Are the Rich Evil?

Dear PollTroll,

Could you examine these charts from Mother Jones about inequality and let me know your opinion.   I'm thinking about posting them, but would like them vetted first depending on how labor intensive that would be.  Do they pass an initial smell test?

-JMS, Salt Lake City 

Dear JMS,


The Poll Troll has strong opinions about how results from surveys, polls, and other data sources should be generated, presented, and interpreted.  Following is an off-the-cuff olfactory assessment of the Mother Jones's "Plutocracy Now" story you nominated for excoriation.


Let's start with measures of central tendency.  The Poll Troll thinks such summary figures for skewed distributions, often true of income, should include medians as well as means.  When Bill Gates walks into a working-class bar, the average patron is suddenly a millionaire (or billionaire, if the bar is unpopular).  It's possible that the results in some of the Mother Jones charts and figures, where reported as means, are not representative.  The most likely suspect is the highest income bracket, which has no defined upper limit.  For this problematic category, it could be that the fabulously wealthy typically only became wildly, rather than acrophobically, more so.  Another issue is whether the results are in constant dollars.  I assume that is the case.  Finally, are the sources reliable?  They are, at least, respectable--non-partisan agencies, academic economists at top universities, etc. 


However accurate and reliable, results can be misleading if their interpretation is strained.  The biggest offender, in TPT's not-so-humble opinion, is the "Capitol Gain" cluster, which insinuates corruption based on Senator or Congressperson's net worth and vote on a single measure.  Republicans and Democrats likely supported the tax cut extension for very different reasons, none of which need be dishonorable based on the data presented.  Moreover, both sides, in fact, probably voted yes with strong reservations--Republicans, because the extension is only temporary, and Democrats, because they were extended at all.  Recall also that other provisions in the bill, especially (if TPT recalls correctly) the renewal unemployment benefits for long-term unemployed, were widely considered a victory for Democrats, and for Pres. Obama (also a multimillionaire) in particular.  As for the notion that personal wealth determines one's politics, Warren Buffet, George Soros, and other progressive billionaires would have something to say about that.


"Your Loss, Their Gain" is a close second on the TPT misleadingness scale [actual formula still in development].  The fact that working-class and middle-class wages mostly stagnated since 1979, while the super-rich got super-richer, doesn't mean that the former "gave up" potential earnings to the latter.  To argue that it does supposes that you and I had a right to an income we never received.  That claim would need to be argued, not just implied or asserted.


Overall grade: B+


Irritably yours,