Beware the Bimodal

Missouri incumbent Senator Claire McCaskill thinks Missourians should vote for her because she is in the middle, #50, in a ranking of Senators based on how liberal/conservative they are.

Be careful of the political spin. This ranking doesn’t mean that she’s a ‘centrist’, as she likes to claim. This is the group that does the rankings and here is how it is calculated.

They grade on a curve. Think of a test in high school. If her and fellow Democrat Senators all scored 85 or higher there’s a couple of ways to look at the scores.

First, we might say they all scored well and deserve As and Bs.

Second, we could rank them by their scores and we’d find Claire ranked #50 with a score of 85.

Which method do you think is a better indicator of her true performance? The #50 ranking or the score of 85? I’d argue that the score of 85 is better.

By no means would we say that she’s closer in ability to a person that scores 50 or lower. But that’s exactly what she wants you to believe with her touting of the #50 ranking.

In statistics, a test score distribution where you have a clump of people at 85 and above and another clump of people scoring 40 and below, with very few in between, is a bimodal distribution (or two modes).

In the Senate, you are pretty much either liberal or conservative. Saying you are the least liberal doesn’t mean much, except that you are comfortable misleading people.

While I don’t agree with everything about all conservatives, I don’t very often see a conservative try to mislead folks into believing they aren’t conservative. It should be distressing to liberals when their candidates try to leverage the general public’s weak understanding of statistics to pretend they are not liberal.

 

Great example of a healthy discussion

One of the reasons I started this blog was to encourage health exchanges between folks with opposing viewpoints.  I heard a great example of such a healthy exchange recently.

If you have 18 minutes to spare, click here and listen to the podcast of a radio talk show host go toe-to-toe with Senator from Missouri, Claire McCaskill (look in the podcast window on the right of the page in the August 11 podcasts).

Host Greg Knapp does a good job at doing something that is hard to do — hold a politician accountable for not giving a straight answer.  Other journalists should study this podcast.  They should also know their stuff.  Knapp seems to and is able to come back and not get bulldozed by the lofty and voluminous words of a career politician from the highest level.

The conversation covers the debt ceiling increase, the fact that Democrats hadn’t passed a budget for quite some time, health care, calling tax breaks ‘subsidies’ (something McCaskill is famous for) and whether McCaskill takes the corporate jet tax break that Obama wants to get rid of.  It would have been funny if Knapp would have asked if she considers that a subsidy from other taxpayers (I think he might have under his breath).

I’ll also give credit to McCaskill for going into hostile territory and sticking it out against a worthy opponent.  I’ll be surprised if she comes on his show again.  I doubt she has ever had her platitudes challenged so well before.

Such healthy exchanges are rare in this country.  At all levels, we seem to avoid confronting those with opposing viewpoints.

Government: The Millionaires’ Charity

In the video below, Senator McCaskill flexes her political skill of making unreasonable things sound almost reasonable.

There’s much wrong with what Senator McCaskill says in the press conference.

For example, at the :45 second mark, McCaskill claims that since 70% of Americans do not itemize taxes, the tax code was written for wealthy Americans.  That’s a difficult claim to make in light of the facts Don Boudreaux highlights and links to in this blog post yesterday on Cafe Hayek.

As Boudreaux points out,

…the top 1 percent of income-earning households – surely “the wealthy” – they paid a whopping 38 percent of federal personal income tax revenue.

A reasonable question is what percentage of the income did that 1% of taxpayers earn?  According to the link Boudreaux provides in his post, that 1% earned 20% of the income.  So, the super wealthy pay taxes nearly double the proportion of the income they earn.  If the tax code has been written for them, as McCaskill claims, it seems like that proportion would be much less.

Advice to reporters:  I’d be interested to know what proportion of taxes McCaskill thinks the top 1% should pay, that way we can see how far from her mark we are and we can prevent ourselves from getting stuck in this arbitrary quagmire of her saying the “rich should pay more” no matter how much they are already paying.  Please ask her.

At the 1:30 mark McCaskill says:

…because they’re [Republicans] going to pout if we don’t give more money to millionaires

Emphasis added.   Letting millionaires keep money they earn and already pay substantial taxes on is not the same as giving money to millionaires.   I’d appreciate honesty here.  If McCaskill can’t be honest voluntarily, I’d appreciate it if reporters held her accountable.

Good reporter question:  Senator, You said Republicans want to give more money to millionaires.  Is that what you meant?  It seems you are really talking about letting them keep more of what they earn.

I recommend the following revision to McCaskill’s remark:

…because they’re [Republicans] going to pout because we want to take more money from millionaires…

Addendum:  Thomas Sowell covers the same topic today in his column, Rhetoric Rises Again.  Sowell’s words:

When you refrain from raising someone’s taxes, you are not “giving” them anything. Even if you were actually cutting their tax rate– which is out of the question today– you would still not be “giving” them anything, but only allowing them to keep more of what they have earned.

Is the government doing any of us a big favor by not taking even more of what we have worked for? Is it not an insult to our intelligence to say that the government is “giving” us something by not taxing it away?