One of the most interesting phenomena of modern times is how, in the information age, multiple people can draw exactly opposite conclusions about relatively easy to understand issues. In the tax debate of late 2017, one side says the new legislation will dramatically harm the so-called “middle class”. (I say “so-called” and put “middle class” in quotes because of my general revulsion of classist rhetoric, which leads to bigotry and class warfare. But that’s another topic. )
How is it possible, with a subject that has the mathematical facts and formulas laid out in black and white, so many people can understand it so differently? Isn’t math ultimately objective? The newly passed Tax Tables and income tax brackets are posted right in the first pages of the new legislation! The math involved is pretty simple – income at a certain level, less some deductions, is taxed a certain percentage. This is 5th grade level math. While some people’s taxes are more complicated, most folks are fairly easy to understand.
The reason for this disconnect is that for most people, they refuse to take the effort to actually look at the readily available source information. By source information, I mean the original data. The actual tax tables passed by Congress and signed by the President. It’s alarming that people are usually either too lazy or too invested in their preferred commentators to find out for themselves what the ACTUAL situation is! Of course, it’s possible that people are really just too ignorant to understand the easily google-able information. I hope that’s not the case in most cases.
So we have a society in which almost any information is available, but it is obscured both by commentary from “experts” who want us to trust them or by our own lack of intellectual integrity to do a little reading. Is that harsh? Perhaps. But is it accurate?
Part of the problem is the pace of modern life. We want someone who sounds credible to break things down for us in sound bites. The problem is that the people that SOUND credible or that are part of what historically was thought of as a credible source of commentary are no more guaranteed to be credible than any random blogger, in many cases. Credible sources of interpretation will be ones that have made predictions and had them come true most often.
So between laziness and people with good voices or even a good comedy routine, the REAL truth is often obscured. This is a serious problem for society. If we make decisions on bad information, we will have bad outcomes. If we think that the new tax bill will let us keep more of our own money when the math says otherwise, then we do ourselves damage. If we think the new tax bill is going to take MORE money from the working public and in fact it does the opposite, then we will push for it to be repealed even though that hurts us in the end.
What to do, what to do!? The only things we can really do is engage in unemotional, fact based conversations with each other and compare information sources. Not commentary sources (like news media or blogs like mine) but INFORMATION sources, like the original bill in this case and the tax rate tables compared with it. We should look at secondary sources too. But understand they come with bias that may or may not be accurate. The media needs to have controversy and emotionalism to make money – not boring facts. Keep that in mind. Again, these conversations need to be unemotional. Emotions get in the way of a thoughtful comparison of facts, unencumbered by our predetermined conclusions. Let the facts tell whatever story they tell.
And, if we are going to be concerned about something or passionate about it, look at positions and arguments that you disagree with. The only way to grow is to have your assumptions challenged. In that process, you will either learn something new or you will have your position strengthened.
If we can only do this and stop letting the smooth sounding commentariat lead us around by our feelings, we will be able to make The Best Future.