Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: Sheep Leading Themselves to the Slaughter


Recently I encountered the inane phrase “redistribution of wealth.”  We all know that it refers to the evil plan of the left-wingers.  But wait!  Are we unaware that the redistribution of wealth has already occurred, and continues today?  Don’t we know that the wealth in the United States is distributed more unevenly than ever before in our history?  It’s the RICH who have all the wealth, not the persons on food stamps.  If you don’t believe that the moneymen continue to grab all the wealth (with no small help from the government), get yourself a book on ancient history: there you will learn that in the forgotten past, at the end of the Bush administration and the start of the Obama administration, the government gave how much? – one trillion, two trillion dollars – to the biggest banks.

I cannot believe that many of the Catholic Lane readers or contributors are huge recipients of the massive wealth redistribution.  Why then do we use the propaganda phrase of the very wealthy?  Why lead ourselves to the slaughter? This leads to the title topic …

“Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics”

The phrase is attributed to Great Britain’s Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, but was popularized by the American curmudgeon Mark Twain.

The so-called statistic we keep reading and hearing is “one percent [or whatever number the writer likes to use]of the people pay 60% [again, pick a number] of the taxes and only about 49 percent pay any taxes at all.”

The wide variation in the numbers makes me think this not really a statistic at all.  But if it is a real statistic, it is a lie in that it does not take into account the percentage of income pulled in by this generous and overloaded 1% who carry the rest of us on their weary backs.  It might be a meaningful statistic if it went something like this (Don’t quote the numbers pulled from my hat): “Two percent of Americans receive sixty percent of the income and pay sixty percent of the income taxes.”

But that still does not deal with the lie that fifty-one percent of us pay no taxes at all.  Almost all of us pay sales taxes.  Property taxes are paid by homeowners, landlords, and the tenants who pay the rent that supports these taxes.  In Washington State there is no sales tax on food.  So we buy a sack of potatoes.  The price of the potatoes includes the wages and taxes of everyone involved in potatoes: farmers, farm workers, truck drivers, freight handlers, grocery store employees, and all the support persons such as mechanics, CPA’s, lawyers, advertising media for the market, etc.  So if you want to become part of the mythic 51% who pay no taxes, you will just have to quit eating potatoes – or bread, or broccoli, or anything at all.  You will have to move out of your house or apartment.  Oh, yes, did I forget the fuel taxes?  Quit driving a car or riding a bus, and again, never buy any product which is transported by truck.

Please quit using this MISLEADING “statistic,” and when someone else uses it, tell them it’s nonsense.  Or if you don’t want to offend them, tell them that someone wrote an article somewhere, saying it was nonsense.

I am neither a liberal nor a conservative on the matter of taxes!

Big government wants to get as much of our money as it can – preferably all of it.  You already know that the Federal government has little if any concern for using money either prudently or humanely.  And you know that the feds are trampling on Catholic values.  By now you should also know that Big Money is interested only in getting more of our money, and converting that money into power.

We need the government, and we need the banking system – in the same way that earlier societies needed fire: you need them, but you must not let them take control and proceed to slash and destroy.

Let’s return to a consideration of the implications of the statistical propaganda piece.  This propaganda is used to support the claim that the wealthy are already taxed too highly, and should by no means be taxed at higher rates.  This position was embodied in the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and in the Obama extension of the same (which they love to blame on the Republicans – who were not in charge for the extension).  The current maximum tax rate is 35%, for income above $378,150 annually.  You may have noticed that we are not prospering nowadays.

I was a child when Eisenhower was elected President.  The eight Eisenhower years were a time of prosperity.  If you are interested you can verify this.  During Eisenhower’s administration the highest marginal tax rate was a whopping 91%.  During the years between 1950 and 1980, the highest marginal tax rate averaged a little more than 70%.  Again, these were years during which we prospered: we were the most powerful nation in the world, we were the richest, we were the largest creditor nation.

Of course taxes were not the whole story.  We were the most powerful industrial nation.  We did not have the political policy so euphemistically titled, “Free Trade,” to close our factories and to send our jobs off to China, Thailand and other third world countries.

There is a lot of room for differing opinions on things like taxation.  However, that does not mean there is room for falsehood and misleading – especially not for Christian writers writing for Catholic readers.  We do well to keep in mind Jesus’ judgment of liars.

