$100 Billion of Welfare-Stimulus

I think reporters need a new language to describe what goes on in Washington:

Democrats are working on a $100 billion spending package that could be considered as early as this month if the Bush administration drops its opposition and agrees to negotiate a measure the president will sign. That package will probably include money for public works projects to create jobs, a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits, additional funds for food stamps and aid to strapped state governments struggling to cover the rising cost of heath care for the poor.

Automakers hope it will also contain another round of low-interest loans for them to retool factories for the production of fuel-efficient vehicles. Congress has already approved a $25 billion loan package. Lawmakers are also considering tax credits for car purchases aimed at driving up demand in the worst slump in auto sales in nearly a quarter-century.

Another stimulus package, to be assembled after Obama takes office in January, could grow to well over $100 billion and would include a permanent tax cut for moderate and lower-income families, Democrats said yesterday. Details of that package have yet to be worked out, but Democratic aides said the tax cut would be designed to appear immediately in people's paychecks.

-- Lori Montgomery and Kendra Marr, "Democrats Craft Economic Plan", WaPo, 11/7/2008

The lack of skepticism in this account -- like most accounts of legislation today -- annoys me. Why is it acceptable for reporters to label legislation by its publicly-stated intent --"stimulus" --, rather than its actual immediate effects on people, their organizations, and the formal rules of economic and social order?

"Stimulus" is just one possible effect of politicians raising spending without raising tax receipts, thereby increasing the short-run national debt. Why not describe the soon-to-be-proposed bill by a more honest name: welfare.

When a reporter writes that authorities suspect a man of committing a crime, whether or not the suspect's been arrested, they must, if I remember correctly, for legal reasons, use a variant of "allege".

But a more important reason for alleging is not legal, but a recognition of reality. While reporters may talk to the alleged criminal or his attorneys as well as authorities and the victim, they simply cannot know what happened.

There is an enormous difference, not just in jazziness, but in the way readers are cued, between "Democratic politicians are considering a stimulus package" and "Democratic politicians are considering a bill some are calling a 'stimulus package'" and "Democratic politicians are considering a wide-ranging bill they claim will provide economic stimulus..."

In the case quoted above, the reporter swallows whole the pronouncements of legislators alleging that the bill's purpose is "stimulus". Maybe. But it seems a large share of the bill are pet projects, targeted individual welfare programs, and a heaping load of corporate welfare. Maybe a considerable portion of the bill will have no net stimulus effect at all.

It seems reporters sometimes assume that the causes and effects of public policies are either obvious or irrelevant. When they're promoting or denouncing ideas, they know which policies are wise. But when they're looking for a good he-said / she-said partisan conflict, reporters may assume that there's no objective way at all to analyze the effects of public policies...

Their frame, all wrong for us, is just right for them...


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This page contains a single entry by Kevin published on November 7, 2008 9:11 AM.

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