View Full Version : The Danger of Catchwords

09-15-2010, 11:48 AM
The Danger of Catchwords

How buzzwords used unthinkingly poison our political debate.

Words are supposed to convey thoughts, but they can also obliterate thoughts and shut down thinking. As Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, a catchword can “delay further analysis for fifty years.” Holmes also said, “Think things, not words.”

When you are satisfied to accept words, without thinking beyond those words to the things — the tangible realities of the world — you are confirming what philosopher Thomas Hobbes said in the 17th century, that words are wise men’s counters but they are the money of fools.

Even in matters of life and death, too many people accept words instead of thinking, leaving themselves wide open to people who are clever at spinning words. The whole controversy about “health-care reform” is a classic example.

“Health care” and medical care are not the same thing. The confusion between the two spreads more confusion, when advocates of government-run medical care point to longer life expectancies in some other countries where government runs the medical system.

Health care affects longevity, but health care includes far more than medical care. Health care includes such things as diet, exercise, and avoiding things that can shorten your life, such as drug addiction, reckless driving, and homicide.

If you stop and think — which catchwords can deflect us from doing — it is clear that homicide and car crashes are not things that doctors can prevent. Moreover, if you compare longevity among countries, leaving out homicide and car crashes, Americans have the longest lifespan in the Western world.

Why then are people talking about gross statistics on longevity as a reason to change our medical-care system? Since this is a life-and-death issue, we need to think about the realities of the world, not the clever words of spinmeisters trying to justify a government takeover of medical care.

American medical care leads the world in things like cancer-survival rates, which medical care affects far more than it affects people’s choices whether to engage in behavior that leads to obesity and narcotics addiction, as well as such other things as homicide and reckless driving.

But none of this is even thought about when people simply go with the flow of catchwords, accepting those words as the money of fools.

Read the whole thing.

NRO (http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/246544/danger-catchwords-thomas-sowell)

Wei Wu Wei
09-15-2010, 12:00 PM
Wonderfully ironic that an article with such a title and intro will go on to include zero citations.

The key findings relating to intergenerational mobility include the following:
Children from low-income families have only a 1 percent chance of reaching the top
5 percent of the income distribution, versus children of the rich who have about a 22
percent chance.
Children born to the middle quintile of parental family income ($42,000 to $54,300)
had about the same chance of ending up in a lower quintile than their parents (39.5
percent) as they did of moving to a higher quintile (36.5 percent). Their chances of
attaining the top five percentiles of the income distribution were just 1.8 percent.
Education, race, health and state of residence are four key channels by which
economic status is transmitted from parent to child.
African American children who are born in the bottom quartile are nearly twice as
likely to remain there as adults than are white children whose parents had identical
incomes, and are four times less likely to attain the top quartile.
Ř difference in mobility for blacks and whites persists even after controlling for
a host of parental background factors, children’s education and health, as well as
whether the household was female-headed or receiving public assistance.
After controlling for a host of parental background variables, upward mobility varied
by region of origin, and is highest (in percentage terms) for those who grew up in the
South Atlantic and East South Central regions, and lowest for those raised in the West
South Central and Mountain regions.
Ř international standards, the United States has an unusually low level of
intergenerational mobility: our parents’ income is highly predictive of our incomes
as adults. Intergenerational mobility in the United States is lower than in France,
Germany, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Norway and Denmark. Among high-income
countries for which comparable estimates are available, only the United Kingdom
had a lower rate of mobility than the United States.
i Understanding Mobility in America 
Key findings relating to short-run, year-to-year income movements include the following:
Ř overall volatility of household income increased significantly between 1990-91
and 1997-98 and again in 2003-04.
Since 1990-91, there has been an increase in the share of households who
experienced significant downward short-term mobility. The share that saw their
incomes decline by $20,000 or more (in real terms) rose from 13.0 percent in 1990-
91 to 14.8 percent in 1997-98 to 16.6 percent in 2003-04.
Ř middle class is experiencing more insecurity of income, while the top decile is
experiencing less. From 1997-98 to 2003-04, the increase in downward short-term
mobility was driven by the experiences of middle-class households (those earning
between $34,510 and $89,300 in 2004 dollars). Households in the top quintile
saw no increase in downward short-term mobility, and households in the top decile
($122,880 and up) saw a reduction in the frequency of large negative income shocks.
Ř the middle class, an increase in income volatility has led to an increase in the
frequency of large negative income shocks, which may be expected to translate to an
increase in financial distress.
Ř median household was no more upwardly mobile in 2003-04, a year when GDP
grew strongly, than it was it was during the recession of 1990-91.
Upward short-term mobility for those in the bottom quintile has improved since
1990-91, with no significant offsetting increase in downward short-term mobility.
Households whose adult members all worked more than 40 hours per week for two
years in a row were more upwardly mobile in 1990-91 and 1997-98 than households
who worked fewer hours. Yet this was not true in 2003-04, suggesting that people
who work long hours on a consistent basis no longer appear to be able to generate
much upward mobility for their families.


with all citations for people who like to 'look beyond the word'

09-15-2010, 12:39 PM
Wonderfully ironic that an article with such a title and intro will go on to include zero citations.

You get that this piece was a opinion column, not a white paper, right? :confused:

09-15-2010, 12:48 PM
You get that this piece was a opinion column, not a white paper, right? :confused:

Sometimes I don't think he cares. He's had a habit lately of swooping it, spouting off some point that would be relavent in some other situation, but has nothing to do with this case, then never comes back.

09-15-2010, 01:38 PM
Sometimes I don't think he cares. He's had a habit lately of swooping it, spouting off some point that would be relavent in some other situation, but has nothing to do with this case, then never comes back.It's the "How to post like a Liberal on CU" model. We're seeing a lot of it lately.

Constitutionally Speaking
09-15-2010, 05:55 PM
I told you earlier that your study was full of crap. They measure things that have very little to do with what they say they do.

Here is a non left-wing study - by the Treasury Dept.


This study looked at nearly 100,000 tax returns from 1996 and 2005. They tracked these people over this 10-year period and discovered that nearly 58% of filers who were in the poorest income group in 1996 had moved into a higher income category by 2005. Almost 25% jumped into the middle or upper-middle income groups, and 5.3% rose to the highest quintile.

From the Press Release:

The key findings of the study included:

* Income mobility of individuals was considerable in the U.S. economy during the 1996 through 2005 period with roughly half of taxpayers who began in the bottom quintile moving up to a higher income group within 10 years.
* About 55 percent of taxpayers moved to a different income quintile within 10 years.
* Among those with the very highest incomes in 1996--the top 1/100 of one percent--only 25 percent remained in the group in 2005. Moreover, the median real income of these taxpayers declined over the study period.
* The degree of mobility among income groups is unchanged from the prior decade (1987 through 1996).
* Economic growth resulted in rising incomes for most taxpayers over the study period:
Median real incomes of all taxpayers increased by 24 percent after adjusting for inflation;
Real incomes of two-thirds of all taxpayers increased over this period; and
Median incomes of those initially in the lower income groups increased more than the median incomes of those initially in the high income groups.


What is even more telling is that after-inflation median income of all tax filers increased by an impressive 24% over the length of the study while incomes in Europe were STAGNANT.

Even if we accept your now proven suspect claims, (and I don't), which would you rather have?? An economy where all incomes increased by 24% or one where the incomes remained the same, but the the quintiles were SLIGHTLY more fluid?