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.  John 8:44

And here is Jesus’ testimony in Revelation

I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.
Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.
For without are dogs and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie.   Revelation 22:13-15

It would be unfair to urge you to argue from knowledge without pointing you in the direction of at least a couple of sources of good information, one of them right here in Catholic Lane.

Brooks Adams, The Law of Civilization and Decay, first printed about 1896.  It’s a sweeping history of the Western world focusing on money, centralization and creativity.* Adams shows things that happened again and again in the past, which we can see happening now, today.  I especially appreciate that there’s no way this 115-year-old book is intended as propaganda for today’s struggles.  Unfortunately, Brooks Adams does not respect Christianity – either Roman Catholic or Protestant.  But, as I was once advised, “Eat the chicken and spit out the bones.”

Catholic Lane contributor John Médaille is superb in his treatment of economic matters.  His September 16, 2011 article, featured in The Economy, is one I think we should all read.  His writing is dense, but the article is not long, and is well worth the effort.  Médaille provides a wonderful, balanced alternative to the ultra-capitalist and ultra-‘progressive’ articles that abound.

Did I really call Mark Twain a curmudgeon?  Please excuse me; I have to go look in a mirror.


*  I got a good price from ABE Books (internet) for the 1975 Gordon Press edition. 





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  • HomeschoolNfpDad

    Speaking of Christians writing misleading statements, the higher tax rates associated with the post-war presidential administrations were all of them associated with high rates of legal reductions in the amounts of income subject to taxation. So those 70% to 91% tax rates hardly hit a large amount of the incomes of most wealthy people. This is why the Alternative Minimum Tax came into being. There was a sizable number of the well-off who paid little or no taxes, despite the high rates.

    Historically and across all cultures, the tendency has always been for private economies to shrink when government policy has confiscated larger amounts from private citizens and groups. Whether this confiscation is called taxation or something else is not of great consequence. It is no coincidence that literally years of economic turmoil followed the English government’s confiscation of monastery wealth at the beginning of the English Reformation, for example. Conversely, the tendency has always been for private economies to grow when government has restrained itself from confiscating the earnings of its citizenry. This growth has not historically confined itself to the well-off, either.

    Incidentally, there is another pertinent Twain remark worth mentioning here. At the beginning of Joan of Arc, Mr. Twain comments approvingly of the French king’s decision to exclude the town of Domremy from the crown’s taxation regime, in appreciate for the great saint’s work in support of the French nation. It seems that the town prospered during the centuries when its citizens could keep most of the fruits of their own labors. Go figure.

  • goral

    Statistics were made for manipulation. That’s why one must always consider the source. Our media’s job is to sort through this manipulation and give the citizens a clearer picture.

    Here’s the picture, big gov’t breeds big business which funds big media. Right now, nationally, WLIE
    is the conglomerate analyzing the statistics so that the gov’t can use them to launch a campaign of more aid to Big Money.

    What’s an average curmudgeon to do? He’s too poor to fly out to Vagas for a stockholders meeting. He’s too ragged lookin’ to appear with a heartfelt appeal on WLIE. He can only go to the voting booth and vote for smaller gov’t – and there is the answer.

    Shrink the gov’t and the numbers will start to make sense.

  • GuitarGramma

    I’m afraid this article knocks down a mere straw man.

    In a recent back and forth of comments, I pointed out to you that “the top 1% of all wage earners paid close to 40% of the income tax revenue to our government.” You seem to have missed an important word there: *income*. There was no mention of sales taxes or social security taxes or property taxes or broccoli and potato taxes, just “income taxes.”

    Having been trained in statistics, I am well aware of the delicious truth in the Disraeli/Twain maxim. I, unlike you, looked at real numbers instead of pulling something out of my hat. So instead of statistics, let’s look at hard numbers from 2008, the year I’d been looking at when I wrote the above comment:

    The total income (AGI) for all taxpayers in 2008:
    The total income (AGI) for the top 1% of taxpayers:
    The total Income Tax revenue to the government in 2008:
    The total of income taxes paid by the top 1% of taxpayers:

    Now, to prove to you that I was not lying, as you seem to think we who use those hard numbers do, here is your formula applied to these numbers:
    In 2008, the top 1% earned 20% of the income in the United States and paid 38% of the income taxes.

    I will continue to quote it, because it is meaningful and because I have the hard numbers from government sources to back it up.

