Friday, April 14

Weapons of Math Destruction

Weapons of Math Destruction

Now it can be told: President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney based their re-election campaign on lies, damned lies and statistics.

The lies included Mr. Cheney's assertion, more than three months after intelligence analysts determined that the famous Iraqi trailers weren't bioweapons labs, that we were in possession of two "mobile biological facilities that can be used to produce anthrax or smallpox."

The damned lies included Mr. Bush's declaration, in his "Mission Accomplished" speech, that "we have removed an ally of Al Qaeda."

The statistics included Mr. Bush's claim, during his debates with John Kerry, that "most of the tax cuts went to low- and middle-income Americans."

Compared with the deceptions that led us to war, deceptions about taxes can seem like a minor issue. But it's all of a piece. In fact, my early sense that we were being misled into war came mainly from the resemblance between the administration's sales pitch for the Iraq war — with its evasions, innuendo and constantly changing rationale — and the selling of the Bush tax cuts.

Moreover, the hysterical attacks the administration and its defenders launch against anyone who tries to do the math on tax cuts suggest that this is a very sensitive topic. For example, Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa once compared people who say that 40 percent of the Bush tax cuts will go to the richest 1 percent of the population to, yes, Adolf Hitler.

And just as administration officials continued to insist that the trailers were weapons labs long after their own intelligence analysts had concluded otherwise, officials continue to claim that most of the tax cuts went to the middle class even though their own tax analysts know better.

How do I know what the administration's tax analysts know? The facts are there, if you know how to look for them, hidden in one of the administration's propaganda releases.

The Treasury Department has put out an exercise in spin called the "Tax Relief Kit," which tries to create the impression that most of the tax cuts went to low- and middle-income families. Conspicuously missing from the document are any actual numbers about how the tax cuts were distributed among different income classes. Yet Treasury analysts have calculated those numbers, and there's enough information in the "kit" to figure out what they discovered.

An explanation of how to extract the administration's estimates of the distribution of tax cuts from the "Tax Relief Kit" is here. Here's the bottom line: about 32 percent of the tax cuts went to the richest 1 percent of Americans, people whose income this year will be at least $341,773. About 53 percent of the tax cuts went to the top 10 percent of the population. Remember, these are the administration's own numbers — numbers that it refuses to release to the public.

I'm sure that this column will provoke a furious counterattack from the administration, an all-out attempt to discredit my math. Yet if I'm wrong, there's an easy way to prove it: just release the raw data used to construct the table titled "Projected Share of Individual Income Taxes and Income in 2006." Memo to reporters: if the administration doesn't release those numbers, that's in effect a confession of guilt, an implicit admission that the data contradict the administration's spin.

And what about the people Senator Grassley compared to Hitler, those who say that the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans will receive 40 percent of the tax cuts? Although the "Tax Relief Kit" asserts that "nearly all of the tax cut provisions" are already in effect, that's not true: one crucial piece of the Bush tax cuts, elimination of the estate tax, hasn't taken effect yet. Since only estates bigger than $2 million, or $4 million for a married couple, face taxation, the great bulk of the gains from estate tax repeal will go to the wealthiest 1 percent. This will raise their share of the overall tax cuts to, you guessed it, about 40 percent.

Again, the point isn't merely that the Bush administration has squandered the budget surplus it inherited on tax cuts for the wealthy. It's the fact that the administration has spent its entire term in office lying about the nature of those tax cuts. And all the world now knows what I suspected from the start: an administration that lies about taxes will also lie about other, graver matters.