The article was a hit piece on the Bush administration's economic performance, so I should like it, right? Yesterday the New York Times ran an article by David Cay Johnston headlined "2005 Incomes, on Average, Still Below 2000 Peak." Here are the first two paragraphs:
Kind of petty ante stuff, that. So I kept reading. Way, way, way down the piece I come to this:
Now wait a minute, didn't he just say that the "average" income was in the $55,000 range? Yes, he did.
But he didn't mean "average" the way you or I usually mean it. The dictionary defines "average" as:
- "the level, amount, or degree of something that is typical of a group or class of people of things"
- "without any extraordinary, untypical, or exceptional characteristic."
The Wikipedia article on "arithmetic means" explains this very clearly:
This stuff matters. How many of those people in Washington would know that the "average" income cited here was very atypical indeed? After all, in Congress they get paid $165,000 annually without taking into account any wealth they bring with them. They probably think they are fairly typical, though perhaps somewhat fortunate!
One reason most of us feel as if our rulers live on some different plane of life is that they do.