    As for the Bush tax cuts and Obama extension thereof, we must remember that all *taxpayers* benfitted from those tax cuts. The wealthy benfitted, yes, but so did the middle class. My own family has been quite grateful for the income tax relief we were granted by the Bush administration, continued under President Obama. True, those earning the least income in our nation did not benefit; because they were paying nothing, their “taxes” could not be reduced.

    Most disturbing, is the seeming lack of understanding of why banks needed to be bailed out. Banks lent money out of the deposits of little people like you and me. Those loans defaulted in droves. That was OUR money that was lost. The two trillion dollars really went into OUR pockets because OUR banks stayed solvent and WE could still access the funds in OUR accounts.

    I ask you, please, when you look in that adorable mirror with which you ended the article, please look to see if “envy” is written anywhere on your face:

  • goral

    “Banks lent money out of the deposits of little people like you and me. Those loans defaulted in droves.”

    That statement is party true, the reason the banks found themselves short of funds is because of federally guaranteed, subsidized or mandated mortgage loans that under normal circumstances never would have been granted.
    The gov’t was obligated to make good on it’s horrible policy to prevent a further banking crisis.
    This crunch in our financial sector is mostly hurting the little guy who has no other access to funds except the banks.

    So where did the money come from to do the bailout?
    I think it was Samuel Clemens again who said that our country has no criminal class except for Congress.

  • Goral’s point about the criminality of Congress is valid. And the citizenry is finally on to them, as evidenced by the single digit approval rates for the US Congress.

    Moreover, the financial schemes of the 1% have put the health of the economy in jeopardy, and have played fast and loose with the well being of the American people. Add to that the way they have used gargantuan accumulations of wealth to manipulate the political process — buying elections and hiring armies of lobbyists.

    Where is “we the people” in the vastly disproportionate and irresponsible influence of the 1%?

  • goral

    Everyone has their adversary, fine with me. Mine is the bloated, overreaching, wealth-consuming, irresponsible gov’t sector. Let’s say the one trillion was confiscated from the top 1% income earners and accrued to the side of income for the gov’t, making it over two trillion. The result would be more waste and even stronger infringements on our liberties and power to produce wealth that it is right now.

    This beast needs to be starved. We now have the tyranny of taxation with representation that was bought and paid for by big business interests.
    There is no politician that can get elected on matters of principle, fairness, small business interests or family issues. We may only have about ten years to get it right before we face a national calamity.

  • Theodore Kobernick

    GuitarGramma, your suggestion that I am an envious person seems unwarranted by anything I have written; and I doubt that you claim God’s role as the searcher of hearts.

    But, since you have personalized your disagreement, I shall accept your ground rules this once. You say, “Most disturbing, is the seeming lack of understanding of why banks needed to be bailed out. Banks lent money out of the deposits of little people like you and me.” This shows complete lack of understanding of the mortgage defaults. First, for years almost no banks have been making ‘portfolio loans’ – loans of the funds deposited with them. They have bundled their real estate loans and sold them on the ‘secondary market’ to outfits such as Freddy and Fanny. Thus the deposits made by your “little people” are not at risk when default occurs.

    Second, when the secondary market players created ‘derivatives’ by chopping up the bundles of loans and selling the derivatives on their market, the whole thing had moved far, far away from both the “little” depositors and the local banks.

    Third, “little people” had their deposits insured by the FDIC.

    It seems to me that the only “OUR money” (to which you refer) will turn out to be the taxes we will bear because of the bailouts.

    If your “hard numbers” and your interpretation thereof are as correct as your analysis of the bailout, please forgive me for not placing full confidence in the representations – especially representations that come from the Federal government.

    • GuitarGramma

      Theodore — First an apology. I can see that my meager attempt at humor fell flat on its face. I loved the last line of your article so much that I wanted to play off it. The part of the joke that you probably didn’t get is that the girl in the video is my daughter. It was not intended as an insult, because I wanted to bring you into our family and the way we look at things.

      Having said that, I will admit that when I was writing, I was feeling insulted myself. To quote the part of your article that raised my hackles: “if it is a real statistic, it is a lie.” I don’t like being called a liar.

      So, please let us make amends and forgive each other.

