As I peruse the news, I periodically see headlines that are misleading in some fashion.
And if the headline is sufficiently off-key or bizarre, I feel compelled to grouse.
- A disappointingly inaccurate headline about the capital sinking into the sea.
- A grossly misleading headline about theft at the IRS.
- A very unsurprising headline about bailouts in Greece.
Now I have a new example, though I’m not sure whether to call it dishonest or clueless.
The EU Observer has a brief report that poverty has reached record levels in Germany.
Despite a booming economy, 12.9 million people in Germany were living below the poverty line in 2015, the Equal Welfare Association reported on Thursday. Based on figures from the Federal Statistical Office the alliance found a record high poverty rate of 15.7 percent in 2015.
By the way, I can’t resist pointing out that there is no “booming economy” in Germany. Growth in 2016 was only 1.9 percent.
But I’m digressing. Let’s get back to the main point of today’s column.
As you can see from the story’s headline, the implication is that lots of people are left behind and mired in deprivation even though the economy is moving forward.
But there’s a problem with both the story and the headline.
If you read carefully, it turns out that both the story (and the study that triggered the story) have nothing to do with poverty.
No link at all. None. Zero. Nada. Zilch.
I’m not joking. There’s no estimate of the number of people below some measure of a German poverty line. There’s no calculation of any sort about living standards. Instead, this story (and the underlying report) are about the distribution of income.
…people [are] defined as poor when living on an income less than 60 percent of that of the median German household.
One might be tempted at this point to dismiss this as a bit of journalistic sloppiness. Indeed, one might even conclude that this is a story about nothing.
After all, noting that some people are below 60 percent of the median income level is about as newsworthy as a report saying that half of people are above average and half are below average.
But there actually is a story here. Though it’s not about poverty. Instead, it’s about an ongoing statist campaign to redefine poverty to mean unequal distribution of income.
I’m not joking. For instance, the bureaucrats at the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development actually put out a study claiming that there was more poverty in the United States than in nations such as Greece, Portugal, and Turkey.
How could they make such a preposterous claim? Easy, the OECD bureaucrats didn’t measure poverty. Instead, they concocted a measure of the degree to which various countries are close to the left-wing dream of equal incomes.
And the Obama Administration also tried to manipulate poverty statistics in the United States in hopes of pushing this statist agenda of coerced equality.
Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation wrote about what Obama tried to do.
…the Obama administration…measure, which has little or nothing to do with actual poverty, will serve as the propaganda tool in Obama’s endless quest to “spread the wealth.” …The current poverty measure counts absolute purchasing power — how much steak and potatoes you can buy. The new measure will count comparative purchasing power — how much steak and potatoes you can buy relative to other people. …In other words, Obama will employ a statistical trick to ensure that “the poor will always be with you,” no matter how much better off they get in absolute terms. …The weird new poverty measure will produce very odd results. For example, if the real income of every single American were to magically triple over night, the new poverty measure would show there had been no drop in “poverty,” because the poverty income threshold would also triple. …Another paradox of the new poverty measure is that countries such as Bangladesh and Albania will have lower poverty rates than the United States, even though the actual living conditions in those countries are extremely bad.
Even moderates such as Robert Samuelson recognized that Obama’s agenda was absurd. Here is some of what he wrote.
…the new definition has strange consequences. Suppose that all Americans doubled their incomes tomorrow, and suppose that their spending on food, clothing, housing and utilities also doubled. That would seem to signify less poverty — but not by the new poverty measure. It wouldn’t decline, because the poverty threshold would go up as spending went up. Many Americans would find this weird: People get richer but “poverty” stays stuck.
To put this all in context, the left isn’t merely motivated by a desire to exaggerate and misstate poverty. That simply the means to an end.
What they want is more redistribution and higher tax rates. The OECD openly admitted that was the goal in another report. Much as all the fixation about inequality in America is simply a tool to advocate bigger government.
P.S. Germany is an example of a rational welfare state. While the public sector is far too large, the country has enjoyed occasional periods of genuine spending restraint and German politicians wisely avoided a Keynesian spending binge during the last recession.
P.P.S. Though Germany also has its share of crazy government activity, including a big green-energy boondoggle. And lots of goofy actions, such as ticketing a one-armed man for have a bicycle with only one handlebar brake, taxing homeowners today for a street that was built beginning in the 1930s, making streetwalkers pay a tax by using parking meters, and spending 30 times as much to enforce a tax as is collected.