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I came across a BBC article titled Ten laws that India should scrap. In the section about salt taxes, it first states:

In 2013-14 collections from the tax amounted to $538,000 (£343,400), which was nearly half the cost of collecting it.

and follows this with:

A High Level Salt Enquiry Committee set up in 1978 recommended that the tax should be scrapped since the "annual collection was very small" while the total cost of collecting it was more than half of the total collection.

Am I mistaken in thinking that the first quote implies that the revenue from the tax was almost half the cost of the tax, while the second quote implies the opposite?

14

According to qz.com:

Most cesses are ineffective, expensive, rarely serve the purpose they were levied for, and, generate insignificant amounts in revenue. The salt cess is one such example, generating Rs3.3 crore in the last financial year. The cost of collection was Rs1.5 crore.

If we convert those numbers to US dollars for comparison, we get $538,000 collected and $245,000 spent collecting that money. So the first sentence contains a mistake:

In 2013-14 collections from the tax amounted to $538,000 (£343,400), which was nearly half the cost of collecting it.

The cost of collecting was nearly half of what they collected, not the other way around.

  • 1
    This is a great answer, and thanks for checking the actual numbers. That makes it a lot clearer. – Michael A Oct 8 '14 at 16:29
  • Also note that the first sentence, taken on its own, appears incorrect. In the phrase "nearly half the cost", the connotation of the adverb "nearly" is that the collections were larger than would be expected relative to the cost. However, the intuition is that the cost should be much less than collections, and you would expect the phrase to be "less than half the cost". "Nearly" or "more than" indicate surprise that something is so large, and "barely" or "less than" indicate surprise that something is so small. – WinnieNicklaus Oct 8 '14 at 19:05
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    Suppose a tax brought in $500,000 gross but cost $350,000 to collect. The tax would bring in (net) $150,000--nearly half what it costs to collect, but the cost of collecting the tax would be more than half of the total (gross) collection. – supercat Oct 8 '14 at 22:45
  • I think that interpretation is more or less ruled out, but it's interesting the sort of mental gymnastics that are possible in theory to try to make sense of something that does not in fact make sense. – snailboat Oct 9 '14 at 3:13
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    You know what, the funny thing was I found nothing wrong when I read the first sentence the asker posted and understood it the way the news source intended. It was only upon you pointing out that it "contains a mistake" did I go back and realised that the sentence was indeed wrongly written. Strange. – Harsh Kanchina Oct 9 '14 at 11:56
5

They do say the opposite things, but there is a changing time frame involved.

The first quote says that in 2013-2014, the revenue from the tax was half the cost of collecting it.

The second quote says that in 1978, the cost of collecting the tax was half the revenue from the tax.

Clearly in the intervening 35 years the cost has gone up much faster than the revenue.

(Of course it's also possible that the writer or editor screwed up, but it does make sense as written.)

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    My guess is that it's a screw up. If the cost to collect was actually more than double the revenue collected, would the author have chosen the words "nearly half" when he could have said it the other way around? "The cost was more than double the revenue collected!" – Tᴚoɯɐuo Oct 8 '14 at 14:58
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    @TimRomano, that's true; even with the comparison as stated, it would be better emphasized with a "barely", "only", or "not even" instead of the given "nearly". – Hellion Oct 8 '14 at 15:03
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The first sentence implies that the cost of collecting the tax was more than double the revenue collected.

These kinds of sloppy errors are not rare because the phrases seem to take on a life of their own. There was a TV commercial here a few years ago, advertising tours to Italy, that said "each place we visit will be more exciting than the next".

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    My favourite was a new computer that had an "increased price/performance ratio" as an important new feature. I later found it was a bad copy of a statement that said "improved price/performance ratio". – gnasher729 Oct 8 '14 at 15:12

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