Shout out to Statistics!

As a graduate student, it’s so easy—and necessary frankly—to get caught up in a world which revolves around class to class readings, week to week homework sets and the formulaic structure of your next policy memo. It’s really difficult to see the value of everything you are learning on the inside of a Master’s program and how you’ll be able to apply it upon graduation. I find that reading the news prevents me from spinning round and round in my little academic bubble, believing this is the way life really functions and that I might just fail out of school (which would obviously result in my quick demise, duh!) if I can’t get the solutions to problem set #3 on my own.

Being a self-proclaimed socialist I try my best to peruse progressive websites, reformist newspapers, and varying online periodicals/blogs. I recently found an article I really enjoyed reading on commondreams.org and posted it to my Facebook page in an attempt to share it with as many people as possible, as you do right? Well, one of my friends, being the button-pusher that he is (really do love that trait!) wrote the following in response to the article:

“I’ll go on record as disliking the article itself. I mean, in its execution, its redundant, vague (the use of the term “the rich” is overly general, for instance, should we really be angry with ALL rich people…? like Louis CK or Bill Clinton or Michelle Obama or Lady Gaga or Oprah? or just right-wing rich people? be specific!), its also hyperbolic and clumsy in its use of figurative language (“the rich and their…false prophets”? used twice? who are these “false prophets”? again, be specific!), and it quotes Thomas Jefferson, which detracts from his argument about “the rich” because Jefferson was extremely wealthy in his time…as were most of our founding fathers, so…should we be angry with them too? to think about: should this really be an argument of rich vs poor? or should it be an argument between self-interest and feelings of entitlement vs the health of the community, the nation, the less fortunate? just some things to think about during the revision process. in its current draft, I’d give it about a C+.”

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I thought. And thought a bit more. And realized…he was missing the point. To start, yes it is general. It has to be, the paper is discussing a class war developing out of the increasing dichotomy between TWO groups alone: the rich and the poor. Obviously, not every single rich person is horrible; nor is every poor person a saint. However, the paper’s purpose lies in that very necessary distinction and what that means for both groups.
Secondly, yes it is general. But when it comes to education and decision-making today, time is of the essence and generalizations are demanded. How else can professionals, politicians and citizens take time to make sense of the world around them when they simply aren’t specialists of every discipline? Generalizations help disseminate info to the masses, even as “all encompassing” as they may be.
As to Thomas Jefferson, yes, our founding fathers were wealthy. But I don’t think being angry with them is the answer or the point. We shouldn’t be angry with those currently wealthy either! But we should have every right to consider new systems (eek socialism!) that may make clear what we are voting for, paying for and providing our citizens with. And that term “socialism” shouldn’t be used by those profiting off of others to continue enshrouding the facts in fear.
I realized the heart of the issue was in the body of the paper. The very things I began to study in my undergrad economics education and continue to study today at the La Follette School: STATISTICS! Proportions, percentages, unemployment rates, medians, varying incomes, historical changes…the sheer NUMBERS provide the very base for what the author (and as it happens, many academics) try to tell in their respective “stories.” It has really helped me see the value behind something that sometimes seems difficult, stubbornly takes up a lot of my time, and often feels peripheral to my life focus.

Needless to say, I suggested my friend not skip over the meat of the paper next time, where the real facts pertaining to life’s most basic rights including access to food, equality and life expectancy are quoted from over 17 right and left-wing reputable sources. In my eyes, those data are far more important than the rhetoric (even from this paper) we are inundated with daily.

Carly Hood is a first year at the LFS.

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About Sylvia Fredericks

Second-Year MPA student at the La Follette School for Public Affairs (University of Wisconsin - Madison)
This entry was posted in Economics, La Follette, Politics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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