5 B.S. Political Arguments You Hear Every Election Season
When presidential election season rolls around, it seems like everyone you know is suddenly a political-science major with a minor in being an asshole. As Facebook becomes a war zone, there are a number of arguments that will come up again and again. We're not going to try to sway you on any one issue, but you should know that there are some factual points that almost everyone gets wrong.
For instance, you'll keep running into people who think ...
"Taxes on higher incomes means it's actually better to have a lower-paying job!"
If you've ever filled out a tax form, you know that America (and most other countries) has what's called a progressive tax system. This means that rich people pay higher rates than poor people. Currently, if you make between $70,700 and $142,700, your income tax rate is 25 percent. Whereas if you make between $17,400 and $70,699, your income tax rate is just 15 percent.
One of your "smart" friends has probably pointed out the problem with this -- when you get close to the line between one tax bracket and another, an increase in salary may actually decrease how much you take home. Therefore there's no incentive to work hard and get that promotion, because you'll earn less money.
"... So I said, 'Fuck trading stocks, the carefree life of a janitor is for me!'"
We mean, it's simple math, right? If you're making $70,000, you're better off staying in your comfy 15 percent bracket than moving up in the world to a $71,000 salary and having a quarter of your income cruelly ripped from your hard-working hands. Hell, your friend even heard about a guy who asked for a pay cut so he'd stay in the lower bracket and take home more money! This is an outrage! Is it time to start throwing our tea bags into the Boston harbor again?
But Actually ...
In case you don't feel like poring through 72,536 pages of tax code, we'll make it simple: Your tax bracket isn't the number used for your whole income. If you're making $100,000, for example, the Grinches at the IRS are still only charging you 15 percent for the first $70,000, even though you're in that second tax bracket. It's only the money you make on top of that which gets taxed at the higher rate. This is done specifically to avoid the situation your dumbass friend insists is happening.
"Wow ... I'm going to kill my accountant."
So despite what a lot of tax protesters would like to argue, there really is no situation in which it's ever possible to increase your salary but lose net income. Even if your higher salary pushes you into a new tax bracket, you're only taxed more on the additional income. You're still taking home more cash.
So when a politician wants to raise taxes on the rich and your friend at the office is screaming about how this actually discourages surgeons and engineers from working, calmly pull out your special edition IRS Tax Code, signed by Rosa Guamataotao Rios herself, and explain the hip new trend of understanding taxes. Maybe do it with a cheesy educational rap song, like "You think that you know taxes, well I'll give you the facts-es."
Alternatively, you can just crush your friend to death with it.
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"Rich people can just buy an election these days!"
You'll hear this again and again from jaded voters as the election moves closer -- it's all about buying votes. It doesn't matter whom you vote for; at the end of the day, the candidate who spends more on their campaign will win the election in the end. Sometimes they'll have colorful graphs backing it up. Hell, you already watched Mitt Romney clean the floor at the Republican primaries, and he just happens to be an obscenely rich businessman. It just seems obvious.
As a result, elections are always accompanied by people demanding new laws that limit the amount of money that can be donated to campaigns, lest the country always be run by whomever ExxonMobil and Google decide should run it.
"If we pull this off people will have to use Google+!"
But Actually ...
It's true that the winner of an election is usually the one who attracted and spent more donor money, but that's correlation, not causation. Freakonomics authors Stephen J. Dubner and Steve Levitt looked into this and found a couple of surprising facts, one of which is that having more money doesn't automatically win you the election -- being popular with voters just gets you more money. Not just because regular folks like them more, but because donors throw money at candidates who are more likely to win (and thus, be in a position to do more favors for all of those contributors). Supporters of the less attractive opponent sit on their money until someone electable comes along -- there's no reason to throw money at a losing campaign.
In other words, if the voters hate you, all the money in the world won't help. But if the voters love you, you'll soon have all the money in the world.
"Where the hell am I going to break this?"
Now obviously, campaign contributions matter -- those bumper stickers won't print themselves, and there's a reason that every president comes from one of the major parties, even though your eccentric neighbor runs as an independent every year. There is a minimum amount of money a person needs just to get in the game, and at the national level that number is in the millions.
