Saturday, January 15, 2011

Civic Literacy Quiz

The ISI "Civic Literacy Quiz": Since many of our elected officials apparently think the Constitution is not really something they need to know.

I got a 97%, and the one question I missed, I missed on purpose.

Go ahead and take it if you want. Spoilers below...

Are you done?

Okay, here's the question I "missed"

33) If taxes equal government spending, then:
A. government debt is zero
B. printing money no longer causes inflation
C. government is not helping anybody
D. tax per person equals government spending per person
E. tax loopholes and special-interest spending are absent

Clearly, they want you to say "D". But A is a better answer. If there is no deficit, there is no borrowing. If over N years there is no borrowing, then there is no debt. So, "A" is the better answer.

"D" is correct only the following silly sense: Since Tax Rev = Gov Spending,
it must be true that (Tax Rev / Population) = (Gov Spending / Population). But there is no reason to believe that taxes paid match up with benefits received FOR EACH PERSON. Only in the aggregate would this be true. In fact, there is no reason to believe that taxes paid = gov spending for ANY individual citizen. It's just not a very good question.

UPDATE: From comments...listen, folks, it does NOT say this year. Not this month, not this century. It says FOREVER. The budget has always been balanced, and it always will be. Sure, if it said, "in a given year," fair enough. It does NOT say that. There is no debt in the world of that question. I agree that if it said, "in the past year" or "in a given fiscal year" it would be okay. But it doesn't.

Furthermore, it is NOT TRUE that the taxes a person pays are the same as spending on that person. So answer "D" is actually wrong. Those of you defending this question wallow in lameness.


Anonymous said...

Wouldn't A only be correct if it said that the "government deficit is zero"? The debt itself could come from prior tax periods.

Patrick said...

29's a ringer too.

Seth said...

Hmm... if tax revenue is equal to (or greater than) spending, then debt (probably) isn't increasing. But by no means does that mean that there is no debt -- this is precisely the situation that the U.S had during the late Clinton administration.

At the end of a year in which tax revenue>=spending, there may be less outstanding debt than there was at the beginning, by no means is it going to be zero. Heck, tax revenue could have been greater than spending during every year for the entire history of the country, and there could still be debt if that's how a government chose to do things.

I think it's a perfectly legitimate question that plays on the often misunderstood-distinction between debt and defecit. D is a silly answer, but it's a also the only true one.

Mungowitz said...

There is nothing in that question that says "this year." Where in the question do you see an indication that there was EVER spending greater than revenue.

That said, yes, I agree. I did admit I missed the question on purpose, as a protest.

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Dirty Davey said...

Rather than interpreting the lack of "this year" as meaning "over all time", I take it to mean "over any arbitrary period". In which case, (d) is true, though as an accounting identity it is not particularly interesting.

(Interpreting it as debt-equals-zero in the long run also ignored the possibility that gov't may get some income from sources other than taxes--sale of an asset at a profit, for example--or may lose money in some way other than spending it--theft springs to mind.)

Gerardo said...

There's nothing in the question that says per person isn't an average, either.

Nathanael D Snow said...

Got the same one wrong. Poorly worded.
95% of survey writers think survey results are 95% accurate 95% of the time.

Tom said...

I thought question 30 the lamest. "Which of the following fiscal policy combinations would a government most likely follow to stimulate economic activity when the economy is in a severe recession?" My suggestion for answer choices:

A. Something to aggravate the problem.

B. Whatever they think will make them more popular.

C. Plans pushed by lobbyists.

D. Policies clamored for by pundits.

E. Bastardized sum of all of the above.

Anonymous said...

"Taxes equal spending" does not imply debt is zero. It implies debt is unchanged.

Your "it doesn't say THIS YEAR" strikes me as an intentionally absurd parsing, and your "it says FOREVER" is a blatant falsehood.

Anonymous said...

And "it is NOT TRUE that the taxes a person pays are the same as spending on that person" is idiotic.

That answer does not say "every single person has the exact amount of money spent on him that he spends in taxes"; it says "tax per person" and "spending per person". It's referring to averages, not individual specifics, and I'd frankly be shocked if you didn't actually understand this. So, I'm going to assume that you're intentionally dissembling.

Dubi K said...

It says "per person", for "for each tax payer". Per person means PRECISELY "divided by the size of the population".

Anonymous said...

D is a pretty terrible answer.

It arguably implies equal tax burden and spending per person.

If not, it implies a closed society, in which all spending (and taxation) is limited to US persons.

Otherwise, it is correct just as a tautology and hardly a civics question.

David Tomlin said...

It's a great 'civics literacy' question. Just look at all the civic illiteracy being displayed in the arguments for the wrong answer.

Steve said...

Totally irrelevant to the question you missed, but I missed the question about the Puritans.

The correct answer seemed a little too obvious...

SBVOR said...

"It says FOREVER."

Only in your imagination...
Furthermore, there may be other sources of revenue other than taxes.

Anonymous said...

It was poorly worded, "per person" does not always imply "per capita" or an average. If you were at a restaurant with a policy of 1 free refill per drink purchase, wouldn't you be taken aback if the waitress told you "Sorry, that guy over there got two refills, so we can't give you any." If it were worded "per capita," answer D would be much more defensible.

I know they meant to determine if you know the difference between deficit and debt, but that did a poor job of constructing the answers to tease that out.

James Oswald said...

I agree! That as the only one I got "wrong" as well.