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Location: San Diego, California, United States

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Thomas Sowell underscores the truth in the above comment on the value of statistics when they are used for an agenda. Read his interesting analysis on Personal Income here.



Blogger Curt said...

Certainly statistics can be used and misused to all sorts of purposes. But I'm not sure Sowell's figures are the end of the story.

It does seem obvious that if you track a certain group of people over time you will find certain patterns. For instance, if you track a group of sixty-year-olds (in 1990) and then track their incomes over the next 15 years, you'd expect their incomes to go down as they retire. Likewise if you track a bunch of 25-year-olds over the a similar time period you'd expect their incomes to rise as they settle into careers.

But isn't it also interesting to track where the people who are 40 earn each year over a time period? This is admittedly a group which changes each year, but isn't that also a trend that is worth some attention? Sowell seems to think it is not, but I have to disagree.

11:00 AM  
Blogger Jim said...

We'll agree to disagree as I believe Mr. Sowells analysis totally.

The best example of the misuse of your "age snapshot" is with minimum wage. Since literally nobody earns minimum wage for over a few months - or if they do there are other problems - politicians playing with this analysis are strictly pandering for votes among the bleeding hearts of the left.


1:03 PM  
Blogger Curt said...

I agree with Sowell's main point, which I believe is: "One of these wild cards is that most Americans do not stay in the same income brackets throughout their lives. Millions of people move from one bracket to another in just a few years."

So I imagine that you are correct about the minimum wage assertion, though it would be good to see some actual statistics on that (if you can trust any of them, that is!).

But I think there are quite a few dimensions to this question of "the rich getting richer" or "the poor getting poorer". It's not enough to just point out that people's income tends to follow a standard arc, rising until sometime in their fifties, reaching a peak, and then falling.

I think there are other questions, such as: (1) how much of the total income going to an age group goes to the top 10% bracket, and how does level that vary over time? (2) what percent of people in the bottom 20% of income distribution at one time remain there 10 or 20 years later, and how many move up into higher brackets? (3) likewise for the top brackets - what percent of people fall down into the lower brackets over time?

All of this is not to say that anything can or should "be done" about it, but just to get a sense of what actually happens.

11:15 AM  

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