But Levitt did a study of congressional elections and found that once you're in the race, if a candidate doubled their spending, it would still only swing the vote by one percent. So yes, a candidate in a dead-even race could maybe shake down their donors enough to double spending and move the needle that one percent required to put themselves over the top (which could just as quickly be erased with one gaffe or drunken, pants-less speech). But for the vast, vast majority of races, a candidate can't simply "buy" an election if their views make voters want to punch them in the face.
"Just like you wanted, sir!"
"You don't like the death penalty? So you want to PAY to keep these people in prison FOREVER?"
No matter what your opinion is of the moral side of the death-penalty debate, many people who argue on the topic will defer to the economic consideration -- namely, it's so costly for us to keep murderers in prison for the rest of their lives that it'd be a lot cheaper just to strap them to the electric chair and get it over with. If they're never going to see the light of day again anyway, what difference does it make?
But Actually ...
It turns out keeping someone on death row and eventually killing them isn't as cheap as you thought. To pull out some real numbers, the annual cost of the death row system is $137 million. So a system where life in prison is the maximum sentence logically has to be more expensive, right? Nope ... screw logic! That only comes in at an estimated $11.5 million annually. That's the difference between the budget of a Michael Bay blockbuster and a documentary about Katy Perry.
Funding either of these should be a life sentence in and of itself.
What the hell is going on? Does a lethal injection cost $100 million or something? No, but it does all make sense. Given the American concept of "innocent until proven guilty" (or at least "guilty because Nancy Grace said so"), death-row inmates are afforded a much more expensive trial, and multiple appeals.
See, no one on a jury wants to be responsible for putting an innocent man to death, so the attorneys in those cases get more expensive expert witnesses, and more lawyers are needed in general to prove absolutely the defendant's guilt. And when death-row inmates whine about "possible new evidence" and "DNA testing" and "It has been 100 percent proven that I am innocent 20 years after my conviction," the appeals process inflates the bill by millions of dollars. As a society, it's the type of thing you can't let yourself get wrong.
"We find the defendant possibly guilty, within a reasonable doubt ... Can we just, like, put him in a coma?"
The result is that keeping one inmate on death row costs an additional $90,000 or so a year compared to just letting him live his life in a maximum-security prison and supplying him with free food, clothes and tattoo ink. It's enough that, back in 2009, several states introduced measures that would eliminate the death penalty because they literally couldn't afford it anymore. So for all the reasons you might argue that the death penalty is a good idea, cost-cutting isn't really one of them.
And while a whole lot of you were already against the death penalty, you won't be so quick to agree with this next one ...
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"Alcohol prohibition failed, so it only makes sense to legalize drugs!"
People think of America's Prohibition in the '20s as one hilarious, bloody failure. Pop-culture images of rumrunners and speakeasies depict an America that not only gave zero fucks about the outlawing of alcohol, but also handed power and wealth to murderous gangsters like Al Capone.
So if outlawing alcohol was one great big violent mistake, then it isn't a stretch to argue that the same thing goes for drug prohibition. And since lifting Prohibition fixed most of the problems that alcohol had caused, we should lift the ban on all the other drugs too. You know, just like they recently did in Portugal where, as any stoner on the Internet will tell you, decriminalization has been a huge success.
"Right after I look up how to make a bong like Bane's mask."
But Actually ...
We're not going to argue about whether Prohibition was right or wrong. But that's different from asking whether or not it succeeded. And, as far as anyone can tell, Prohibition pretty much did exactly what it was designed to do.
After all, you would expect that the measure of Prohibition's "success" would be the significant decrease of alcohol consumption during that time. And it did -- by 30 to 50 percent. Despite the fact that it didn't eliminate alcoholism altogether, Prohibition did sharply curb the number of deaths and arrests related to alcohol, which is what they wanted in the first place.
"It also sharply curbed the amount of blood in my urine."
But what about all the organized crime that suddenly appeared along with Prohibition? Well actually, it didn't. Organized crime existed at pretty much the same level as before, during and after Prohibition. Scarface may have started selling whiskey as well as cocaine, but the gangster employment rate didn't exactly skyrocket. Nor can it be said to have been a more violent time -- the murder rate actually leveled off during Prohibition.
