The Myth of the Scientifically-Minded Leftist

Folks on the left love to castigate conservatives as being “anti-science.” It’s a mindless trope that nonetheless is often repeated, often with shrieking glee by a generation of young urbanites who think Jon Stewart is the apex of journalism in America. As it turns out, leftists are just as guilty – if not more so – at ignoring scientific findings that don’t suit their ideological agenda.

The policy world was rocked recently by a New England Journal of Medicine study showing that Medicaid doesn’t improve the health care outcomes of uninsured individuals.

The study compared the health status of adults who were randomly enrolled in Oregon’s Medicaid program with those who weren’t. It found that two years after patients received Medicaid, “no significant improvements in measured physical health outcomes” such as hypertension, cholesterol and diabetes resulted. Coverage did, however, lower depression rates and reduced financial strain.

How should a scientifically-inclined liberal have reacted? By acknowledging that if the findings hold in subsequent years, Obamacare’s plan to use Medicaid to achieve its universal coverage goal — at half-a-trillion-dollar price tag over a decade — would need to be reconsidered.

Some liberals such as Ray Fisman of Slate did just that — but they were the exception. Most liberals either dissed the study’s methodology after praising it previously (Kevin Drum, Mother Jones) or ignored its core findings and reported the good news (Jonathan Cohn, The New Republic) or attacked Obamacare’s opponents as heartless fools (Paul Krugman of The New York Times).

Dalmia brings up global warming climate change and other issues where the left shows a penchant for refusing to believe the evidence that is before their eyes. One issue is left out of the discussion, though this being Reason I can understand why: abortion. Leftists and all pro-aborts, for that matter, have to deny all understanding of human biology (or at least severely twist it) in order to justify abortion. But this will do.

In a similar vein, leftists like to mock dumb-dumb conservatives, all the while demonstrating that they aren’t exactly up to speed on all the issues. James Taranto catches Timothy Egan calling Senator Ted Cruz all but an imbecile and notes that it is Egan who demonstrates a manifest lack of knowledge on the issues.

The only problem is that Egan has completely misunderstood how sales taxes work.

A sales tax is a tax on the consumer, not the retailer. Just as the federal government requires employers to collect income and payroll taxes by withholding them from workers’ paychecks, state and local governments require retailers to collect sales taxes by adding them to the customer’s bill.

In theory, a consumer is supposed to pay sales tax on purchases from out-of-state retailers. In practice they usually don’t, because states lack the legal authority to compel out-of-state retailers to collect the tax. Only Congress, which under the U.S. Constitution has sole authority to regulate interstate commerce, can do that.

Egan has it exactly backward, whereas Cruz gets it right. If the bill became law, Texas retailers would have to collect sales taxes on behalf of California, Illinois and New York from customers ordering merchandise to be shipped to those states. If Cruz made purchases from businesses in those states, they would have to collect Texas sales taxes.

There are reasonable arguments on both sides of the sales-tax debate, but really, if you’re going to make fun of somebody for being a know-it-all, you ought to make sure you know what you’re talking about.