Lies, damned lies, and statistics. Recently, I’ve been getting a graduate-level course in how to lie with numbers. The first lesson comes from the Heritage Foundation, which has a chart showing that despite spending tons of money on anti-poverty programs, the poverty rate hasn’t budged in years.
The chart is by Robert Rector, in a column titled “The War on Poverty Has Been a Colossal Flop.” What’s wrong with this picture? The vast majority of means-tested welfare programs, like Medicaid, are not counted by the official poverty standard. So basically, the chart proves that anti-poverty programs don’t reduce poverty when you ignore the effects of anti-poverty programs.
Strangely, Rector acknowledges this point, which makes it even weirder that he would go through the trouble to make the chart in the first place. His argument seems to be that poor people aren’t really poor because they have microwaves (seriously). So…if there are no poor people, then didn’t we win the War on Poverty? Rector still says no, because the poor don’t all have good paying jobs. I agree that’s a problem, I’m just not sure taking away their health insurance will solve it.
But again, why bother making a chart you know proves nothing, unless your goal is to mislead? And he is very committed to making this data into a chart; he included a similar graph in an earlier post titled “This Chart Proves the War on Poverty Has Been a Catastrophic Failure.”
The second lesson comes from American Enterprise Institute, which is usually more honest than Heritage, but seems to have dropped their standards in this case. Mark J. Perry argues that rising economic inequality is an “imaginary hobgoblin” (points for mixing Spiderman villians into an economics column), and he has a chart to prove it: Continue reading