April 19, 2001

Heritage Foundation Attack on Center Rests on Misrepresentation
by Robert Greenstein

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The Heritage Foundation recently issued a two-page broadside that attempts to discredit two Center analyses of issues related to the Administration's tax cut proposal. Debate and analysis on such issues is part of what democracy is about. But critiques of analyses that reflect a different point of view should be based on accurate representations of the analyses that are being criticized. The Heritage piece fails this test. It severely misrepresents the Center analyses it attacks. It consists more of ideological statements than serious analysis.

A complete discussion of the misrepresentations and unsupported statements in the Heritage piece is beyond the scope of this brief reply. (Such a discussion would end up being considerably longer than the Heritage paper.) A few examples, however, provide a flavor of the nature of the Heritage piece.

One of the analyses the Heritage piece castigates is a Center report by Isaac Shapiro and Joel Friedman which examines IRS data that show substantial increases in after-tax income disparities between 1992 and 1998 (and also between 1989 and 1998). Heritage writes: "Shapiro and Friedman badly misuse data to create a statistical mirage of growing income inequality in America from 1992 to 1998. The Census Bureau warns researchers not to do this because of major survey changes in 1994. In fact, the Census Bureau (using directly comparable data) reports that income inequality has not increased from 1993 to 1999." To a reader not familiar with the data sources, this sounds like a damaging indictment. To the contrary, in just three sentences, Heritage commits a series of errors any careful analyst would avoid.

In short, Heritage knows better. Its broadside — which is both inaccurate in its descriptions of the Center analyses and disingenuous in its discussion of data sources — reads more like the type of material that a political campaign might issue to try to tar an opposing candidate than a serious discussion of analytic or policy disagreements among analysts with differing perspectives. Ideological zeal should not take precedence over careful analysis.