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Should we ignore facts because they are politically inconvenient?

Last week I told the weird tale of how IRS stats show that Minnesota has a net inflow of lower income residents, of how I reported these publicly available numbers, and how Bob Collins, formerly of MPR, said that was racist. I asked:

What was I supposed to say? Was I supposed to say that, in fact, I had seen a net outflow..? That would be factually incorrect and a bad basis for public policy. Was I supposed not to say anything at all? A cynic may say that that is exactly the intention.

Also last week, I read the following in the Star Tribune:

The Green Line light-rail line connecting the region’s two downtowns has also increased ease of access for teens and — as St. Paul police argued in a federal grant application last summer — contributed to a spike in gun violence “being committed across city boundaries.”


That assessment drew a rebuke from U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, who called it an inaccurate reflection of the city that “undermines the necessary work to advance transit funding.”

Now, the St. Paul cops might be wrong. It might be that the Green Line has not contributed to a spike in gun violence “being committed across city boundaries.” But if that is what you think that is what you should say. What you should not say is what Rep. McCollum says, which is that whether the statement is true or not is less important than whether it is politically expedient or not.

Good public policy will be grounded in the best facts and data we have, whatever they say. If we deep-six facts and data which doesn’t suit our agenda, public policy and the debate surrounding it will suffer. This goes, of course, for either side of the debate and whatever issue it is you’re debating, from climate change to school choice. It is unfortunate that such an attitude is controversial nowadays.

John Phelan is an economist at the Center of the American Experiment. 




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