People will criticize the article and say it reads more like an editorial, and it does. It also uses some deceptive statistics that are designed bolster the point of the writer rather than shed any light. I give a big thumbs down to deceptive statistics. They are especially uncalled for considering that the non-deceptive statistics, like the one quoted above, are so illuminating.
David Cay Johnston didn’t like my characterization of his statistics as “deceptive.” He left a long comment on my blog. Most of his comment explains where he got his statistics from, which misses entirely the point of my comment. I didn’t say anything in the article was untrue, I was expressing my dissatisfaction with some of the statistics which were cherry-picked to overemphasize his point.
Johnston wrote in his comment, “For example? You don't cite a single example of a supposedly deceptive statistic.” The nature of blogs is that we don’t write huge essays all the time, it’s not what people want to read, nor do I have the time. But to set the record straight, this is probably the part of the article that made my deceptive statistics radar go off:
One way to understand the growing gap is to compare earnings increases over time by the vast majority of taxpayers - say, everyone in the lower 90 percent - with those at the top, say, in the uppermost 0.01 percent (now about 14,000 households, each with $5.5 million or more in income last year).
From 1950 to 1970, for example, for every additional dollar earned by the bottom 90 percent, those in the top 0.01 percent earned an additional $162, according to the Times analysis. From 1990 to 2002, for every extra dollar earned by those in the bottom 90 percent, each taxpayer at the top brought in an extra $18,000.
Using absolute dollars to compare rich and poor is an immediate red flag because it easily distorts the true picture. Furthermore, from the quote above, it’s hard to even understand exactly what he’s writing about. I presume he’s comparing the change in the arithmetic average income of the bottom 90% to the arithmetic average income of the top 0.01%, but he never tells us what these averages are nor how much they changed.
Imagine if, in 1950, the average for the top 0.01% was 200 times higher than for the bottom 90%. In that case, the top 0.01% earning an extra $162 for every extra $1 earned by the bottom 90% would mean that the bottom 90% were actually catching up, yet the way it’s phrased it appears that the top 0.01% are pulling away.
What about the $18,000 figure? Well, suppose that during a period of time, incomes were nearly flat, with the bottom 90%’s income increasing by 0.01% but the top 0.01%’s income increasing by 1%. Hardly a very big deal, only a 1% increase in income, but if the 0.01% started out with 180 times as much income, then the scenario above would equate to that $18,000 figure.
Now my numbers above are just made up to illustrate a point, but the point is that these comparisons from the article are meaningless because they tell us very little about the differences between the two groups, yet they give the appearance of the better off group being outrageously better off.
At the end of his comment, Johnston seems to be asking for an apology:
If you don't have an example of unethical conduct -- and that is what you accused me of -- but rather blogged without carefully thinking first then a corrective post would be the honorable response.
I don’t see why I need to apologize for accusing him of “unethical conduct,” because I never said he was unethical. Deceptive statistics are used all the time in the MSM (as well as the blogosphere), so they seem to be an accepted practice. Nor do I need to apologize for not “carefully thinking.” Even if true, it’s the nature of blogging that you can’t carefully think about everything you write, but in this case my original impression of the article most certainly does stand up to closer scrutiny.