A little rich

by Henry Farrell on November 6, 2007

The “Financial Times”:http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/0d758a1e-8af8-11dc-95f7-0000779fd2ac.html, for reasons best known to itself, serves up this “steaming heap of buffalo dung”:http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/0d758a1e-8af8-11dc-95f7-0000779fd2ac.html from Heritage Foundation Vice-President for Governmental Affairs, Michael Franc, on its op-ed page.

A legislative proposal that was once on the fast track is suddenly dead. The Senate will not consider a plan to extract billions in extra taxes from mega-millionaire hedge fund managers. … Far from embarrassing, this episode may reflect a dawning Democratic awareness of whom they really represent. For the demographic reality is that, in America, the Democratic party is the new “party of the rich”. More and more Democrats represent areas with a high concentration of wealthy households. Using Internal Revenue Service data, the Heritage Foundation identified two categories of taxpayers – single filers with incomes of more than $100,000 and married filers with incomes of more than $200,000 – and combined them to discern where the wealthiest Americans live and who represents them. …Democrats now control the majority of the nation’s wealthiest congressional jurisdictions. More than half of the wealthiest households are concentrated in the 18 states where Democrats control both Senate seats. …

Soon this new political demographic may give traditional purveyors of class warfare the yips. To comply with new budget rules, liberal Democrats on Capitol Hill are readying a tax increase of at least $1,000bn over the next decade. Ms Pelosi says she wants to extract all of this from “the wealthy”. When has a party ever championed a policy that would inflict so much pain on its own constituency? At what point will affluent Democrats crack and mount a Blue State tax rebellion?

A hint to the people at the _Financial Times_ (a group whom I usually hold in considerable esteem): when an op-ed’s argument rests on a statistical fallacy so howlingly awful that it’s obvious to someone like me, it’s not a good idea at all to publish it. More generally, when a Heritage Foundation vice-president proposes a piece to you, et numeri ferentes, _especial_ attention to the basis of those figures is not only warranted but necessary. If it is true that Democrats tend to represent richer districts, both basic logic and an elementary grasp of statistics should tell you that this _does not imply_ that they represent richer voters. Indeed, not only does it not imply this, we _know_ that it isn’t true. See further “Andrew Gelman et al.”:http://www.stat.columbia.edu/~gelman/research/published/red_state_blue_state_revised.pdf

Do richer voters still support Republicans? If so, how can we understand the pattern that the Democratic do best in the richer “blue states” of the Northeast and West, while the Republicans dominate in the poorer “red states” in the South and between the coasts? … The Republicans have the support of the richer voters within any given state but have more overall support in the poorer states. Thus, the identification of rich states with rich voters, or more generally, the “personification” of so-called red and blue states, is misleading. For example, in the context of the Brooks quotes above, within an “upscale” area that supports the Democrats, the more “upscale” voters are still likely to vote Republican. … The pattern that richer states support the Democrats is _not_ a simple aggregation of rich voters supporting the Democrats.

And so on. I have a lot of respect for the _Financial Times_ – they do a better job in my estimation than any other newspaper of preserving a high quality of debate and are usually quite scrupulous about factual detail. This makes it all the more odd that a piece like this, which is better suited for publication in an introductory statistical textbook as a particularly egregious cautionary example of the fallacy of aggregation, could have made it in. Better filters please.