      • Theodore Kobernick

        GuitarGramma; No apology was needed, but thank you. This reply is completely sincere. I am sorry that I gave you the lie! It was intended rhetorically.
        In my opinion, John Médaille’s article is considerably better than mine. But it seems that his mild tone (which I do admire) does not elicit many responses.
        My personal gripe is the way we Americans think in slogans and pet phrases — especially in political matters. We tend to be other than intellectual. You personally have surely seen how candidates use platitudes and euphemisms. That appears to be the way we want to be addressed. But the political matters are of the utmost importance for our life in the world, and often for the spiritual life of the nation. So I attack the language I regard as harmful.
        As for your suggestion that I might be envious, I used it as an opportunity to review the secondary mortgage market business — which is not generally well understood. Actually, even though I missed the humor, I was not in the least offended!
        My view of the democratic process is that it REQUIRES us to express our differing views, and to arrive at positions that most of us can live with.
        In this vein, [I am implacably opposed to abortion on demand] we can see the terrible rending of the nation caused by the Supreme Court just ignoring the democratic process in their Roe v. Wade decision. We can usually resolve our disagreements; but we don’t do well when things are imposed upon us by some ‘elite.’
        The exchange between us is, I believe, useful and helpful. It’s important not to take offence. I should be more careful not to GIVE offence. If you and I had been having a private conversation, I would not have taken the pot shots at you. Sorry!
        We seem to be attracted to “controversy”. Personally, I don’t enjoy it. That’s one of the biggest reasons Paula and I discontinued our cable TV — they made everything “controversial” to stir us up. But I seem fairly adept at it, and I believe the Lord wants me to employ whatever skills I have in the war being waged against Christianity. Economic matters are indeed very important to us. St. Paul was right on the mark when he said that all kinds of evils spring from love of money. And of course Jesus himself observed that we cannot serve God and money – even personalizing money as the spirit Mammon.
        Enough of this rambling. Thank you for your consideration.

        • GuitarGramma

          Dear Theodore — I so appreciate your response. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I have been checking back on Catholic Lane all morning to see if you’d gotten my apology.

          My husband has a great sense of humor, it is one of the things I have long loved about him. I simply must learn that I do not share that talent!

          I am in complete agreement with you that our society seems to have been reduced to “He who has the best sound bite wins.” Our collective attention span might last a full 30 seconds but not much more. I call it the “Sesame Street Syndrome.”

          Pride is a capital sin, and humility is its antidote. I appreciate the humility with which you have graced me and apologize again for the pride I exhibited.

  • Theodore Kobernick

    Goral: It’s getting harder and harder to see the difference between the Big Business party (Republican) and the Big Government party (Democrat). Both of them keep growing the government bigger and bigger. Both of them give away trillions to big banks. Shucks, both parties use the VERY SAME INDIVIDUAL PERSONS to manage our financ(ial disaster), that is Bernanke and Geithner. The same persons!

    You are right to deplore big government. Here’s a pertinent aspect of big government and big taxes. Every additional employee of government, every employee of government contractors, every stockholder, every person who gets money from the government — all of them have a personal stake in the big, expensive government! The more money gov’t gets, the tighter their grip on our hearts, minds, and purses.

    You ask, “What’s an average curmudgeon to do?” That’s my problem, exactly. I not only voted for Bush, I also voted for Obama — believed both of them. Finally I decided that I needed to get my head examined. But with increased medical costs, higher gas prices, soaring food prices, I didn’t have enough money left to get my head examined. It’s driving me nuts, Goral.

  • goral

    We agree, Theodore, that this game of lying to the public has got to end. It is now done as sport – blatantly, un-apologetically,unabashedly and with a big windfall for the players.
    You know full well God’s statement: You didn’t choose me, I chose you. So it is with this administration, Obama didn’t choose Bernanke and Geithner, they chose him. This Keynesian trinity wants our worship and our wealth. All the gold is mine saith Goldman Sachs.

    As Christians, we need to trust that the Lord will continue to prepare a table for us in the sight of our enemies.
    As a Catholic, I pray to the “curmudgeon”, St. Joseph to help me care for my family even as evil forces are reaching deeper into my pocket.
    There is still time to win this one.

  • fishman

    goodness, what catholic in good conscious could vote for or support Obama?
    Mind you I have no love of Bush or the big business republicans, but there simply is no evil that surpasses legalized abortion, not even the total finical rune of the country!!!

    If the unemployment rate hit 50% and abortion was illegal I’d say the vote went the right way. I just lately have started thinking even the republicans that are in the new crop are not really as committed to the issue as justifies voting for them.