Recently in Statsmerkwürdigkeiten Category

$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...

Quote of the Day

``This is something that, for a typical company, would take no less than five years,'' said Lynn Turner, a former chief accountant at the Securities and Exchange Commission. ``Anyone who thinks they can do this in two weeks is insane.''

--"Paulson Recruits Asset Managers as Rescue Moves Ahead" By Rebecca Christie and Robert Schmidt

Property Rights in Solar Panel Light


Overlawyered links to an interesting case:

the Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office is pursuing a Sunnyvale couple under a little-known California law because redwood trees in their backyard cast a shadow over their neighbor's solar panels.

The law, as described in the article, prioritizes the rights of solar cell owners over the rights of tree owners. And it seems to do this in a remarkably fair, clear, and property-rights oriented manner: solar cell owners have the right to 90% of the 10am to 2pm sunlight that they had when installing the panels. That's it.

The law was written by former Assemblyman Chuck Imbrecht, a Ventura Republican, as a way to guarantee, amid the energy crises of the 1970s, that people who installed solar panels wouldn't see a drop in their investment from nearby trees.

It affects only trees planted after 1979, and bans trees or shrubs from shading more than 10 percent of a neighbor's solar panels between 10 a.m. and 2p.m.

In other words, you cannot install solar panels in shade, and then demand your neighbor cut down his trees. Nice.

This type of law is more robust than most, since it tries to respect the rights of long-term owners, while understanding that newcomers should be able to claim and hold their stakes in unused resources. Bravo.

Pretending to Be Popular


Via Businesspundit, we find unions using city governments as PR outlets:

Cambridge, MA- The City Council of Cambridge Massachusetts late yesterday became the first local government in the nation to condemn Starbucks' relentless anti-union campaign and support the Industrial Workers of the World organizing drive at Starbucks. Members of the IWW Starbucks Workers Union hope the resolution will serve as a model for other city councils, religious organizations, and labor unions around the world.

That resolution deserves scrutiny, because the language and evidence it uses to justify government policy doesn't get any more intentionally vague:

"National attention has been increasing on the efforts of Starbucks workers".

Really? This is the first mainstream "national attention" I've heard of, if you don't count Liza Featherstone at The Nation. (Look at the last comment -- "Holy Crap! BEN & JERRY'S and WHOLE FOODS aren't "pure" enough for her?!??!?!")


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