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Pay More Taxes And Live Longer. Wee P-value Alert!

It’s bottom-of-the-barrel trolling to cite anything from Daily Kos, but this one is particularly asinine and worth showing to demonstrate the futility of p-values. Thanks to Al Perrella for the discovery.

The article is “Pay more taxes and live longer, pay less taxes and die sooner, the choice is yours“. A snapshot of the “finding” is above, but go to their site for the full gory.

One of the things that our taxes should provide is a healthy populace, which should be reflected in the life expectancy of its citizens. And fortunately, mortality is something that is easy to measure. We have been running a set of economic experiments in our states for decades, and the outcomes should be discernible. If low taxes are better than high taxes, then that should be clearly articulated in the life expectancy data.

In fact, the opposite is the case, and the trend is unmistakable. The chart below plots life expectancy by state for the year 2013-14 against the total taxes (federal, state, and local) paid by its citizens. The tax year 2015 was chosen since those data were easily accessible. A trend line (linear regression) is also shown, which represents the best straight line that can be fit to these data. The raw data that I used are also shown in the table below. Federal, state, and local tax data for 2015 were obtained from sites here and here. Life expectancy data were obtained here.

The big “finding” is that “life expectancy is correlated with taxes”, and from correlation, which has no implication of cause, the author can’t help himself, as almost everybody can’t, and he jumps to cause. “Mortality statistics across the United States suggest that residents of blue states are healthier than those in red states.”

Yet one of the middling-lower taxed states has residents with the highest life expectancy. Grouping across states is also silly, as it’s the bigger cities that differ from rural areas, contrasts where we also find the biggest political differences.

Alabama looks to have the lowest life expectancy averaged across its residents. Raise your hand if you think it’s taxes that makes the even any difference between it and, say, New Hampshire, which has one of the highest life expectancies — and low taxes.

Well you can do this sort of thing as well as I can, and probably have more patience. Here’s the writer’s conclusion:

Tax rate statistics suggest that higher taxes are favorably correlated with mortality. Call me crazy, but if I were a resident of a red state, I would be calling my local, state, and federal legislators, demanding that my taxes be raised, not lowered, and that the increased revenues be used to improve my health and the health of my fellow citizens. Starting now.

Okay, I’ll call him crazy. We went from correlation, and a weak one at that, and somewhat silly, to “Call your congressman now.”

People just can’t resist finding causes in wee p-values.

8 thoughts on “Pay More Taxes And Live Longer. Wee P-value Alert! Leave a comment

  1. Has anyone found a wee p value on IQ and life expectancy. I often am surprised that anyone so blantantly ignorant as this writer is still breathing. On the other hand, if I dropped these folks into primative South America, Africa or North Korea, I expect their life expectancy would drop dramatically. I call it the “Anti-Darwin Wealth Factor”. Poverty results in much smarter people than wealth does. You can bank on it, Daily Kos, and you should be out there screaming it from the rooftops—the grass rooftop of your new office building, of course. In the bush of Aftica (they have cell phones there—you can phone in your report.)

    If paying more taxes increases life spans, why are Soros, Reid, Pelosi, and the other uber rich still breathing? I see a data exclusion in this formula…..

  2. It is well-known that the rich live longer than the poor; they generally make better health decisions and they can afford better care. And, wouldn’t you know it, they pay more taxes. Where were the editors and referees. Who paid for this research?

  3. Life expectancy correlates with longevity per the data presented…but then the presenter says:

    “…if I were a resident of a red state, I would be calling my … legislators, demanding that my taxes be raised …. to improve my health and the health of my fellow citizens.”

    Is there any basis to conclude that longer longevity correlates with improved health?

    So many old folks I know depend on a cupboard full of medicines, often are dependent on other assistance, and don’t hardly qualify as “healthy” by any definition of the term. More like they’re artificially preserved on a form of extreme life support.

  4. Good Post.
    However, no need to even look at p values (whether they cited them or not) as R2 is an effect size measure on its own.
    Reported R2 is weak, 0.217, meaning only 21.7% of variability in longevity/health is explained by how much we contribute in taxes (as per linear regression). The rest, 78.3% is unexplained. The rub is that adding any variable will increase R2, even if that variable is clearly not related to the outcome (no. of bananas eaten per month is your favorite, if I am not mistaken).
    Correlation would be 0.47, medium at best. Pretty much any two variables can get that high without being really related in a meaningful way. However, it is a positive correlation and that shows some general trend (maybe). Let’s not forget that we could have had a negative one too (the more taxes we pay, the less healthy we are, etc.) but we didn’t.

