I was talking to a friend today who would describe himself as a “California liberal”, “snob”, and “much smarter and better-informed than the average American.” He lives in a $2 million house in Berkeley and is most passionate about the idea that state and federal tax rates should be roughly doubled so that we can carry out important social programs and pay higher salaries and pensions to government employees, who are doing a great job. He is angry about the persistence California’s Proposition 13, which he believes has kept the state from realizing its potential greatness through increased taxation and has enabled posthumous Republicans to ruin California despite the fact that Democrats in California now hold a “super majority” and can pass any legislation that they wish (In 2010 California collected only 11.2 percent of its residents’ GDP (source)). He had followed the Boston Marathon bombings obsessively, but exclusively in media outlets, such as the New York Times, with a liberal perspective. Here are some of the topics that we discussed:
- Teacher salaries. As we walked by the Cambridge Public High School he estimated that a teacher there would earn $30,000 per year. General media/Google info: the school web site shows that in 2010, a 33-year-old teacher with an online doctorate could earn as much as $86,000 for working nine months/year, plus health care and defined benefit pension; neighboring Boston pays about $93,500 for nine months of work by a 31-year-old with an online PhD (chart). (He could have learned about teacher salaries from this 2009 New York Times article.)
- U.S. corporations pay close to zero percent of their income in tax, which is one reason no American company would ever seek to move to another country for financial reasons. General media/Google info: This Tax Foundation meta survey reports that the effective tax rate is close to 30 percent. A representative study is this one from Price Waterhouse Coopers, which found that the U.S. ranked 6th out of 59 countries in corporate taxes actually collected.
- Tsarnaev brothers versus the police. My liberal friend thought the Tsarnaev brothers had been heavily armed with an arsenal of guns and rifles and the heroic police and FBI shooting at them were generally outgunned. General media/Google info: the Guardian says that the “brothers had a single gun between them, a Ruger 9mm semi-automatic handgun”; the final “shoot-out” at the boat was in fact more like target practice since the remaining Tsarnaev was entirely unarmed (New York Magazine)),
- The police had never had any occasion to investigate the Tsarnaev brothers, who had been model citizens/residents ever since being invited to live in the U.S. by our wise Department of Homeland Security (immigration division). General media/Google info: Tamerlan Tsarnaev was arrested for violence against a girlfriend in 2009 (CNN); Tamerlan Tsarnaev was a close associate of three men who had their throats slit in Waltham, Massachusetts on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks (ABC; my friend had never seen any mention of these murders, now widely linked to the Tsarnaev family).
Given the facts of which my friend was aware, I don’t think it is surprising that he comes to the conclusions that he does. We need to borrow trillions of dollars immediately and give it to our underfunded schools and government agencies. We should collect additional trillions in tax from U.S.-based corporations, who are currently paying nothing. We should yield more of our civil liberties to the police and FBI, who are infinitely wise. We need to restrict gun ownership so that future angry young men cannot build up a massive arsenal of assault rifles like the Tsarnaev brothers had and use that arsenal to mount a serious challenge to our combined local, state, and federal law enforcement forces. It is no wonder that he states flatly that Republicans and anyone who would vote for them are stupid because indeed one would have to be stupid not to see things his way if one were informed by the above facts.
I’m wondering if a lot of the supposed polarization of American political debate is simply due to the fact that we have more media outlets than formerly. Instead of everyone in one city reading the same newspaper and watching the evening news on one of three networks, a liberal can follow a huge story like the Boston Marathon bombings and learn completely different facts than a person who uses Google News.