Chart of the Day

There probably ought to be a blog that is dedicated to debunking the nonsense and distortion that the Republican party is spewing out on such a regular basis.  At least when it comes to economic issues, we’ve got the Center on Budget Policies and Priorities to perpetually rise to the challenge.  If only journalists took this stuff more seriously instead of treating it as “he said, she said” at best.  Anyway, one of the technically accurate but hugely misleading tropes of late has been the whole, “most Americans don’t pay federal income taxes” business.  CBPP eviscerates this argument and shows how incredibly misleading it is.  Chait summarizes.  First, the chart:

So, these tax freeloaders?  Well, most of them are working and paying our not inconsiderable payroll taxes and the rest are disabled, unemployed, students, etc.  But that’s the least of it.  More:

  • The 51 percent figure is an anomaly that reflects the unique circumstances of 2009, when the recession greatly swelled the number of Americans with low incomes and when temporary tax cuts created by the 2009 Recovery Act — including the “Making Work Pay” tax credit and an exclusion from tax of the first $2,400 in unemployment benefits — were in effect. Together, these developments removed millions of Americans from the federal income tax rolls. Both of these temporary tax measures have since expired. In a more typical year, 35 percent to 40 percent of households owe no federal income tax. In 2007, the figure was 37.9 percent.
  • The 51 percent figure covers only the federal income tax and ignores the substantial amounts of other federal taxes — especially the payroll tax — that many of these households pay . As a result, it greatly overstates the share of households that do not pay any federal taxes. Data from the Urban Institute-Brookings Tax Policy Center show only about 14 percent of households paid neither federal income tax nor payroll tax in 2009, despite the high unemployment and temporary tax cuts that marked that year.
  • Even these figures understate low-income households’ total tax burden, because these households also pay substantial state and local taxes. Data from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy show that the poorest fifth of households paid a stunning 12.3 percent of their incomes in state and local taxes in 2010.
  • When all federal, state, and local taxes are taken into account,the bottom fifth of households paid 16.3 percent of their incomes in taxes, on average, in 2010. The second-poorest fifth paid 20.7 percent.

Looks a lot different when you look at it that way.  Not that the Republican party or Fox news wants you to know.  I seem to recall Ann Coulter once writing a book along the lines of How to Argue with a Liberal.  The obvious answer?  Lie.

[p.s. to Damon: looks like you and your Blackberry are the only ones having the issue with the long quote and there's nothing funny in the HTML code.  Sorry!]

Wasted human capital

I started reading this Times column via a link from a friend’s FB page and started thinking, “hey, this is really good.”  I scanned to the top and thought, “doh, I should’ve realized I’m reading Dave Leonhardt.  Anyway, it is a really thought provoking look–largely based on an interview with Amherst College president, Anthony Marx– at how elite colleges are increasingly the domain of the richest Americans:

When we [Leonhardt and Marx] spoke recently, he mentioned a Georgetown University study of the class of 2010 at the country’s 193 most selective colleges. As entering freshmen, only 15 percent of students came from the bottom half of the income distribution. Sixty-seven percent came from the highest-earning fourth of the distribution. These statistics mean that on many campuses affluent students outnumber middle-class students.

“We claim to be part of the American dream and of a system based on merit and opportunity and talent,” Mr. Marx says. “Yet if at the top places, two-thirds of the students come from the top quartile and only 5 percent come from the bottom quartile, then we are actually part of the problem of the growing economic divide rather than part of the solution.”

That’s not the worst of it, though.  Obviously, fewer poor kids have the background and skills to succeed at top colleges.  The problem is, that even among those who do, they are largely shut out:

The truth is that many of the most capable low- and middle-income students attendcommunity colleges or less selective four-year colleges close to their home. Doing so makes them less likely to graduate from college at all, research has shown. Incredibly, only 44 percent of low-income high school seniors with high standardized test scores enroll in a four-year college, according to a Century Foundation report — compared with about 50 percent of high-income seniors who have average test scores.

I think that bolded line in an incredibly damning statement about our society and our visions of an upwardly mobile meritocracy.  The reports authors put it best:

“The extent of wasted human capital,” wrote the report’s authors, Anthony P. Carnevale and Jeff Strohl, “is phenomenal.”

In my experience at Duke, the diversity we had was that the Black and Hispanic students from upper/middle class homes in addition to the majority white students from upper/middle class homes.  I’m sure there was the rare student from the genuinely poor background, but I didn’t know about it.  Marx also makes a really useful point about test scores:

This comparison understates the problem, too, because SAT scores are hardly a pure measure of merit. Well-off students often receive SAT coaching and take the test more than once, Mr. Marx notes, and top colleges reward them for doing both. Colleges also reward students for overseas travel and elaborate community service projects. “Colleges don’t recognize, in the same way, if you work at the neighborhood 7-Eleven to support your family,” he adds.

Obviously, poor, but bright and motivated kids can get an excellent education at a non-elite university, but this still speaks to something we as a society are doing wrong and the false vision of American society as a genuine meritocracy.

Is 39 too young to be an Appeals Court Judge?

According to Republicans the answer is: only if you are a Democrat.  Interesting article in Slate about how Republicans have been consciously choosing young judges for years as an intentional political strategy, whereas Democrats have been slow to catch on.  Of course, when Democrats nominate a young judicial nominee, e.g., Godwin Liu, he is apparently too young and inexperienced.  Here’s some of the telling details:

Aside from Liu, none of President Obama’s nominees to the federal appellate courts are under 40. Only two are under 45. On average, Obama’s nominees are more than 54 years old, which is four years older than the nominees under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. But the averages tell only part of the story. Consider these statistics: Of the 50 youngest appellate judges nominated since the Reagan administration, 41 were tapped by Republicans. Of the 30 youngest judges, 28 are Republican nominees; and the 18 youngest are all Republican nominees. By contrast, if you take the 50 oldest judges nominated since Reagan, nearly half of them were nominated by Democrats. For decades now, and as a matter of strategy, Republicans have been nominating younger judges. The real question is why Democrats have been doing just the opposite.

What Democrats seem to have missed is that judicial age matters. The list of the 50 youngest appellate judges appointed since the Reagan presidency—all nominated under the age of 45—reads like a Who’s Who of most accomplished federal judges of our time: … By this point in his first term, President Bush had nominated at least a half dozen judges who were 42 years old or younger. But President Obama has nominated just one: Goodwin Liu.

That fact was not lost on Liu’s opponents. Republican senators immediately pointed to Liu’s youth and lack of experience as a disqualifying factor, even though they had previously defended similarly inexperienced Republican nominees…

Youth became a disqualifying factor in Goodwin Liu’s case precisely because it made him such a strong candidate for eventual elevation to the high court. “The bigger concern is that he’ll wind up on the Supreme Court,” Curt Levey of the conservative Committee for Justice told the Associated Press. And in the National Review Online, Ed Whelan explicitly noted Liu’s age, denounced his inexperience, and suggested that Liu was a “plotting his path to a Ninth Circuit seat as a stepping-stone to his goal of a Supreme Court nomination.”

Obviously, Democrats have not been blocking the young Republican nominees.  Just one more example of partisan asymmetry.  I thought for a few minutes if Liu really is old enough to be an Appeals Court Judge, as he is just a bit older than me.  I decided that by the age of 40, if you really have the abilities, you are probably good enough for anything.  Sure, experience is great, but I’m not sure in 5 more years that would necessarily help Liu better interpret federal and Constitutional law.

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