Friday, October 21, 2011

Ignorance is strength

Megan McArdle absolutely nails a phenomenon I've talked about before - the greater the certainty with which solutions to problems are put forward, the greater the ignorance of the speaker.

Then there are the tax nuts, which is nearly everyone. I have seen reporters, wonks, and innumerable blog readers repeat the administration's claim that oil companies were getting unconscionable tax breaks which need to be reformed to pay for urgent policy priorities. I have yet to encounter one who could describe any of these tax breaks; even if they knew the words "percentage depletion allowance" or "intangible drilling costs", they can't describe what those things are. Nor are they aware that many of these allowances are already disallowed for the large oil firms, who effectively almost have their own special tax code.

Don't get me wrong: I'm hardly a tax expert. And there are some wonks, readers and journalists who really are. These people frequently offer interesting takes on these issues, of which I am an avid consumer.

But the number of people who are outraged by these tax deductions, and think they should end, is in my experience clearly much larger than the number of people who have even the most minimal grasp of principles of tax accounting, or a theory of when and how the code should recognize a taxable event, much less a glancing familiarity with the provisions of the tax code to which they are quite indignantly opposed.

The whole thing is well worth a read.


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