Monday, December 18, 2006

Quick links

If the media doesn't ask, someone else will

Lorrie Goldstein at the Toronto Sun (via SDA) notices the strange congruity between the rationalizations of government programming advocates and the reporting of the media:

"The media are less a window on reality than a stage on which officials and journalists perform self-scripted, self-serving fictions." Paul Weaver wrote that in a New York Times article called "Selling the Story" more than a dozen years ago.

But doesn't it sound like an accurate summation of almost any news conference today, where the advocates are in favour of, say, universal daycare, same-sex marriage, Kyoto, more social spending or greater "rights" for criminals? Indeed, do you sometimes find it hard to separate the lobbyists from the media at such events?

I do. Especially when obvious questions about the claims being made by these advocates are never asked by the media, whom, it appears, either agree with the positions espoused or, worse, seem unaware there could possibly be any other positions.

… Thomas Sowell [author of The Vision of the Anointed] argues there's a natural bias in how news is reported because the media "readily dramatize an individual situation in a way in which the larger relationships and the implicit assumptions behind that situation, cannot be dramatized."

For example: "When the government creates some new program, nothing is easier than to show whatever benefits that program produces. Indeed, those who run the program will be more than co-operative in bringing those benefits to the attention of the media.But it is virtually impossible to trace the taxes that paid for the program back to their sources, and to show the alternative use of that same money that could have been far more beneficial."

In that context, it's easy to report a story featuring a parent being helped by a publicly-funded daycare program to back claims by daycare advocates that more daycare is needed. The problem, notes Sowell, is that the media "have little or no regard (for) what that has cost elsewhere."

For example, establish a national, publicly-funded daycare program and you will exclude the majority of parents who will never use institutional daycare, even though they have all been conscripted into paying for it. Combine that with media who don't or can't think critically about such issues and you get the kind of so-called "unbiased" news coverage that drives people mad.

Think of all the "feel-good" stories you've ever seen about how some government program helped an individual turn his life around. Now think about how many you've seen about how high taxes drove a small businessman into bankruptcy. There's no comparison,is there? But the problem isn't just about the stories that aren't covered by the media. It's about the questions they never think to ask.
Make-it-up-as-you-go law
Parliament and the government of Canada are committed to the principle of making equalization payments…
Section 36(2) of the Constitution Act, 1982
On such flimsy pretexts and vague terms as "principles" are redistribution programs entrenched; desired outcomes of redistribution are internalized as imperatives — a Constitutional imperative, even, in the case of equalization — not only by beneficiaries but also by the lawyers and officials who profit by arbitrating the political and legal processes of redistribution as well as by that portion of academics and the media who are habitually sympathetic to the socialist philosophy of mandatory redistribution. It's no wonder, given the prevalence of these interpretations, that most taxpayers accept the transfers of their wealth as imperatives as well.

As finance ministers across the country quibble about how to "fix" equalization, Burton H. Kellock and Sylvia LeRoy deconstruct the legal "imperative" of the program itself in a study released this month by the Fraser Institute. Noting that the Constitution Act obliges the federal government only to the principle of equalization but not to the practise, the study finds that any interpretation of its practise could not be enforced by a court of law. More importantly, the authors find that the constitutional authority of the federal government to collect taxes and redistribute to provinces to spend on areas of their own exclusive jurisdiction has never been resolved through the constitutional amendments that would be required to supercede the limits placed on that authority by the Constitution Act of 1907 and the British North America Act of 1867. In other words, "the entire equalization program falls beyond the powers of Parliament as defined" by those Acts.

But not beyond the make-it-up-as-you-go powers of politics, self-serving rationalizations and popular hornswoggling. Nice country… shame about the pieces of paper that founded it. Just so we're clear that our governments aren't bound by the law…

Despite these findings, the legality of the equalization program is not likely to be broadly tested in any court, and one may be sure even in the event that inscrutably vague wishes would be allowed by the courts to overcome less ambiguous limitations. This will come as a relief to mayors of municipalities, like our own Anne Marie DeCicco-Best, who are doing their best to entrench yet another equalization program for themselves that's not even loosely articulated anywhere in any Constitution Act.

Welfare subsidy in poetry

Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs annually runs a $4.7 million Arts Promotion Program, both to promote a Canadian "cultural presence" overseas, in part by funding travel expenses for well- and lesser-known authors, artists and musicians, and to
demonstrate at home and abroad that a distinct and vigorous identity has placed Canada firmly in the mainstream of international artistic excellence.
At least by the standards of welfare subsidies to token constituencies, Canada is without doubt firmly in the mainstream, if not ahead of it. But according to Kathleen Harris of Sun Media, some middlemen of government dependency are worried about the future of government dependency:
Douglas Fiske, a spokesman for the Canadian Public Arts Funders [a government-sponsored association of provincial, territorial and federal arts funding agencies] said any cuts could leave artists or organizations scrambling for other funding sources or unable to share their talents with the world. Such a move would be to Canada's detriment, he said.

… "The health of a country is not based just on its physical health. It's also based on its mental health, its creative health, the overall imaginative health," he said.
At least there is no indication of an impending shortage of creativity in the bureaucracy-rationalization industry. As is typical, the defense of an indefensible proposition is difficult to argue with — because it doesn't make any sense. It's impossible to tell how many frivolous government programs there are out there that eat away at tax revenues and go generally unnoticed except by their beneficaries — the only thing that is certain is that a host of small-time grafters will spring up to its defense every time that one is noticed.


Erik Sorenson said...

wrt Equalization, I'm furious about Calvert's and Williams' antics.
We really, really have to start making a big stink about this, before we are on the backend of the propoganda curve.

MapMaster said...

There's absolutely no rules or limitations which politicians must abide when it comes to equalization — it invites antics, outlandish statistics, any manner of deceit and perniciousness… We're already on the backend of the propaganda curve, on the outside looking in even as they battle over our money.

Anonymous said...

Best London Fog post evah!