When people talk about what an embarrassing mistake Prohibition was, they usually cite the fact that it's the only time in American history that a constitutional amendment has been repealed, like we just sort of awkwardly swept it under the living room rug and asked everyone not to stare at the bulge. But really, the repeal had little to do with any perception that Prohibition had failed. It had much more to do with the fact that we simply changed our mind. You know, like in a democracy.
Nice job, Founding Fathers.
But even if we concede that Prohibition worked the way it was expected to, we still have Portugal to look up to, right? In 2001, they decriminalized all drugs, and the Portuguese people have responded like rational adults to this new Valhalla of illicit substances.
Sorry again. "Decriminalization" of drugs isn't the same as legalizing them. So before you buy a one-way plane ticket, understand that making, selling or having more than a few days' supply of drugs on you can still get you a prison sentence. The only real difference is that if you get caught doing drugs, they won't send you to jail; but you'll still have to face a panel of psychologists, social workers and legal advisers. Presumably your mother will be there too, and she'll be very disappointed in you.
"I'm just glad your real father's not here to see this."
"Yeah! Wait, what?"
So, Portugal's drug abuse rates didn't go down because drugs are as readily available as liquor, but because addicts are referred to a treatment facility. Such policies may work in America, but don't expect the full-frontal-nudity version of drug legalization to hit here any time soon. The best you can hope for is Cinemax After Dark.
"We need voter ID laws, or else voter fraud will run rampant!"
Every single party that loses a close election claims it was all due to fraud. After all, it's just not possible that most people disagree with you or something. So when Election Day comes up in the U.S., the argument emerges that we should have some kind of voter ID system in place to make sure that our elections aren't fraught with illegal aliens, felons and multiple-voters stealing our democracy straight from under us.
Besides, they say, we already need a photo ID if we want to buy alcohol or cigarettes or goddamned Sudafed. It's certainly not too much to ask people to prove who they are before they choose the next president.
"Don't be silly, of course I'm really Brenda Fong."
But Actually ...
First of all, even though it seems like something you couldn't live without, 11 percent of Americans don't have any form of photo ID. Presumably they need to wear a fake moustache to buy beer. For most of us, our ID is our driver's license, and it's easy to forget that lots of people don't drive because they're elderly, disabled, too poor or just don't feel like it. But hey, 11 percent isn't that bad -- that's only about 21 million potential voters. Surely there's enough fraud in this country to warrant excluding them on Election Day, right?
Believe it or not, despite what many political commentators assume, voter fraud is virtually non-existent. And it's not because those who think the world will end if their candidate loses simply haven't considered trying it. Think about the risk versus the reward for someone who decides to cast an extra vote. The risk? A fine of up to $500 and possible jail time. For an illegal alien, deportation. And the reward? A single extra vote. Who in their right mind is going to take up those odds? It would be like stealing a single piece of candy, knowing that the punishment was watching nothing but C-SPAN for the rest of your life. It's the same for a party trying to organize wide-spread fraud to steal an election; think about the consequences of getting caught versus just spending the time and money on legit "get out the vote" efforts.
"But I'm sooooo lazy."
That's why nobody in their right mind does it -- a Justice Department review committee found virtually no evidence of any effort to skew federal elections. In reality, in only 1 out of every 15 million prospective voters can you find a case of such fraud. With 146 million registered voters in the United States, that's a whopping 10 cases in which voter ID laws would have stopped a crime. Not 10,000; just 10. That's probably not enough to swing the election for high school class president.
Compare that to 21 million potential voters who are disenfranchised by the same laws. For those of you playing at home, 21 million is a bit higher than 10. So it comes down to giving in to paranoia about a non-existent issue, or letting a significant portion of the population vote. Well this is America, land of the free, so we're obviously going to -- Aw fuck, turns out we're mostly going with paranoia.
Alex Race wants to be your friend on Facebook. Alternatively, you can send your hate-mail to him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Patrick McCarty co-stars as Paul Crane in The O.C. Club, a new webseries. And check out his story in Liquid Imagination.
For more things you're so wrong about, check out The 5 Most Statistically Full of Shit National Stereotypes and 7 Basic Things You Won't Believe You're All Doing Wrong.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 3 Science Fictions We Really Just Built.
And stop by LinkSTORM to discover why in Internet arguments, everyone's a loser.
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