    But, there are some other interesting things in this graph:
    1. Most blue and red states are clustered b/w roughly 7K and 18K, although red seem to be living shorter. Thus, something else is accounting for that difference big time, not just taxes.
    2. Most blue and red states have pretty good longevity (75-82). When we are measuring mortality within that time-frame, anything is a fair game. So, any difference is noise really (I know, I know, there’s no such thing as noise ;-))
    3. States vary so much in their size and other characteristics, that grouping them by regions or population would make more sense. It could be controlled for easily.
    4. Not sure that per capita spending is as relevant as the lump sum/total per state/country.
    5. The amount spent per state, does not have to relate to the quality/efficiency of health care. Some states can be setup to do more with less money because of geography, health delivery systems, etc.
    6. The worst thing about this article is not the data, but their conclusions. Their conclusion about a few years difference at that age can be explained by genetics alone. There are so many
    variables that influence age at which people die, that isolating a single one as a cause is ridiculous.

    But, the bottom line is that common sense tells you that we should spend more not less on health care, but not via a broken system. Health care (and education) cannot be run as businesses and having the (apparently) most modern country in the world having no universal health care (barring some really messed-up regions of the world) is beyond comprehension of anyone outside these US.

    Personally, I am in favor of bigger not smaller ‘Gubmint’, socialized healthcare and education (everything else business as usual with some restrictions that will prevent people from owning an island if they choose so; not to be mean but because the nature of capitalism is the accelerated accumulation of wealth in fewer and fewer hands).

    However, this article makes outrageous claims that are not backed by data.

    Thanks for posting Dr. Briggs.

  5. The notion that health care and education cannot be run as businesses is more absurd than the conclusions in this study. Completely unsubsidized educational liberty would, for example, cure every higher-education ill described in the Insanity and Doom series presented here. We would also have smarter kids who might go on to study unpoliticized doctoring.

  6. Kalif: “Personally, I am in favor of bigger not smaller ‘Gubmint’, socialized healthcare and education (everything else business as usual with some restrictions that will prevent people from owning an island if they choose so; not to be mean but because the nature of capitalism is the accelerated accumulation of wealth in fewer and fewer hands).
    However, this article makes outrageous claims that are not backed by data.”

    Your analysis was great, right up until the end!

    And the irony is that your wrap-up sentence is applicable to your own outrageous claims–all emotion, no data!

    In income, American citizens are amazingly able to move from top to bottom, and bottom to top, economically.

    “From 1967 to 2009, the real mean household income of the top quintile increased by 71 percent, meaning the rich became much richer. Over the same period, the real mean household income in the bottom quintile increased by 25 percent. This means the poor became richer as well. This measure shows that Americans in the lowest quintile could afford more goods and services in 2009 than in 1967.”

    http://www.learnliberty.org/videos/is-there-income-mobility-in-america/

    “…stop people from owning an island…” Why? What does it matter to you if someone owns an island? Luckily, in the USA, we are free–from the most basic of properties, our lives, to real estate–we can own islands. We can also own squalid hellholes. An island-owner would be feeding your “Gubmint” with millions of dollars in real estate taxes, feeding an entire village with jobs, and providing other resources to the community. You think Gubmint can do that better?

    “…common sense tells you that we should spend more not less on health care, but not via a broken system…”

    Only if your common sense is separated from reality. The Gubmint-run health systems in both the UK and Canada are broken.

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2910825/Breaking-arm-showed-NHS-broken-Jenni-Murray-thought-NHS-criticism-now.html

    “… having the (apparently) most modern country in the world having no universal health care (barring some really messed-up regions of the world) is beyond comprehension of anyone outside these US.”

    Many countries with Gubmint-run health care are mostly protectorates of the USA–all of Europe, Canada, and Japan. They spend negligible portions of their GDP on defense, and rely on our massive defense umbrella to keep them from descending into the World Wars that they instigate, absent our supervision. These savings free up their dollars to squander on Gubmint projects–like health care, or wind turbines, or solar panels, or free abortions for all.

    Demographics is the key. Health, longevity, income, IQ, and nearly every other quality of life measure are directly correlated to demographics. American states differ in their demographics. Demographics is destiny.

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