Post-truth times and the CRS


We live in disturbingly post-truth times, when ideology increasingly is a license to assert what you believe is true by sheer dint of belief.

Assertions of belief that ignore facts become assertions of belief that actively suppress factual challenges to them, and for an example of this we have the unfortunate instance of the Congressional Research Service and Senate Republican reaction to a CRS report that casts doubt on GOP orthodoxy on the economic benefits of tax cuts for top taxpayers.

The CRS, for anyone yet to come across it, is the well-respected and non-partisan research arm of the legislative branch. The Sept. 14 report (.pdf) in question (available on the New York Times website) concludes that "the evidence does not suggest necessarily a relationship between tax policy with regard to the top tax rates and the size of the economic pie, but there may be a relationship to how the economic pie is sliced." The report notes that real growth in gross domestic product averaged 4.2 percent during the 1950s, when top marginal tax rates were typically above 90 percent, and real growth in GDP was 2.4 percent during the 2000s, whereas today the top rate is 35 percent.

Notice the careful language utilized by the report author. Like anyone who is accustomed to making data-driven conclusions, he says "the evidence does not suggest," and "there may be a relationship," avoiding preemptively dismissing a new conclusion based on additional evidence.  

"There is not conclusive evidence, however, to substantiate a clear relationship between the 65-year steady reduction in the top tax rates and economic growth," the report adds. Again, note the careful language: "there is not conclusive evidence…to substantiate a clear relationship."

All this measured reasoning did the report no good, however; according to reporting by the NYT, the CRS pulled the report in September from official circulation after objections from Senate Republican leaders.

This invasion of partisanship into the cautious world of data-driven analysis (seen also with partisan reaction to Bureau of Labor Statistics reports of decreased unemployment) is a dangerous one. Politics is about choices made about limited resources and as such there never can, nor should be, unanimity. But when opinion about choices attacks underlying truths for failing to conform with that opinion, we cut our ability to make good choices at all. - Dave