38%) is as high as it is.)

Another 2008 Gallup Poll found that Republicans were much less likely to think global climate change is a real, human-caused phenomenon. Furthermore, even as the scientific evidence has continued to mount, Republicans have become less convinced that scientific consensus exists. How have they managed that? They have become more convinced that the media is exaggerating climate change’s  effects! Someday soon, I’m going to write a post on how you know your views are probably wrong: it’s when you must resort to conspiracy theories to explain away the evidence.

In the meantime, would extremist Republicans in Washington please drop the ideology and start to look at the evidence? We don’t have much time left before economic catastrophe is upon us.

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