I don’t watch the news. I especially don’t watch news about politics. I really, especially don’t watch cable news about politics. You may be wondering why, if I don’t watch any of these things, I am about to rant about it. Perhaps I should rephrase my opening statement: I don’t purposefully watch cable news about politics. Sometimes, it just can’t be helped, and when I am subjected to the news I find myself asking questions that never get addressed by the talking drones on the screen.
I have boiled down the arguments about taxes that appear on every cable news network:
Republicans: Taxes bad!
Democrats: Taxes good!
This is about as nuanced as it gets, the larger words being reserved for hurling insults at the opposing party. Now, I get taxed, and have legitimate questions about taxes, how much I pay, how much I should pay, and especially, where the hell does all the tax money go?
Here’s what I would like to see:
- A graph of tax levels (and don’t be misleading and show just income tax levels. Please include sales tax, property tax, taxes passed onto consumers by cost of goods, etc..) vs. how much money the government takes in. This can be done at the federal level and at the state level and would be quite informative. This can be done on a timeline over the last (say) 20 years. Now, of course a graph like this would not be the complete story, but it could help establish some context for other questions about taxes.
- A breakdown of government spending. This could be done with a pie chart! News networks love those! I imagine that almost the entire pie would be military spending, so this could be broken down into two additional pieces: military spending that is actually necessary, and military spending that can be reduced by not buying equipment at one thousand times its actual value. This is, of course, subjective, and would provoke debate, but hopefully it would be a more intelligent debate than “SPENDING BAD!” On the home front, how big of a slice do we have for education, health care, unemployment, welfare, research and development of new technologies, public works, social security, and whatever else the government spends money on?
There is nothing more vague on cable news than talk about the economy. I hear things quoted like the unemployment rate, or stock prices, or interest rates without any context provided to let me know what these numbers actually mean. At a basic level, I don’t even know what the government is trying to accomplish with economic policy. What’s the goal? Is it to maximize the median wealth of the entire population of the country? Is it to maximize the total wealth of the country? To put this in terms I understand (i.e. mathematically), the problem of economic policy is clearly some kind of optimization problem. But this problem is impossible to solve if you are not even clear on what it is you are attempting to optimize. For crying out loud, news networks, what is the objective function?!
I came up with all of these questions after watching Fox News for about 5 minutes this morning. I don’t claim to have answers to any of these, and I certainly don’t think news networks should provide the answers, but they can at least bring up the questions, right?
My uncle John, who shall be referred to on this blog as “Uncle Medicare Expert” sent me the following informative article. Now this is the kind of information that would make me actually watch news!