Thomas Sowell

But, in politics and in commentaries on political issues, people talk incessantly about how "the top one percent" of income earners are getting more money or how the "bottom 20 percent" are falling behind. Yet the turnover in income brackets over a decade is at least as great as the turnover in batting average brackets.

In the course of a decade, the top 400 income earners include a couple of thousand people. The income received by the top 400 (as a statistical bracket) has risen, both absolutely and as a share of all income, even while the average income of the average person who was in that bracket at a given time has fallen by large amounts. How can this be? The short answer is turnover.

Turnover in sports creates no such confusion.

If players A, B and C all have batting averages in the .320s this year and, put together, they hit 100 home runs, while players X, Y and Z all have batting averages in the .320s next year, and together they hit 120 home runs, we could say that .320s hitters were increasing the number of home runs they hit. But A, B and C could easily be hitting less than 100 home runs next year.

It all depends on whether you are talking about what is happening in statistical brackets or what is happening to actual flesh-and-blood individuals who were in those brackets at one time but not another time. We understand that when we talk about sports statistics. But not when we talk about statistics on political issues like income differences.

Do our IQs just drop spontaneously when we turn to politics? Or are there many people in politics and the media with vested interests in misstating issues, and lots of experience in doing so? I think it is the latter, especially during an election year.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

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