Pol­i­tics ver­sus re­al­i­ties

The Covington News - - Opinion - Thomas Sow­ell is a se­nior fel­low at the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion, Stan­ford Univer­sity, Stan­ford, CA 94305. His web­site is www.tsow­ell. com.

It is hard to un­der­stand pol­i­tics if you are hung up on re­al­ity. What mat­ters in pol­i­tics is what you can get the vot­ers to be­lieve, whether it bears any re­sem­blance to re­al­ity or not.

Not only among politi­cians, but also among much of the me­dia, and even among some of the pub­lic, the quest is not for truth, but for talk­ing points that fit a vi­sion or ad­vance an agenda. Some seem to see it as a per­sonal con­test about who is best at fenc­ing with words.

The cur­rent con­tro­versy over whether to deal with our mas­sive na­tional debt by cut­ting spend­ing, or whether in­stead to raise tax rates on “the rich,” is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of talk­ing points ver­sus re­al­ity.

Most of those who fa­vor sim­ply rais­ing tax rates on “the rich,” or who say that we can­not af­ford to al­low the Bush “tax cuts for the rich” to con­tinue, show no in­ter­est in the his­tory of what has ac­tu­ally hap­pened when tax rates were raised to high lev­els on “the rich,” as com­pared to what has ac­tu­ally hap­pened when there have been “tax cuts for the rich.”

As far as such peo­ple are con­cerned, those ques­tions have al­ready been set­tled by their talk­ing points. Why con­fuse the is­sue by dig­ging into em­pir­i­cal ev­i­dence?

The po­lit­i­cal bat­tles about whether to have high tax rates on peo­ple in high in­come brack­ets or to in­stead have “tax cuts for the rich” were fought in at least four dif­fer­ent ad­min­is­tra­tions in the 20th cen­tury, un­der Pres­i­dents Calvin Coolidge, John F. Kennedy, Ron­ald Rea­gan and Ge­orge W. Bush.

The em­pir­i­cal facts are there, but they mean noth­ing if peo­ple don’t look at them.

Dur­ing the Coolidge ad­min­is­tra­tion, the tax-cut­ters won. The data show that “the rich” sup­plied less tax rev­enue to the gov­ern­ment when the top in­come tax rate was 73 per­cent in 1921 than they sup­plied af­ter the in­come tax rate was re­duced to 24 per­cent in 1925.

Be­cause high tax rates can eas­ily be avoided, both then and now, “the rich” were much less af­fected by high tax rates than was the econ­omy and the peo­ple who were look­ing for jobs. Af­ter the Coolidge tax cuts, the in­creased eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity led to un­em­ploy­ment rates that ranged from a high of 4.2 per­cent to a low of 1.8 per­cent.

But that is only a fact about re­al­ity, and, for many, re­al­ity has no such ap­peal as talk­ing points.

The same pref­er­ence for talk­ing points, and the same lack of in­ter­est in dig­ging into the facts about re­al­i­ties, pre­vails to­day in dis­cus­sions of whether to have a gov­ern­ment-con­trolled med­i­cal sys­tem.

Since there are var­i­ous coun­tries that have the kind of gov­ern­ment-con­trolled med­i­cal sys­tems that some Amer­i­cans ad­vo­cate, you might think that there would be great in­ter­est in the qual­ity of med­i­cal care in these coun­tries.

The data are read­ily avail­able as to how many weeks or months peo­ple have to wait to see a pri­mary care physi­cian in such coun­tries, and how many ad­di­tional weeks or months they have to wait af­ter they are re­ferred to a sur­geon or other spe­cial­ist. There are data on how of­ten their gov­ern­ments al­low pa­tients to re- ceive the lat­est phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal drugs, as com­pared to how of­ten Amer­i­cans use such ad­vanced med­i­ca­tions.

But sup­port­ers of gov­ern­ment med­i­cal care show vir­tu­ally no in­ter­est in such re­al­i­ties.

Their big talk­ing point is that the life ex­pectancy in the United States is not as long as in those other coun­tries.

They have no in­ter­est in the re­al­ity that med­i­cal care has much less ef­fect on death rates from homi­cide, obe­sity, and nar­cotics ad­dic­tion than it has on death rates from cancer or other con­di­tions that doc­tors can do some­thing about. Amer­i­cans sur­vive var­i­ous can­cers bet­ter than peo­ple any­where else.

Amer­i­cans also get to see doc­tors much sooner for med­i­cal treat­ment in gen­eral.

Talk­ing points trump re­al­ity in po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sions of many other is­sues, from gun con­trol to rent con­trol. Re­al­ity sim­ply does not have the piz­zazz.

THOMAS SOW­ELL COLUM­NIST

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