Monday, December 26, 2011

Opinion Applets

From time to time a news story in the NYTimes or another paper of record comes with a nice applet that illustrates some point the story is making with fancy graphs that you can interact with.

I think opinion pieces should come with applets the editors designs to help people understand the points the opinion writers are making. Or to understand why they are wrong.

There's a saying that statistics are the worst kind of lies but the truth is the statistics are usually right, it's just that people cite them hoping people will jump to conclusions that aren't warranted. Take this claim from Robert Samuelson for example:
Liberals imply (wrongly) that taxing the rich will solve the long-term budget problem. It won't. For example, the Forbes 400 richest Americans have a collective wealth of $1.5 trillion. If the government simply confiscated everything they own, and turned them into paupers, it would barely cover the one-time 2011 deficit of $1.3 trillion. 
The catch is that it's pretty arbitrary to draw the line between rich and everyone else at something like $1 billion in wealth. So why not include an applet with the column where you can use a menu to select your cutoff point for who would count as rich and maybe what average tax rate you would apply and decide for yourself whether it's even a theoretical possibility that taxing the rich could solve our problems.

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