'Tax Plans' and Dog-Kickers

Imagine you have two part-time jobs with two different employers. Each pays you about $1000 per month, so that all told you earn about $24,000 a year. Now one of your employers offers you a promotion: if you accept this offer, you will work full time, the work itself will be less menial and more fulfilling to you, and you will be paid $50,000 - over twice as much as you currently earn through your less interesting, much lower-paid part-time jobs.

You'll have to quit both of those part time jobs, true, but you won't need them any longer now that you'll have this single, better paid, more fulfilling job.

This offer seems worth accepting, doesn't it? You'll be at least as well off in all dimensions, and much better off in two out of three of them. You'll be working the same number of hours as before, but the work will be better and you will earn twice as much. What's not to like?

Now imagine you run home excitedly to tell your family about this offer. What would be the natural way to describe what has happened? Surely it will be something like this: "I got a promotion!" "I've been offered a better job at higher pay!" "I'm going to enjoy my work much more now, work the same hours as before, and earn more than twice as much as I've earned to this point!" That would be the natural way to describe your new offer. And it would be natural for you and your family to celebrate.

If instead one of your siblings said, "What? You're quitting your part-time jobs?! Mom, Bobby is quitting his jobs!" this would effectively be a lie. Not a "half-truth," which suggests there is some degree of honesty here. No, simply a lie.

Something like this is what seems to happen in many political speeches, debate "talking points," and even some newspaper articles that claim to compare current Presidential candidates' "tax plans" these days. Consider a recent Vox article, for example, which purports to enable you to compare "how you will fare" under candidates Trump's, Cruz's, Clinton's, and Sanders' "tax plans."

Vox tells us that the first two candidates will "cut" your taxes, while Clinton will essentially leave them the same and Sander will "add" to them. But this is essentially the case of your sibling crying out that you're "quitting your jobs" rather than switching to a better, higher paying one. It is effectively a lie, and here is why.

By far the largest part of Senator Sanders' planned expenditures as President is on a single-payer health care system - the kind of system that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton alike both have lauded, in their past, more honest days, as much more effective and efficient than our present baroque mishmash of multiple wasteful private insurers that leave cracks through which tens of millions of Americans continue to fall. By far the largest part of Senator Sanders' planned taxation, in turn - apart from that to be imposed upon Wall Street speculation and multimillion dollar inheritances - is to fund this fairer and more streamlined system of national health insurance.

Once we have this system - the kind that literally all of our peer nations have - we will of course be freed of the need to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars each month for inefficient private health insurance. Senator Sanders' proposed "tax" here, in other words, is an insurance premium. It is a cheaper premium for which we'll be exchanging a more expensive one.

Current estimates are that when you both add the new premium and subtract the old one as you must if you are being honest, the typical American will come out about $5,800 ahead every year under Senator Sanders' plan. You will in other words have both better health care and nearly $6000 more in disposable income each year.

But wait, there is more. For the Sanders plan doesn't only save individuals health insurance expenses; it saves employers those expenses as well. Here the estimate is that each employer will save on average $9,400 per employee per year on no longer necessary health insurance premiums. That's $9,400 more available to give employees wage or salary raises, invest in more productive activity, or both.

In effect, what we have here is the health insurance equivalent of the job promotion story considered above - a straightforward improvement in all dimensions, such as renders it effectively a lie simply to speak of "the tax." Doing the latter is like saying that you've only "quit" jobs in the job story, rather than exchanging two bad jobs for one good, better paid one.

Now it is true that sometimes a putative "news" story discussing these matters will tell us the essential "rest of the story" down toward the bottom. Indeed the Vox story does something like this, finally getting round to the "rest of the story" in the final couple of paragraphs. But that is no saving grace here. For the headline, the first paragraphs, and indeed the great bulk of the story convey only the false impression, not the full truth. And we all know that most people don't read to the end of these stories, and that most people form their beliefs on the basis of headlines and lead paragraphs alone.

If I published a story headlined "Hillary Clinton hasn't stopped kicking her dog," and only at the end of the story explained that the reason she hasn't stopped kicking her dog is that she never started doing so, I would effectively be slandering Clinton. Much the same is true of "tax plan" stories like Vox's. It is lying of the most despicable sort in a democracy that depends upon accurate information. And it must stop at once.