Propoganda Beats Flawed Economics

If the communists were capable of reaching for false economic claims when Orwellian information control tactics are available, I’m sure they’d violate Bastiat’s Broken Window Fallacy to excuse fire destroying a new luxury hotel.

As the sun rose on Tuesday, throngs of Beijing residents flocked to the headquarters of China’s national television network hoping to catch sight of the futuristic steel behemoth that had been consumed by flames the previous night. The blaze, ignited by an errant firework set off on the final night of the lunar new year, destroyed a luxury hotel and theater, left one firefighter dead and injured six others.

Bonus points if you find an example of someone explaining how this will stimulate the Chinese economy because another luxury hotel can be built in its place. The humorous attempt mentioned1 at the end of the New York Times article doesn’t count.

Lest anyone think that’s the key lesson to pull from this, always remember that China is a communist dictatorship:

A directive sent out by propaganda officials left no room for error: “No photos, no video clips, no in-depth reports,” read the memo, which instructed all media outlets to use only Xinhua’s dispatches. “The news should be put on news areas only and the comments posting areas should be closed.”

Information is king, unless murderous thugs make themselves king instead.

1 Dear New York Times: The article is on the web. Include the link.

Could government stimulus buy everyone a pony?

When media outlets publish scientific findings, do they behave responsibly or do they adhere to sensationalism? From CNN, this headline:

Could smoking pot raise testicular cancer risk?

As the article states in the lede, the study’s researchers have not moved beyond describing this as a “hypothesis”. How many people will read the just the headline and conclude that smoking marijuana leads to testicular cancer? The last few years of reporting on HIV and male circumcision has shown that people get carried away with fear despite the clear contradictions to the worst case scenario that rational thought provides. A responsible headline would say something like, “Researchers theorize marijuana-testicular cancer link”. That’s weak, I think, but it’s closer to the truth.

Notice, too, how the headline states “testicular cancer risk” rather than “risk of testicular cancer”. People who react with fear rather than reason will stop reading after “cancer”. Like HIV and male circumcision in America, few bother to examine the risk.

Testicular cancer is not common; a man’s lifetime chance of developing testicular cancer is about 1 in 300. Because treatment is so successful, the risk of dying from this cancer is very low: about 1 in 5,000.

But, CANCER! Now the prohibitionists will use another tactic, despite an obvious argument:

For patients using cannabis for medicinal purposes, the improvement in quality of life may outweigh any potential risk of testicular cancer, said [UCLA professor Steve] Shoptaw.

I’d shorten that to state that anyone who smokes marijuana might judge the improvement in quality of life may outweigh any potential risk of testicular cancer. All tastes and preferences are subjective. Individual liberty requires that we set aside our moral disfavor when making laws for any activity that does not intrude on the liberty of another individual. If you smoke pot, you are not harming me in a tangible way. Even if you increase your risk of testicular cancer. Contrary to the prohibitionists, the risk of being offended is irrelevant.

President Obama bumped his head. Everyone panic!

“Everyone panic” is my own interpretation of the CNN headline.

We can’t possibly be so obsessed with having a Dear Leader that a photographer filmed Obama walk across a field for 45 seconds. Yet, there’s the video. And when he “bumps” his head, it’s suddenly breaking “news”.

This isn’t the first time a president’s head has collided with Marine One: President George W. Bush hit his head on the side of the helicopter while boarding shortly after taking office — also in full view of a row of cameras.

I assume the editor knows this is not news and is just playing the (pathetically obvious) “see, we mock Democrats, too” angle. I fear what any other interpretation suggests.

Note: I know conservatives will run this on a continuous loop the way liberals ran the Bush clip on a loop. Liberals will undoubtedly be offended. Blah, blah, blah. That’s your Truth in Partisanship PSA for this apparently uneventful Monday.

Linkfest – Stimulus Edition

I stole introduced the idea of a linkfest several months ago and then promptly abandoned it for no valid reason other than laziness. That was dumb; my aggregator is out of control. So here we go again.

LINK: I’m on record as opposing any stimulus package that Congress will inevitably pass. With that out of the way, almost any opportunity for politicians to grab power via an ever-expanding government will pass. If we’re getting a waste of money shoved down our throats, it might as well be something good. I’d argue for tax reform mislabeled as stimulus. Not targeted tax cuts, not tax credits, not gimmicks. Real reform should address two goals: simplifying and flattening the tax code. It took us a long time to put ourselves in this precarious position. We will be undoing this mess for a long time. Any plan that pretends there’s a quick fix will cost us more than the superficial appearance of improvement we will claim.

That’s not what will happen, so I’m left to judge the merits of proposals like this from a Seattle small business owner:

A better choice would be something Americans are likely to spend, and without huge logistical headaches: a gift card. By sending every taxpayer a $2,000 debit card, the government stimulates spending directly. The card doesn’t get deposited with a bank, a step that greatly reduced the use of last year’s rebate checks for new spending, and with a defined expiration time, perhaps a year, the program could help precisely while other programs get underway.

In the context of bad ideas, it’s less bad. But then it leads to the appearance of sanity, or worse, as the author’s conclusion suggests:

I would be grateful for such a card, and I imagine that the owners of any of my remaining local restaurants would be as proud to receive such a card as I would be to use it.

I would feel a lot things if that idea comes to fruition, but pride would not be on the list.

For a better perspective, economist Jeffrey Miron outlines a smart stimulus reform plan.

LINK: I didn’t blog about President Obama’s inaugural address because I was apathetic. Still, his speech made me angry because he tried to marginalize anyone who would challenge the idea of a Dear Leader. I will never apologize for staking out a principle when challenged by what is popular. Fifty-percent-plus-one is not the same as winning the debate. So, in place of what I would’ve expressed several weeks ago, I’ll point you to Will Wilkinson’s essay, “We need cynics:

“Trash the cynic” is a stock tactic of popular politicians, used to weaken remaining resistance to their agenda. The admiring public gets a warm sense of cohesive uplift while the loyal opposition is cast in an unflattering light: outmoded, small-spirited, irrelevant. Those who would argue are made to look petty—whether or not they have a good point. Obama is a master of this game. And George W. Bush was no slouch when he, too, had a gale of popular opinion at his back and a mandate to “do something” in a season of crisis.

I started as a skeptic. I’ve always believed in the right of the individual to his liberty. Government could not legitimately revoke that liberty, and even its good intentions ended in damage. But experience with government turned me into a cynic. Government is, at best, oblivious to unintended negative consequences or complaints about intended preferential consequences. What is obvious is dismissed, often in the way Obama sought to marginalize opposition. As Mr. Wilkinson states:

One needn’t be a “cynic” to be wary of surging popular passions or unchecked executive power. This caution is built into our Constitution. The American system of government was designed to moderate ambition and thwart big plans. Checks and balances do embody skepticism of unregulated power, but that skepticism is the soul of good government, not its nemesis. Yes, the bottlenecks in the system aggravate crusading popular presidents, which is why so many have chipped away at their constraints. That’s why the system no longer checks nor balances as it should. That’s why Obama entered the Oval Office with unprecedented executive power.

LINK: Demonstrating concisely why I’m a cynic on the craptacular stimulus idea in general and President Obama’s fear-mongering in particular, Mr. Wilkinson delivers a line that explains how spending solves a debt problem. I wish I’d written it.

This may seem a bit like dumping gas on a person on fire so that they can more easily burn through the wall standing between them and the lake.

The rest of his blog entry is worth reading.