Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Better Forgotten Mr. Will

George Will has a remarkably unremarkable column in the Post today. His thesis seems to be that Democrats are ignoring simple "arithmetic and logic" in making their political arguments. He points out three separate instances that he believes proves his point. They are all flawed in some way.

First, he claims that the Democrats misuse the words "working poor" and "low-income" when discussing those the proposed SCHIP expansion will cover. Will notes,

Under the bill that Democrats hope to pass over the president's veto tomorrow, states could extend eligibility to households earning $61,950. But America's median household income is $48,201. How can people above the median income be eligible for a program serving lower-income people?
Let me explain, George. If we have 11 households, and 5 make $20,000, four make $50,000, one makes $1,000,000 and one makes $48,201, the median is $48,201. That is, there are five incomes above the median and five below the median. Under Mr. Will's analysis, it would be illogical to grant benefits to those making a single dollar over the median income. But a good social policy would be to cover those whose incomes require it, not based on some possible statistical anomaly. George, if you are going to accuse others of illogic, better check yours.

Second, George suggests that Hilary Clinton is being illogical or even hypocritical (my word, not his, but the thrust of his argument is clear) by proposing that
Any family that earns less than $60,000 and puts $1,000 into a new 401(k)-type plan would receive a matching $1,000 tax cut. For those earning between $60,000 and $100,000 the government would match half of the first $1,000
while at the same time opposing President Bush's argument for personal accounts to replace a portion of Social Security. But, as George describes her plan, Hilary would not replace any part of Social Security with private accounts - she would encourage the supplementation of Social Security with private accounts. There is nothing illogical about supporting the latter and opposing the former.

Lastly, George quotes John Edwards as saying to Iowans
We need to take the power out of the hands of these insiders that are rigging the system against you.
Then, George points to a Cato Institute study that demonstrates that Iowans receive an average net of almost $2,000/person from the Federal Government per year. This, George argues, is evidence that the Democrats are illogical. Ok, there are a few problems with his analysis. In the first place, it only demonstrates something about John Edwards, who is running an extremely populist campaign based on income inequity, not the Democrats. Edwards should be expected to make more sweeping statements about those who have taking advantage of the have-nots given his campaign themes. But, in any event, much like George's first contention, his numbers do not prove anything. If a small number of Iowans gets all the Federal money, Edwards' claim of insiders "rigging" the system might still be true no matter how much the average amount Iowans receive is. Politically, George's argument is weak as well. He ignores the fact that the Republicans pander to Iowa just as much as the Democrats. Fred Thompson, Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney, and John McCain have all been supportive of ethanol production, which George gives as his best example that Democrats are illogically pandering to Iowans. What's good for the goose, George, is good for the gander.

In conclusion, whether you agree or disagree with Will's political analysis, and whether his numbers are correct or not, it cannot be gainsaid that a columnist charging illogical positions by others make sure his claims have no logical flaws themselves. Will has flunked that test today.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That’s the link to the report where George Will got the $48,201 figure. That number is the median income of ALL households, whether they have kids or not. The median household for “Family household–married couple” (the closest thing the census lists to “family of four”) is actually $70K. So suddenly the $62K SCHIP cap for the family of four isn't so ludicrous.

Will was being intellectually dishonest (or as I like to say, “dishonest”) by including “non-family households.” “Non-family,” of course, means “no kids,” and this is legislation about health insurance for kids.

George Will doesn’t dwell on the fact that the average health insurance premium for a family of four has gone up 78% since 2001–to over $12,000 in 2006–while wages only rose 19%.

George Will thinks that households making more than that “median” $48K should be able to pay for their own health insurance. But, after they did so, that would mean raising a family of four on (pre-tax) income of... $36,000!

Sometimes I actually like George Will, but today I loathe George Will.