April 20, 2010

More Sloppy Work At The Trib

This time from someone who (as he is an academic) should know better.

Oh, and there's a little tribbing going on as well - but more on that in a minute.

Ralph Reiland, associate professor of economics at Robert Morris University, writes this in today's Pittsburgh Tribune Review:
Here's the news from The New York Times last Wednesday, the day before Tax Day: "Forty-seven percent. That's the portion of American households that owe no (federal) income tax for 2009. The number is up from 38 percent in 2007."

Given that jump among no-pays in just two years, it won't be many days before the majority of American households are taking out more than they're putting in when it comes to income tax monies.

And by paying zero, what's their incentive to keep from pushing for more spending on every federal boondoggle that's funded by the income tax, no matter how wasteful or crooked the project? To better feather their own nests, why shouldn't they all be riding around with "Raise the Income Tax" bumper stickers on their cars?
But when we go to the Times we find that Reiland's quoting a column and not the news. Professor, if you're going to quote something, you have to give it it's proper attribution. In this case it's a column by David Leonhardt, economics columnist at the NYTimes. But that's the small point as we should expect the facts in a column to be factual (not always the case at The Trib, but you know what I mean).

The larger point is that while Reiland's improperly quoting the column, he's also misquoting it. Take a look at the sentences that directly follow what Reiland called "the news":
That’s the portion of American households that owe no income tax for 2009. The number is up from 38 percent in 2007, and it has become a popular talking point on cable television and talk radio. With Tax Day coming on Thursday, 47 percent has become shorthand for the notion that the wealthy face a much higher tax burden than they once did while growing numbers of Americans are effectively on the dole.

Neither one of those ideas is true. They rely on a cleverly selective reading of the facts. So does the 47 percent number. [emphasis added]
Professor, if you are going to quote something, you have to make sure that it says what you say it says or you have to explain why it doesn't.

Here's more from the NYTimes column - stuff Reiland dutifully omitted:
The 47 percent number is not wrong. The stimulus programs of the last two years — the first one signed by President George W. Bush, the second and larger one by President Obama — have increased the number of households that receive enough of a tax credit to wipe out their federal income tax liability.

But the modifiers here — federal and income — are important. Income taxes aren’t the only kind of federal taxes that people pay. There are also payroll taxes and investment taxes, among others. And, of course, people pay state and local taxes, too.

Even if the discussion is restricted to federal taxes (for which the statistics are better), a vast majority of households end up paying federal taxes. Congressional Budget Office data suggests that, at most, about 10 percent of all households pay no net federal taxes. The number 10 is obviously a lot smaller than 47.
And the tribbing? Reiland quotes the Tax Foundation - another Scaife funded thinktank.

Given that Reiland works for Richard Mellon Scaife and his boss has sent at least a quarter of a million dollars in the last three years to a think tank he cites in his column, doncha think Reiland should have mentioned that?

Transparency and all...

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