Let’s Stop Lying About Money

Why do I drone on and on about reporters who don’t adjust for inflation when they show dollar figures over time? Well, consider the following sentence from the first op-ed that hack economist Stephen Moore wrote as a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board:

In the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan chopped the highest personal income tax rate from the confiscatory 70% rate that he inherited when he entered office to 28% when he left office and the resulting economic burst caused federal tax receipts to almost precisely double: from $517 billion to $1,032 billion.

This is wrong. Partly that’s because Moore didn’t even use figures from Reagan’s first and last years in office. But mainly it’s because he didn’t account for inflation or population growth. Once you do that, it turns out that federal tax receipts actually went up 14 percent on Reagan’s watch, or 1.7 percent per year:

Moore’s statement isn’t  just wrong. It’s a lie because he knew perfectly well it was wrong and said it anyway—and I savaged him for it at the time. But if it’s wrong for Stephen Moore, it’s wrong for everyone else too. And just like Moore, if you know better, it’s a lie. My goal is to make sure that everyone knows better so that we’ll all stop lying, either deliberately or otherwise.

Unless you have a very specific, technical reason for using nominal dollars—and they exist!—always adjust for inflation. Generally speaking, you should usually adjust for population growth too. Stop lying!

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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