Charles Vaughan: Stretchy statistics

June 29, 2013 

Stretchy statistics

I guess it’s inevitable that people use very selective statistics, dubious assumptions and political bent to come up with “persuasive” points of view. Christopher Gergen and Stephen Martin in their June 16 Work & Money piece assumed that proposed tax changes in North Carolina can’t keep revenue neutral (“as McCrory keeps saying”) and that the certain shortfalls will have a dramatic negative effect on N.C. schools.

To bolster their assumptions, they pointed to a study that shows that on two levels (real per capita growth and real median household growth) nine high-tax states compare favorably with nine no-income-tax states. To reach these conclusions, they omit population growth as a factor not being influenced by a no-income-tax policy and omit growth in employment, tax revenues and gross state product, which are materially favorable in each case for non-income tax states.

Give me this much statistical leeway, and I can prove that all those cars leaving California are on short two-way pleasure trips.

Isn’t it maybe just possible that revenue will be neutral, that schools will not be affected and that people are attracted to no-income-tax states?

Charles Vaughan


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