The False Equivalency Fairy Rides Again (Still)

:: headdesk ::

That’s really all I can say (er, rather, DO), after reading this stupid editorial in the usually quite good McClatchy property the Kansas City Star. Why was it so bad? You know why: apparently, false equivalency is still easier (and perceived by reporters and editors to be more palatable to the public) than real reporting or especially (gasp!) taking sides on an issue based upon what the actual facts of that specific case are.

This time, it’s the payroll tax cut that comes in for the “two sides to every question” treatment. The editorial started off sounding good enough – the title is Americans including the rich must compromise on payroll tax cut (emphasis added). Sounds about like what President Obama and the Democrats have been proposing, right? Well, if you keyed in on the fact that in the bolded section, it says Americans including the rich, you were paying closer attention than I was when I read this editorial casually over lunch. Americans including the rich. That means, as we discover all-too-quickly, that although the balance-fetishists who wrote this editorial don’t want the rich excluded from paying their fair share to “true up” the cost of a payroll tax cut, they DO want all non-rich Americans to share in the pain also:

It is disappointing that, once again, Americans aren’t hearing about reasonable compromise in this matter.

Single-sentence paragraphs like this one ought to function as flashing-neon signs that whatever follows it is going to be a load of sloppily-researched, prevaricating, “third-way”-esque nonsense that fetishizes compromise and the “two sides” idea above all else, including finding out what’s actually correct.

So, what IS this “reasonable compromise” about which the KC Star editorial board is complaining the American people aren’t hearing? Go on, you’ll never guess. Unless, of course, you’ve paid even passing attention to domestic politics for the last fifteen years or so, in which case you probably don’t need me to tell you what’s coming.

After correctly noting that an increase in the payroll tax back to the usual level of 6.2% would “represent a burden on middle-class workers,” the Star editorial board immediately jumps off the deep end (or, probably more accurately, into the shallow end) of false equivalency:

While not threatening to lifestyle, a tax hike on the wealthy may be a hardship, as well.

Say WHAT now? If a tax hike on earners over $1 million (which is what the Obama administration has proposed as a way to make up the shortfall to the Social Security trust fund which would result from this temporary payroll tax cut) is not threatening to those high earner’s “lifestyle” (by which the KC Star editors mean: their ability to spend/consume as much as they want or need to) – and I agree that it is NOT – then in what other sense would such a tax hike constitute a “hardship?”

It would have been laughable if the KC Star editors had tried to convince readers that having to forgo the extra Mercedes (which would fall under lifestyle as they define it) constituted a “hardship.” But, perhaps sensing how ridiculous such an assertion would sound to the vast majority (99%, in fact!) of their readership (or perhaps because, as they admit – it isn’t true), the editors instinctively avoid trying to make such a specious-on-its-face claim.

In its place, however, they substitute a much more vague, but, when examined closely, perhaps even more laughable claim: that even though a tax hike on the very wealthy would affect them not at all lifestyle-wise, it still, somehow, represents a “hardship.” Which begs the question: in what way would such a tax hike on the very wealthy constitute a hardship?

If you were expecting the KC Star editors to perhaps take a crack at addressing the question of what sort of previously-unknown type of non-lifestyle/financial “hardship” such a tax hike might pose, well…I wouldn’t blame you. Usually, when writers introduce new concepts or ways of thinking about things, they go to at least some lengths to explain what they mean. That doesn’t appear to have troubled the KC Star editors, though: they just merrily assert that taxing the very wealthy would be a “hardship,” (even as they admit in the same breath that it would not be a consumption or financial hardship), and expect the reader to nod his or her head sagely and move along without questioning.

But wait, it gets worse:

But it is time to think about the long-term health of the nation, and not the short-term attractiveness to voters. Instead of facing off in a world of either/or, why not both?

Well, Sparky, because – as you yourselves just got done pointing out – raising the payroll tax for the middle class (even somewhat) represents a real financial burden on those whose incomes are in the $50,000 range, while, conversely, there is by your OWN estimation NO financial/consumption/lifestyle effect or hardship which would come from raising the tax of the very rich enough to cover this temporary tax break.

Let’s not forget; the wealthy will ALSO get this payroll tax cut which the KC Star editors are discussing in this editorial. It’s just that, when one makes over $1 million in a year, the amount one would either save or lose as a result of having this tax cut or raised is trivial in comparison to one’s overall income, and has virtually no effect upon one’s lifestyle/consumption choices. That’s not the case when one is making $50,000 a year. Then, an extra thousand dollars – or even a few hundred – in one’s pocket makes a very real and noticeable difference.

Not to mention the other side of that coin, which is that if you take money away from someone who needs it, you are taking away dollars which would be spent immediately on goods and services. Someone making $50K doesn’t live year-to-year with much of a financial cushion, typically: they spend most of what they make on necessities, because they must. Whereas, money taken from the very rich, as the KC Star editors themselves admit, will not affect those rich folks’ consumption patterns at all. That means for every dollar of the kind of tax hike the Star’s editors are contemplating you take from a middle class family or individual, that’s a dollar that isn’t put back into the economy, helping to create demand, and ultimately, jobs.

Those are the arguments for recouping the lost revenue from a temporary tax increase on millionaires and billionaires instead of some harebrained scheme to “share” the increase: because the very rich won’t feel such an increase, while those in the middle class (especially the lower middle-class) most definitely will. And lame attempts to confect some sort of undefined, nebulous “hardship” that isn’t financial but nevertheless exists and is significant enough to abandon such a plan, fall far short of the mark of being a reasonable rationale for why those with the $50,000 incomes ought to share the burden.

In their last paragraph, the KC Star editors note that

Washington, for reasons of political expediency, has been putting off dealing with some fundamental problems for far too long. Despite what politicians from both parties think of Americans, we are not afraid of sacrifice. We only insist that it be shared.

Who’s this “we” you speak of, KC Star editors? The 99-week unemployed? The shrinking middle class who’ve seen their wages stay comparatively flat as they’ve watched the incomes of the richest 0.1% skyrocket over the past couple of decades? I can’t speak for every American, obviously (then again, neither should you), but I’d be willing to be a lot of the people I just mentioned would probably agree in spirit with your final sentence that “we” (Americans) insist that sacrifice be shared. Only, they’d probably point out to you, gently, that after years of tax policy slanted heavily in favor of the already-rich, making the very wealthy pay a temporary tax increase small enough that even you admit it won’t affect their lifestyles so that the other 99% can have a better chance to get back on their feet (or maybe just keep the wolves from the door or afford medical care) literally IS “sharing the sacrifice.”

At least, it’s a start.