Ideology and Evidence Redux

Many years ago, when I first starting taking policy arguments seriously, I was persuaded by the logic of tax relief for the wealthy. That argument had two parts: first, if tax rates are confiscatory, people will have less incentive to work and invest; second, if the rich have “extra” money, they will invest it, and those investments will be used by entrepreneurs to create jobs.

I still oppose confiscatory taxes, but it has been a very long time since the days of the 90% marginal rate. And–although the argument about lower taxes generating job creation made sense–all available evidence suggests it doesn’t work that way in the real world.

As one pundit recently noted, “The Mad Men who once ran campaigns featuring doctors extolling the health benefits of smoking are now busy marketing the dogma that tax cuts mean broad prosperity, no matter what the facts show.”

What happens when a firmly-held belief hits evidence contradicting it?

What should happen, I submit, is that–after careful consideration of the credibility of the evidence and a determination that it is sound–we relinquish the unsupported belief. Unfortunately, that rarely happens. It’s hard, for one thing. Most of us resist admitting that we have been wrong about something, and the more devoutly we believed (in religion, ideology, our own righteousness), the more difficult it is to change. So many of us go looking for alternative evidence to support our original ideology. In a recent column, David Cay Johnson lists 9 “facts” about taxes that are widely believed, but demonstrably untrue, from “poor Americans don’t pay taxes” to “the wealthy are carrying the burden” to “corporate tax breaks create jobs.”

There’s a lot of hand-wringing and bemoaning about the loss of bipartisanship in our politics. But bipartisanship requires that people on both sides of the aisle go into political life determined to respect evidence. Such a determination won’t turn free-market capitalists into socialists, or vice-versa, and it won’t eliminate good-faith arguments over what the evidence shows. But we would be spared the spectacle of watching 36 GOP members of the House Energy Committee vote that global warming doesn’t exist, among other things.

I don’t know whether Representatives like Mike Pence and Michelle Bachmann are “true believers” or simply pandering to the true believers in their base, and at the end of the day, it probably doesn’t matter. When you elevate religious and ideological fervor over reason and evidence, you end up with the Dark Ages.

1 Comment

  1. Well said. One small point; however, you could have mention that people are their beliefs and attidutes which stem from around 3 to 8 years old. Change can take place but it takes self-examing those beliefs.

Comments are closed.