I had intended to write about Microfinancing today. However, I was instead struck by the combination of a couple of recent discussions and so, today, we’re going to take a slight detour. This is not a new topic, and I am certainly not the first to write on it, but then, there is really nothing new under the sun, is there?
Simply put, we have reached a point where all too often we are not even willing to discuss facts, much less conclusions.
In an on-line conversation recently with one self-described Libertarian, I repeatedly asked to discuss facts. Literally, he refused. He response was really quite telling because it re-confirmed what, on its surface seems like a legitimate point, but in reality is just a way to avoid dealing with the actual issues and continuing to be able to hold on dearly to one’s dogma. Essentially, his response boiled down to saying that it didn’t matter what facts either of us presented, because then he would just argue about the source of the facts. No, really.
Okay, so on the surface this has some merit, right? After all, if the facts that you are going to cite come from, say, The Onion, then they’re, shall we say, questionable? (Always check your sources!) However, when we’re talking about the Office of Management & Budget, the Congressional Budget Office, the IRS or the like, then arguing the source is, not a legitimate tactic1. So, for example, if we want to discuss the effects of raising or lowering effective tax rates on job growth, then we need to look at the data, right? So, if we go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the job growth data and you’ll need the historical tax rates, which you might get from the Tax Policy Center. Then, you might get a chart like this:
So, while the Center for American Progress might be the group that did the work and published the chart, and while where may be some argument about their bias, the source of their data, and thus the ability to validate it yourself is also published right there for you. If you want to discuss the facts or the conclusion, okay. Let’s do that. However, to attack the source and ignore either the facts or the conclusion, is simply to admit defeat without being responsible enough to make the corresponding changes in your position.
As they say, you are entitled to your own opinion. You are not entitled to your own facts.
This problem is pervasive thorough out. On New Year’s day, Eric Cantor (Republican House Majority leader from Virginia) appeared on 60 minutes. He, and his off camera press secretary, denied that under that lion of the anti-tax, Tea Party right-wing Ronald Reagan, taxes were raised 11 times. Including what is widely accepted as the largest peacetime tax increase in American history. (The Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982). Yes, he lowered taxes a few times as well, but the net effect on the budget and deficit was to raise the debt. And, that is fact. It is not opinion and it is not open to debate or denial.
So, what do we do? We have to start dealing with facts. All of us. Remember when you were faced with a word problem in math class? The first step was to identify the facts, right? Once we do that, then we can start working towards solutions. If Sean Hannity presents facts and cites reliable sources while doing so, then we do not throw out the facts simply because he was the one presenting them. If Ralph Nader presents facts, and shows us his sources while doing so, then we do not throw out the facts simply because he was the one presenting them. Or, anyone else.
1 – That is not to say that these agencies are not to be questioned. Certainly they must. Oversight must be exercised, and data integrity must be maintained. However, simply questioning the data without any basis for that distrust is akin to putting on an aluminum hat to protect yourself from the mind control rays. In the example cited, certainly the BLS has some legitimate questions that can be asked of it. However, we have no better source at this point. Unless and until a better source can be provided, then it is the standard. It is like using the standard units of measurement until we get a better system. Just because inches and feet might not be the best possible, doesn’t mean we can just throw them out without a replacement.